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Stop Calling Diversity an “Initiative” and Start Making it a Part of Your Culture: Adrian Russo

There is a clear distinction between the “culture” and defined “initiatives” of an organization.   In business, the term initiative means an “act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation.”  When a challenging situation is presented, organizations might create Tiger Teams to investigate the scenario and present possible solutions.  Contrast this with culture.  The term culture is used to describe “the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group.”  In essence, culture is part of the DNA of the company.  It is ingrained in the core principals of their mission, objectives, and guiding values of the organization.  Compare both terms from the perspective of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B).  Should DEI&B be part of the “culture” or an “initiative” and is there a difference?

Most organizations that view diversity as an initiative believe decisions are transactional.  We can observe this in specific use cases around things like hiring, promotions, employee resource groups (ERG), and so on.  When it comes to hiring, you will hear things like, “We need to hire someone with X background for this role, so we have greater representation.”  The prevailing view is that certain strategic hires throughout the organization amount to equality or representation.  This ideology largely functions largely for surface-level gains, rarely moving the needle on overall employee composition. 

Contrast organizations that view diversity as an initiative with ones who view diversity as part of their culture.  They incorporate diversity, equitability, and inclusivity into everything they do.  Companies such as these conduct internal and external compensation analysis and develop pay bands.  Pay bands ensure that all employees performing the same work at the same level receive the same range of compensation.  They post the salary on all job descriptions, so everyone knows the compensation, both inside and outside the organization.  This ensures pay equity along all backgrounds, groups, genders, and protected classes.  They support employees once they begin working with the company.  These organizations typically have employee resource groups, hold optional training for non-work objectives or employee well-being topics, offer support through mental health programs, and so on. 

A great way to start is by partnering with organizations that match your core values.  This is an easy, organic, and effective way to generate a diverse group of talent from various places which align with your company.  Partnering with external organizations to hire diverse talent demonstrates a willingness and commitment to diversity in hiring.  It also fosters a culture of inclusion, as employees will naturally come from all backgrounds and walks of life. 

The partnership approach can prove to be extremely effective, but only if the partnership is meaningful and collaborative.  Companies must follow through and engage the audience to be true partners to external organizations.  Without this commitment, “Diversity” is just “Lip Service,” as La’Wana Harris would say.

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