Overview Studies show that teams or organizations made up of individuals with a more diverse mix of qualities, experiences and work styles tend to have available a richer set of ideas, perspectives and approaches to a business issue. This overview covers the following major topics:
Relationship with equal employment opportunity (EEO) and affirmative action.
The business case for diversity.
Design of a diversity initiative.
Elements of a diversity initiative.
Change management as it relates to diversity and inclusion.
Careers in diversity.
Diversity Diversity has many definitions. Frequently, organizations adapt the definition to their specific environment. Generally, diversity refers to the similarities and differences between individuals accounting for all aspects of one's personality and individual identity. Some of the dimensions of diversity are shown below with examples of content available.
Inclusion Diversity provides the potential for greater innovation and creativity. Inclusion is what enables organizations to realize the business benefits of this potential. Inclusion describes the extent to which each person in an organization feels welcomed, respected, supported and valued as a team member. Inclusion is a two-way accountability; each person must grant and accept inclusion from others. In such an environment, every employee tends to feel more engaged and is more likely to contribute toward the organization's business results. This type of environment requires people from diverse backgrounds to communicate and work together, and understand each other's needs and perspectives—in other words, demonstrate cultural competence. SeeEmbracing Diversity Starts with Self-Awareness, D&I Expert Says.
Intercultural sensitivity Intercultural sensitivity and cultural (or intercultural) competence are characterized by sensitivity to differences among people from different cultural backgrounds and effectiveness in communicating and working with them. People are similar or different in varying degrees across all dimensions of diversity. Research shows that people who are substantially alike tend more easily to communicate with and to understand each other. People who are very different tend to confront more obstacles to effective communication and mutual understanding. Research also shows that people consistently overestimate their intercultural competence, which poses a particular challenge for HR professionals. SeeEffective Workplace Conversations on Diversity.
Relationship with Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action There is widespread confusion about the relationship between diversity and inclusion on the one hand, and EEO and affirmative action on the other. This traces to the historical evolution of these complementary yet distinct concepts. In the United States, EEO concerns fairness and equality of treatment for specifically designated protected classes as defined by law. EEO means that the employer gives equal consideration both in hiring and in the terms and conditions of employment to all individuals, and that the employer does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, age, marital status, national origin, disability or sex. EEO and affirmative action are primarily matters of legal compliance, although they do help create a workplace that is more supportive of all people and more diverse in terms of the specific included dimensions of diversity. Many early diversity programs grew out of a company's EEO and affirmative action programs. Companies began seeing business opportunity in focusing on awareness and sensitivity training, and later on building inclusion and intercultural competence. But the diversity functional area has evolved well beyond EEO and affirmative action compliance. Diversity and inclusion are aimed at realizing competitive advantage and business opportunity. The interrelationship between EEO, affirmative action, diversity and inclusion persists, in part because some organizational structures place functional accountability for the disciplines under one office. Though this interrelationship can lead to some continuing confusion, progress in each of these areas reinforces and helps achieve the objectives of the others. See:
The Business Case for Diversity The business case for diversity is an organization's statement of purpose in working on diversity and inclusion. There are many valid reasons for doing such work. The most effective reasons for any particular organization are aligned directly with that organization's key business objectives. Typically, these are the business objectives on which organizations measure and compensate their senior leadership's performance. In for-profit companies, these objectives relate to factors like sales, market share, profitability, corporate social responsibility and reputation.
Design of a Diversity Initiative Effective diversity initiatives require starting, planning, speaking and acting solely from key business priorities. The design and implementation process should adhere to these principles:
Engage the CEO, senior leadership and other key stakeholders throughout the process.
Focus on achieving business results.
Start from and stay aligned with the business purpose.
Be grounded in ownership and accountability.
Plan ongoing internal and external communication to inform, engage and manage expectations.
If a diversity initiative is well designed, it should be able to explain the:
Key business priorities the initiative will help meet.
Changes in the workforce that are needed to help meet business priorities.
Changes in the work environment that are needed to help meet business priorities.
Elements of a diversity initiative that will be put in place to achieve the needed changes.
