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Diversity Enterprises

Influencing Attitudes and Behaviors While Protecting The Bottom Line

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Diversity News

To Achieve Workplace Diversity, Go Beyond Good Intentions

By Dan Woog

It's taken awhile, but these days most companies understand that employing a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do, it's also good business.

But good intentions are one thing. Actually hiring and promoting men and women with varied racial and ethnic backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations is another. Here's how companies and workers can do what they say.

Show Diverse Faces

The process begins even before recruitment and employment interviews, says Anna Morales Riojas, chairwoman of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. A company truly committed to inclusion should run ads that show a diverse group of people. That positions the organization in customers' minds as one that values diversity -- and customers often become job applicants, Riojas notes.

Recruitment teams traveling to job fairs and college campuses must also be diverse, says Riojas. "It's not necessary to communicate in Spanish," she says. "But showing faces that people in our community can relate to really helps."

Put the Mission Statement into Practice

Companies should include references to diversity in their mission or values statements to signal an explicit commitment to all employees, suggests Matt Hirschland, director of communications for Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), a San Francisco organization. Even more crucial to attracting a diverse pool of applicants are actions that reflect diversity from the top down. According to BSR, simply having black, brown, yellow and female faces in high positions is not enough. All staff, including top management, must receive regular, ongoing diversity training.

Make Diversity Goals Part of Company Plans

A diverse workforce is more likely when diversity goals are included in strategic-planning processes and managers are held responsible for specific objectives, says Hirschland. Diversity questions should be incorporated into employee surveys to determine whether current policies and programs are effective. And milestones and achievements involving diversity groups and individuals should be communicated and celebrated.

Show Diversity, and Take a Stand

Companies hoping to attain and retain diverse workforces should also encourage the formation of affinity groups, such as African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American and gay/lesbian networks. BSR also recommends company-wide diversity councils and task forces. To communicate company values, Hirschland suggests all Web sites and promotional materials should show diversity and, when possible, include the firm's diversity policy. A commitment to diversity should be discussed often, in meetings large and small.

Companies should also consider taking a proactive approach to diversity-related public-policy issues, says Hirschland. He cites as one example Microsoft's support of a Washington state gay-rights bill, which sent a positive message to the gay/lesbian community.

Peter Bye, president of MDB Group, a Livingston, New Jersey, consulting firm focusing on diversity and inclusion, advocates doing more than putting policies and programs into practice. "Ultimately, it's about getting in the heads of hiring and promotion managers and talking in terms of difference," he says. "It's asking people in positions of power, ‘How do you think of difference? Is it negative or something to be valued? Do you want to select someone like you -- a low-risk choice -- or do you seek out someone with a different set of perspectives and values?'"

Use Assessment Tools

Bye says that assessment instruments can help people understand their current degree of "intracultural sensitivity." Subsequent coaching can develop greater "cultural competence." He knows this may turn some people off. "If you've got a large white-male executive team, they probably won't think positively of it," Bye admits. "But if you show them an instrument that can help, that can make a real difference."

Still, many successful diversity efforts begin with human resources. Hirschland says good HR departments post positions in many places (including minority-oriented Web sites) and participate in job fairs hosted by diverse communities.

Although diversity and inclusion may be driven from the top down, its success may be felt from the bottom up. That's why it's so important today to plant the seeds for tomorrow. "Bring in a diverse group of interns," Riojas says. "Provide scholarships, fellowships and cooperative programs to help minorities when they're in college. Investing in minority communities will pay off big time in loyalty."

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