It's up to business leaders to promote diversity

Frankly, I could scream with anger whenever I hear United States President Donald Trump appearing to defend racism. I am also quite shocked at how quickly he has been able to dismantle civil rights initiatives, legislation, policies and procedures that support diversity in the general society as well as in the workplace. In addition, Trump's suggestion that diversity is simply reverse discrimination and that it's time to stop so-called "political correctness" sends shudders through my heart. I give thanks for living in Canada, yet I am already seeing some fallout in our great country and I expect this ripple effect will continue.

In order to block this hate from entrenching itself in Canada, we must understand that diversity is critical for social and business success in our global world.

Diversity is about more than race and ethnicity. It’s also about women in the workplace and society. It’s about our disabled population and their right to equal service as well as jobs. It’s about intellectually challenged children being welcomed into an integrated school system. In other words, it’s all about an appreciation and respect for differences of all types. This is now embedded in Canadian legislation.

Thankfully, there’s been plenty of research showing diversity creates strength. It offers us the opportunity to hear different ideas, share varied expertise and talent, create a greater variety of solutions to problems and take advantage of different languages and cultures that help us to reach out and serve our customers better. In fact, diversity is now vital to organizational effectiveness. Employees are more likely to stay with a company that offers a supportive work environment, which in turn gives them a competitive edge.

Over the years, governments, corporations and organizations of all kinds have worked hard to value all their employees and to support individuals in achieving their full potential at work. This is then reflected in policies and practice that lead to a supportive and inclusive organizational culture.

However, with social tensions and lobby groups now rising against diversity, leaders need to start paying more attention to securing the workplace diversity culture they’ve developed. Therefore, leaders to be alert to any efforts that would serve to create cracks in your diversity based work culture.

While there are many strategies for creating and sustaining diversity in an organization, I am confident some of the following tips will help you to protect the value of diversity in your organization.

Start with leadership competency.

Since leaders are role models, it is important they take the initiative to educate themselves and learn more about the cultures of both their employees as well as customers.

Understand your demographics.

Develop a demographic profile of your current employees and determine what steps need to be taken to create or enhance the value of this diversity in your workplace. Create recognition for special cultural dates and events.

Review HR policies.

It is not unusual for an organization’s human resource policies to be woefully out of date. Ensure your diversity philosophy and policies are entrenched in your organization and are compliant with current legislation. Be sure you have proper complaint procedures in place. Get help if you don’t have time to do this.

Review workforce planning.

Diversity is more than just recruitment and selection. This means examining structure, reporting relationships, succession planning, professional development, training, promotions and performance management. Tie everything together to support your diversity philosophy.

Recruit for diversity.

Diversity creates a competitive edge for the recruitment and retention of talented employees. Therefore, review your processes to ensure discrimination does not creep into your decision-making. Describe your philosophy in job descriptions and interviews. Ask questions that serve to examine a candidate’s point of view. Be sure to give the issue of "cultural fit" an equal standing to technical skills.

Orient for diversity.

Ensure the new employee-orientation program describes your philosophy and practices on diversity. Help new employees understand the value of diversity in your overall competitiveness. Give examples, use case studies, highlight your successes. Emphasize and explain the behaviour you expect from new employees.

Educate employees.

While talking about HR policies and the culture of an organization are hot topics for new employee orientation, the conversation and discussion is often not carried through to the ongoing education of employees. Your philosophy of a diverse culture as well as your goals and objectives need to be woven into all of your professional-development programming.

Deal with problems quickly.

There is nothing more damaging to an organization than failing to investigate and resolve employee complaints quickly. If long time lapses occur, employees will feel the company doesn’t care. They will soon lose their enthusiasm, become disengaged and eventually leave.

Celebrate uniqueness.

Hold special events where different cultures could be profiled and cultural food can be explored. Celebrate employees and their contribution to the business; for instance, how a speaker of a different language was heavily involved in securing a new global customer. Resurrect an employee-of-the-month program.

Communicate.

Successfully building a diverse organizational culture also means helping people connect with each other. Make good use of your employee newsletter or intranet communication tool. Use it to raise awareness about diversity, educate and communicate company goals, objectives, policies and procedures. If you are a larger organization, consider creating affinity groups where individuals can connect, network, socialize and provide thoughtful input on how to successfully engage employees and sustain diversity.

Think beyond compliance.

Being compliant with legislation may create the foundation for diversity, but it does little more. Diversity needs leadership, dedication to the cause and the development and implementation of supportive policies. The goal is to create an organization that applies its diverse talent to creating innovation and serving the customer base as best as is possible.

I strongly believe that in today’s global world, diversity is key to success. Unfortunately, there seems to be a renewed challenge against diversity in some sectors; while there is, it is the job of business leaders to ensure diversity in their workplace.

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