Diversity is an extremely contentious word. So volatile, in fact, if you say it in mixed company I’d say there’s a fair chance that responses will run the gamut from positive to negative, or the room will start to clear.
To clarify, people are either all for it because they understand the benefits and the inevitability despite the associated challenges; they’re against it because they like things just the way they are, thank you very much, and anyone trying to buck the system is not to be trusted or allowed to get farther than the mailroom; or, their eyes are tired from being rolled, and they wish the whole thing would just go the heck away.
But hey, these are valid responses. They’re fairly straight forward, honest. In the workplace things are a bit murkier. There the veneer of professionalism is strong, as are cultural mores that inhibit the spread or sharing of too much – shall we say – flavor. The guards against litigation are also in full effect, so companies are naturally reticent against change that happens too quickly, whether instigated by a internal employee or an external idea.
That intro is certainly not meant to suggest that all companies are anti-diversity. Far from it. But it’s fairly easy to see which ones welcome it, which ones don’t, and which ones are putting on a front for the sake of optics.
1. What does the senior leadership group look like? Yup, I said what do they look like. Are they all white men – of a certain age, no less – with few if any women, and perhaps no color or ethnic diversity? Now cast your gaze a bit wider. What does middle management look like? Is it full of women? This is not always a good sign. See, we make lovely, extremely dependable workhorses, and that pesky glass ceiling – not to mention all those men above us busily guarding their spots by fair means or foul – keeps us firmly where we can do the most good for the company’s coffers, and get the least power and influence. Now cast your gaze a bit wider still. Are the lower ranks the most colorful? Is that where the company has the most diversity? And is this group of line or entry-level employees why the big office insists the company is extremely diverse, and whatever do you mean suggesting otherwise?
2. Perform a culture check. Gauge the happiness and satisfaction of those who aren’t at the top of the house. Are they engaged? Are there lots of complaints, grumbling, side eye, absenteeism, the whole, I’m-only-coming-to-work-to-take-a-lunch-itis that infects crappy corporate cultures? Is there a lot of backbiting, a lack of trust, and is collaboration just a word rather than a regular practice and an inbred performance strategy? Is the culture sincere? Or are a good chunk of the employees passively looking for new jobs or kvetching to anyone who will listen about how miserable they are? If something happened and it was all hands on deck, how quick would volunteers step forward and raise their hands to give the company a little bit of extra discretionary effort, gratis?
3. When something happens, is it deer in headlights, or eat this data? A company that is truly about diversity and inclusion will not cower when something happens. It won’t need to. A disgruntled employee wants to file a suit? Good luck with that buddy! Not only do we keep those mean, junkyard dog type lawyers on retainer, we have testimonials from satisfied, successful employees, past and present. We have recruitment, promotions and compensation data and myriad other items we can roll out like a red carpet to prove that we put our money where our mouth is when it comes to inclusion in the workplace. A company that is sincere about advancing strategic diversity management will not be stuck, blinking in faux confusion, mouths running with denials and fingers pointing everywhere but at the top should the need for defense arise.
Companies that profess to welcome diversity and inclusion can prove it. Their employees will show it. Their data will confirm it. Their customers will demand it – and they’ll get what they want.
So, which company do you work for or lead? A diverse organization actively working to become more inclusive, or a “diverse” organization that couldn’t stand even a little bit of heat should the spotlight come on overhead?