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Diversity: It’s Right, but That Doesn’t Mean It’s Easy

I’m proud to say that right now, the organization I work for is the most diverse it has ever been in its history—certainly far more so than when I first walked through the doors 29 years ago. And I feel confident that we—like many other businesses across corporate America—will continue to grow more diverse as time progresses. Diversity offers great benefits: organizations like Catalyst and DiversityInc have calculated the increased returns on equity of businesses with more women and minorities, respectively, in their executive ranks. At my organization, we find our clients increasingly eager to determine that we have a solid diversity and inclusion program before we enter into engagements with them. And it’s absolutely appropriate for our clients to want to know whether the organization they turn to for counsel shares their values on diversity.

But just because diversity is the right thing to do doesn’t mean it’s easy. The truth is that to a number of people working in American business today—at every level of every organization—diversity may not come naturally. The generation now entering the workforce— Generation Y—seems to accept, and even to demand, diversity as a natural part of their lives, but their parents and grandparents still in the workforce may have to work at it a bit more.

Fortunately, the more we managers increase diversity both on our employee rosters and in our thinking, the more natural it will become at our organizations. At the Deloitte U.S. Firms, we have been guided by three best practices, and although the implementation might be different in other industries, I think the basic ideas underlying these commitments are applicable in any business situation:
  1. It’s vital that the very highest levels of leadership make a visible and unmistakable commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  2. The corporate culture must accept the diversity its leaders invite.
  3. Managers must make a conscious effort to manage the talent in the organization’s pipeline.

Let’s look at these in reverse order:
Managing the Talent in Our Pipeline

We need to be smarter about managing the talent in our pipeline. Many companies do a decent job of bringing in talented people of diverse backgrounds, but too many companies have paid less attention to what happens to those new employees after the contract is signed—which explains why America’s executive suites are still largely white and male.

Hiring is only the first step in building a diverse organization. The real work of managing a diverse talent pipeline doesn’t happen in the HR function, it happens in the offices, in the field, in the everyday course of doing business—as we develop our employees’ talents and provide them with real-life work experiences that stretch their capabilities.

As managers, we must help all of our people find their niche in the organization—based not only on their skills but also on their passions. And we need to make sure that when we staff projects, we do more than consider the needs of the client—we also look carefully at the needs of our people: Will the task stretch them in the right direction? Move their career forward?

We must encourage our people to build the formal and informal networks that help them get their work done. And it’s important that at every stage, we remain open to learning from each other, seeking out information about the opinions and experiences of diverse employees within our organizations. That information can help an organization get even smarter about its diversity and inclusion efforts.

Making Sure the Corporate Culture Accepts Diversity

Every company working on diversity needs to ask one hard question: Does our corporate culture really accept the differences it invites?

Is it really okay for employees to work flexible hours, or do we look askance at people who choose that option? Do we really embrace the different perspectives that come from increasing our commitment to recruiting minorities, or do we secretly think that it’s all just the “politically correct” way to act? We need to answer these questions honestly, because no change can really take hold if it’s being promoted on one side of the organization and stymied or belittled on the other.

Some smart companies, like Coca-Cola, have brought in outside help to keep them asking and answering the tough questions about diversity and culture change: they’ve established an external Diversity Advisory Board. The Deloitte U.S. Firms have done this as well. It’s a resource for management, offering us insight from diverse perspectives, and it forces us to be accountable, to ensure that the progress we make is real.

Leading from the Top

The third issue companies have to tackle is integrating diversity and inclusion into the DNA of the business. For me, that means we have to make sure diversity is an intentional part of every recruiting decision, every team assembled for an assignment, every educational opportunity, every promotion and compensation decision.

If you want to be successful, diversity is not something you do on the side. You can’t separate it from the “real” business of the firm. If you want to be competitive, you have to be a diverse organization. And if being competitive isn’t the real business of a company, then I don’t know what is.

We need to make sure that managers up and down the line know that we will hold them accountable for their work to further the diversity of the organization—both formally, through instruments like “scorecards,” and informally, through one-on-one conversations with leadership.

As I travel to the various offices across the Deloitte U.S. Firms, I always make sure diversity and inclusion are on the agenda. The first time I ask managers what they are doing to further the organization’s diversity and inclusion goals, they may be caught by surprise. But they know that the next time the question is asked, I’ll expect them to have something substantive to say—and serious progress to report.

Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” He was talking about how to ensure greatness for a country, but I think it’s just as true for a company. If we want our businesses to remain competitive, if we want our companies to be great idea generators, and problem solvers for our clients, or creators of innovative products for our customers and if we want to be great places to work, we have a responsibility to ensure that diversity and inclusion efforts succeed.