Four Experts, One Question: How Do You Promote Both Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace?

Steve Williamson, VP Digital Marketing and Content Creation, eRep, Inc.
Monday, November 9, 2020
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Four Experts, One Question: How Do You Promote Both Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace?

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Tags: #diversity #inclusion #HR

We chose four experts in business, HR, academia and employment consulting and asked them one question:

How do you promote both diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

To many, diversity and inclusion are considered to be the same thing. Additionally, many feel that once you have achieved a state of diversity within your workforce, inclusion will go along with it.

Diversity and inclusion are separate concepts, but they should follow a certain chronology; diversity is a prerequisite of inclusion.

One way to think of these two concepts is: Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked out onto the dance floor.

To find answers to the challenge of fostering both diversity and inclusion, we also asked our experts to chime in on four scenarios we might face in the workplace. They gave us their insight into how to address each of these challenging situations.

In an inclusive environment where differences are seen and celebrated, employees will contribute and thrive. — Tessa Brown

The Experts

Our experts are: Baskaran Ambalavanan, Tessa Brown, Jackye Clayton, and Dr. Melanie Peacock, Ph.D.

Baskaran Ambalavanan, MBA, SHRM-SCP, GPHR, SPHR, based in Irvine, CA is the Principal and founder of Hila Solutions, LLC. Hila Solutions is a full-service HR Technology Advisory firm helping SMEs across the country in identifying right HR/People related systems and help them in the implementation, project management through 'go live.'

Tessa Brown is the Human Resources Manager for CCI Piping Systems, a manufacturer of pipeline protection products. She specializes as an HR Department of One where she has established HR departments for small businesses. Tessa is passionate about volunteer leading and currently serves as Legacy Advisor of Acadiana SHRM and Professional Development Director of Louisiana SHRM State Council.

Jackye Clayton is a Talent Acquisition hyphenate whose experience sits at the intersection of Recruiting, Technology, Marketing, and Analysis. Currently she is in the role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategist for SeekOut. Her goal is to change the world by helping organizations hire inclusive teams in an efficient manner. She is also an active soccer mom and serial volunteer. When she is not working, at a soccer game or volunteering, you can find her either drinking Corona, watching competitive cooking shows or NASCAR, or dancing in her kitchen while singing karaoke, poorly.

Dr. Melanie Peacock, PhD, MBA, CPHR, SHRM-SCP is an Associate Professor with the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University and past-president of the University's Faculty Association. As well, Melanie runs her own boutique firm, Double M Training & Consulting, which provides her opportunities to contribute to the strategic HR processes of clients from a variety of industries. Melanie is a published author of various best-selling HR books including The HR Professional's Guide to Change Management and Understanding Human Resources Management, 1st Canadian Edition. As well, she is an active and sought-after media commentator. Melanie has just been recognized with the Canadian HR Awards 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award and was acknowledged in HRD magazine's 2017 Hotlist as one of the top 30, most influential HR practitioners in Canada. She was also named to HRD's 2020 list of the top 100 HR global professionals. In 2016 she received the Western Alumni Award of Merit, Professional Achievement and in 2014 was recognized with CPHR Alberta's Distinguished Career Award and the Mount Royal Faculty Association's inaugural Teaching Excellence Award.

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The Question

How do you promote both diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Dr. Melanie Peacock: We need to get beyond promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace and move toward ensuring that it is actually implemented in meaningful and operational ways. Education and shared commitment amongst all members of the workforce will be the foundation to ensure that this occurs.

Holding focus groups and asking members of minority or marginalized groups why they are not participating in various initiatives is key. — Melanie Peacock

Baskaran Ambalavanan: Leadership buy-in is critical for any Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives to succeed; it starts with the leadership team and the diversity of the leadership team. Leadership support is essential to govern DEI initiatives, training, etc.,

Jackye Clayton: I work with people and organizations that already understand that we are better together. I then work with them to develop a formalized strategy to promote diversity and inclusion by both creating spaces and closing gaps. I look for opportunities where more representation is needed and create spaces for people of marginalized groups to be acknowledged, heard, and respected. I also look for gaps in structure and processes that we need to close, such as gaps in representation in marketing, celebrated company holidays, and company benefits. The goal is always to ensure that everyone feels like they can bring their whole selves to a safe environment so that they can become their best selves.

Tessa Brown: Promoting and improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a culture shift, not just a new program. It is something that must be fully embraced. The conversations surrounding DEI topics may make some uncomfortable, defensive, and confused. For others it may reveal resentment, fear, and unfair treatment. With time, the hope is that workplaces become a place where our differences are recognized and embraced. Companies are looking to improve their training and introduce employee resource (or affinity) groups.

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Four Scenarios

We presented four scenarios to our panel of experts, examples of specific situations where you may be called upon to address issues of diversity and inclusion. This is the advice they gave.

Scenario 1: Only one homogeneous group seems to apply to your job openings. How do you reach and encourage a more diverse applicant pool?

Tessa Brown: Expand your reach. If you keep doing the same thing, you will get the same applicant. There are diverse professional organizations that offer job boards, sponsorship and speaking opportunities. Many areas have diverse community organizations, chambers or other similar groups that offer the same opportunities and an excellent applicant pool. Seek those organizations and opportunities and even join where appropriate. Referrals are often a trusted source for candidates, but I caution you to remember that referrals will often bring you more of the same. Be careful of how much weight you put on those.

We coach candidates that you can't wait until you need a job before you start networking. Similarly, employers can't just post a job and expect the ideal candidate to apply. You must cultivate these relationships. People aren't applying for your opening because they don't know you. Find ways to get involved in the communities that are underrepresented in your workplace. You can volunteer, offer services, etc. Be genuine in your efforts and become an employer of choice.

