Confusion and poor leadership hindering diversity drive

Oct 13 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Efforts to employ a more diverse workforce commonly come unstuck because firms fail to manage diversity programmes properly, become confused about what they want to do and get wrapped up in percentages, a U.S consultancy has warned.

Novations/J. Howard & Associates has identified a series of key reasons why diversity and inclusion programmes so often end in disappointment.

The first is that firms often get confused between diversity and inclusion initiatives, it said.

The metrics firms use to define a successful diversity programme differ from those used to assess an inclusion initiative, it explained.

While diversity centres mostly on representation, inclusion needs to reflect organisational health factors, including employee engagement, it said.

"Companies frequently implement an initiative expecting it to affect the wrong set of metrics," the study warned.

"A diverse company is not necessarily inclusive, and an inclusive company may be just that, with little impact on representation. So both kinds of initiatives are needed," it added.

Another factor is that companies fail to manage their initiatives well, frequently struggling with who is taking ownership of them.

Directors or vice-presidents of diversity will end up working in glorious, and often completely ineffectual, isolation.

"Successful companies ensure that diversity initiatives are owned by the business units and held accountable," said Novations/J. Howard & Associates.

But the most common shortcoming of diversity programmes is that companies end up focusing just on the delivery of training and the percentage of employees who have "completed" such training, it stressed.

"Diversity directors may provide training and tools, but they will be used by only a few employees if the organisation's attitude is really one of 'doing what I should do only while people are looking'," it argued.

"Successful organisations seek to internalise the commitment to inclusion and look for evidence in decision-making, promotion criteria, strategic direction and professional development," it added.

Fourth, even though many organisations will do good work in diversity and inclusion, when a new diversity director starts there may be a strong temptation to get rid of everything that has gone before and start afresh.

"So the organisation is blanketed with training or cultural awareness events or activities that look like diversity work," the study concluded.

"The projects or activities may in fact be worthwhile. Nevertheless, such a scattershot approach may miss critical targets or 'tipping points' where less effort and better pacing would have greater impact," it added.

At the same time, companies were often reluctant to measure and assess where they are in the diversity process because asking for feedback raises expectations, and ignoring these answers may make an organisation vulnerable to litigation, it warned.

"A well-managed measurement and assessment process can save the company time and money, and deliver short-term wins that will support the long-term initiative," it added.

Finally, management often fear that their organisation will become unwieldy if the performance curve changes dramatically and so are reluctant fully to embrace the challenge posed by the diversity/inclusiveness agenda, it said.

"As with any business strategy an organisation must be willing to take risks to make change happen," said Gerry Lupacchino, vice-president of Novations/J. Howard.

"Management has to know what it wants to impact, define what success would look like, work in a focused way and not be afraid of the changes that result," he added.