Best Practice Institute brought together it’s Senior Executive Board of over 20 Chief Talent Officers and Chief Diversity Officers for an important next practice dialogue session on how to best accelerate diversity and inclusion into their Talent Management programs. We met in full room as well as breakout sessions of 5 people from various companies in industries ranging from oil and gas and pharmaceutical to manufacturing and finance. Organizations ranged in size from 10,000-100,000 employees from the Fortune/Global 500.
Corporate Diversity & Inclusion(D&I) strategies, practices and programs are not new. What is new right now is public sentiment catching up to what the corporate world has needed to implement in full for many decades. Studies show that job seekers place workforce diversity as an important factor when considering employment opportunities, and organizations are keen to meet the demand. However, many companies are falling behind on making D&I a part of the fabric of the organization and its formal talent management programs. To most, D&I seems more like lip service than a reality.
The Best Practice Institute’s Senior Executive Board, a consortium of F500 Chief Human Resources Officers, and Chief Talent Officers have ranked D&I as a top 3 priority over the 18-year history of the group. And now, CEOs are demanding that D&I become a top priority to show support for employees and customers alike.
Several common themes came out of the dialogue groups, none more evident than the need for courageous conversations where honesty without fear of reprisal would become the new norm. “Courageous conversations is a best practice that can be traced back to all social change in our history,” says Best Practice Institute’s CEO & Founder Louis Carter. “George Mitchell, who was instrumental in brokering the peace deal in Northern Ireland explained that the biggest weapon in his arsenal was his ability to allow a safe space for open and honest conversations and make sure that everyone was not only hearing what is being said but actually listening.”
The conversations must be representative of the employee population and personal. As one participant put it, “Discomfort is part of the learning process, and employees need permission for those conversations to happen. Leadership needs to create those shared spaces to be uncomfortable, and those leaders need to be equipped with tools and action items on how to have those conversations.”
Chief Diversity Officers
While many companies have Chief Diversity Officers, most companies do not make it a strategic priority. The group unanimously agreed that companies must shine a light and focus on issues related to diversity and inclusion. Several participants stated it is important that there should be one person who is focused solely on how to overcome these issues within companies. It is reasonable to assume that senior executives could do a much better job at setting Chief Diversity Officers up for more successful outcomes in their organizations.
Training programs have been overwhelmingly unsuccessful in overcoming unconscious bias in the past. One large financial services company on the call has been successful in re-framing unconscious bias. They have termed it “Bias disruption.” Bias Disruption is the act of interrupting and re-creating the talent continuum. The talent continuum may include calibrating performance management conversations and developing a playbook to facilitate those dialogues.
Another company has incorporated “diversity panels” into the talent acquisition process so that everyone who is interviewed for a role at the company must be interviewed by one of these diversity panels in addition to the hiring manager to disrupt the bias. There is still a long way to go according to the consensus of this group in gaining full adoption of diversity panels.
Go Beyond the ERG
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can play an important role if used effectively. ERGs are typically associated with a group of people with similar concerns or requirements. Being so common, they lack the kind of purpose needed specifically for D&I. ERGs must connect to the strategy of the business and implementation of new practices. This will require resolute leadership to take a more active role in not only listening to these groups, but identifying the charter of the group and setting clear goals.
Diversity & Inclusion has been elevated to a top priority within organizations of all sizes and industries. There is a clear opportunity to move forward with focus, purpose, and without abandon or fear of losing people’s jobs. C-Suite and Boards of Directors are beginning to listen and participate in these conversations, and seek solutions on doing their level best for both employees and customers when it comes to D&I. There is a human justification along with a business justification right now, that should not, and cannot be ignored in corporate America.
We ought to, and must do better. And, we cannot be afraid to lose our jobs, or speak our truth to make it happen. It’s time to make the Chief Diversity Officer role more prevalent, connected directly to the CEO, business strategy, and implement tangible, reliable ERG and bias disruption developmental programs and practices that are pervasive throughout the entire organization. Bias disruption should and ought to be a part of the fabric, culture, and key behaviors of the company and its leaders.