The design process should address two additional areas—metrics and diversity training. Metrics can be designed once the needed changes are identified. Training may be designed to close specific gaps that are subsequently recognized. Both then are integral parts of the overall initiative.
Elements of a Diversity Initiative The diversity initiative is an organization's formal strategic plan for addressing diversity and inclusion. SeeHow to Develop a Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. Effective initiatives tend to exhibit several characteristics. For example, they:
Align with the organization's key business objectives.
Focus on implementing specific changes to the workforce and workplace that will help achieve needed business results.
Identify the organization's level of intercultural competence and capacity to accept cultural change.
Use a strategic and ongoing approach to employee communication.
Stakeholder analysis The most common potential internal and external stakeholders for a diversity initiative are shown below. Potential Internal Stakeholders Potential External Stakeholders
Board of directors
Community organizations and leaders
CEO and senior leadership
Customers (current and prospective)
Investors (current and prospective)
Employee network groups
Labor organizations (e.g., unions, workgroups)
Suppliers (current and prospective)
Each stakeholder group has unique needs that tend to shape an organization's diversity initiative. Successful initiatives identify the primary stakeholders in two domains:
Stakeholders whose needs are most important and relevant to, and thus should most strongly influence, the organization's diversity initiative.
Stakeholders whose actions and behavioral change are most important to achieving the goals of the diversity initiative.
Domestic versus global scope An organization's geographic footprint encompasses the regions in which it and its customers are located. It might be exclusively domestic, or it might be global. Combined, the primary stakeholders and the organization's footprint help determine whether the diversity initiative should have a domestic or global scope. Compared to most domestic initiatives, global diversity initiatives are concerned with a richer and more complex set of issues. The reason stems from the wider range of cultural norms represented among all the stakeholder groups. Global initiatives tend to be successful only when they are adapted to and reflect the cultural norms and needs of each region or country. Diversity practitioners and business leaders need strong intercultural competence regardless of the scope of the initiative.
Typical areas of focus Comprehensive initiatives focus on revenue or analogous measures, expenses, employees, customers, suppliers and external communities. All work must be tailored to the organization's specific business needs. The table illustrates representative areas of focus for a diversity initiative.
Focus Sample Action Steps
Use multicultural marketing, focusing on existing or new domestic or international markets
Build innovation and creativity to bring new products or services to market
Increase recruiting efficiency through more diverse sourcing and engaging employees in identifying candidates
Increase retention by creating a more supportive and inclusive workplace, engaging employee network groups in the onboarding process, and focusing on employee needs
Employee network groups
Process and policy improvement (e.g., performance management, succession planning, benefits)
See Revenues, above
Build internal capacity to understand evolving and new customer needs
Develop minority and women-owned business enterprise programs
Engage employee network groups
Develop relationships with associations to provide executive developmental opportunities and build reputation
Employee network groups Employee resource groups (ERGs), also called affinity or business resource groups, are a popular element of diversity initiatives, especially in organizations with more than 1,000 employees. ERGs are groups of employees that come together either voluntarily, based on a common interest or background, or at the request of a company. Examples of common ERGs are those formed around race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, parental status, national origin, religion or belief, or generation. Common objectives for ERGs include engaging employees, increasing diversity, providing developmental and networking opportunities, and ensuring that retention is consistent across all parts of the employee population. Two important success factors are clearly understanding the business purpose and dedicating resources to manage the relationships. ERGs may benefit members, the overall organization and the external communities in which the organization is located and operates. There also are potential downsides to be managed, such as the group's roles, external media presence, funding, structure, and use of the organization's name and brand. Proper planning and effective policies help realize the business advantages while managing the potential problems. SeeAddress Barriers to Diversity with Transparency, Employee Resource Groups.
Diversity and Inclusion Requires Change Management Each organization has a maximum rate at which it can process cultural change. This depends in part on the organization's cultural competence and the magnitude of the gap between the current situation and the diversity initiative's objectives. Change management for diversity may occur in phases. For example, an organization might want to assign highest priority to changes with the greatest business impact and start with domestic diversity issues, expanding later to address global aspects.