Baskaran Ambalavanan: A couple of ways to reach a diverse applicant pool are: 1) Start with data — do a SWOT analysis, review and utilize AI-powered text augmenting editor tools like Textio that can review and rewrite the job descriptions that appeal to candidates from underrepresented groups.

2) Speak DEI language at every company event, modify the company's career site to talk specifically about diversity and inclusion, and note your diversity on your website and print materials. Also, establish a dedicated channel for DEI exclusively. Establish a Minority referral program, and train recruiters and managers on the need and value of diversity recruiting.

Dr. Melanie Peacock: A thorough audit of the recruitment process is required in order for strategic changes to be made. It is important to review where job opportunities are being shared. If diversity in the candidate pool is not being realized, it is likely because a diverse range of candidates are not aware of the postings. Examine the wording of job postings and their bona fide occupational requirements. An organization could be systemically dissuading or disqualifying people from applying and the "same old, same old" text will only provide the same type of applicants.

As we all know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different outcomes.

Jackye Clayton: First, audit where jobs are being posted to insure that you are advertising on multiple sites. Be active on social media. Share what it is like to work at your company through short video interviews with current employees, podcasts that discuss your company's roadmap, and blog articles that describe what it's like to work there. Most importantly, be intentional and transparent about your desire to hire diverse and inclusionary teams.

Check accessibility factors where you are posting jobs. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to help make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Apply to one of your open positions to get an accurate understanding of your candidate's experience. Make sure there are no unnecessary steps when applying to one of your positions. Finally, make sure that you are always proactively inviting diverse candidates to join your talent pool so that you can build relationships as well as let them know when positions become available.

Scenario 2: You have a diverse workforce in your organization, but involvement and inclusion from underrepresented groups is lacking. Where do you look and act first?

Baskaran: The first step is to ensure the workforce is diverse enough, then give the minority group the space to speak, be heard, and voice their views freely without any retribution. Review the diversity of the leadership team. They should provide psychological safety to diverse employees and encourage them to freely talk about their struggles and feelings.

Revamp Diversity and Inclusion: most D&I programs report to HR, the HR manages people, but D&I is not just another HR-only issue but a business issue with significant financial impact. The Chief Diversity Officer should report to the CEO so they have the needed voice and influence on decisions. Engage white men on some of the D&I initiatives. A one-size-fits-all approach should give way to personalized plans that reflect the multi-faceted nature of the world today.

Melanie: Holding focus groups and asking members of minority or marginalized groups why they are not participating in various initiatives is key. This needs to occur in a safe and transparent manner and often an external person is best able to facilitate these types of sessions and acquire the "hard truth" that can be shared with senior management. It is important that any information, at a summary level, is also shared with the entire employee group. At all points throughout an organization, employees need to know that this information was collected, assessed and then used to make changes. Simply collecting feedback and then not sharing or using it will dampen the culture even more and further negate the willingness for all workers to want to create a more inclusive workplace where there is a diversity of people participating in various initiatives.

Developing and implementing a mentorship program is another strategic response. Ensuring that the correct people are helping and advising others can be a critical way to ensure that those from minority groups are given advice, guidance and encouragement to increase their involvement in the company.

Jackye: Promoting both diversity and inclusion starts with a commitment and pledge by senior leadership. Executive leadership should publicly announce their commitment to diversity as well as share internally the plan that the company will be implementing. The first place we will look and act would be the diversity mission statement or program plan. We will need to audit that plan to see where there are gaps and review any expectations that are not being met. From there, we will need to create an accountability plan with the understanding that if the goals are not met, the person will either be demoted or fired based on severity.

Hold the leadership team accountable as you would any employee who does not meet goals or expectations. — Jackye Clayton

It is important to conduct regular surveys with your leaders to make sure they have all the resources they need to be successful. Consider hiring a Diversity and Inclusion change manager that can assist with accountability, but also act as a coach for your leadership team. They should also mitigate potential risks while driving continuous improvement toward diversity goals.

Tessa: An inclusive culture is the pulse of how your company operates on a daily basis. The issue can be policies such as pay equity, official holidays and celebrations, and these things should be reviewed. However, it is more likely that you need to talk to your employees about their experience. Have they made complaints that have gone unheard? Do they feel that their input is disregarded? Employees can become guarded and apathetic based on their experiences. In an inclusive environment where differences are seen and celebrated, employees will contribute and thrive.

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Scenario 3: You have learned that all of the hiring managers in your organization fit the same homogeneous norm. How do you promote diversity and inclusion with such a uniform supervisory team?

Jackye: First, I would work with the Executive team to make sure there is support for increasing diversity. If there is, I would work with them to develop a diversity mission statement and a pledge that would be agreed upon by all members of the team — a pledge they can all commit to. Once we had that piece, I would have the CEO conduct a company wide meeting with all of the hiring managers, letting them know about the mission statement that was created and the signed pledge. I would offer one-on-one diversity coaching for all hiring managers as they make the transition to an inclusive workforce. Additionally, I would start meeting with the team either monthly or bi-monthly to build, refine, discuss and promote the diversity plan. Once there is complete buy-in (not only to the idea of diversity, but also the actual project plan) I would recommend the implementation of a very detailed diversity accountability plan with clear and measurable goals and expectations.

It is important to remember that diversity training does not end with a 4 hour course. — Jackye Clayton

Diversity training is continuous and so we will have to recognize that the ability to manage and support diverse teams is a requirement of all leaders, not just a nice-to-have.

Tessa: I imagine that there are many organizations finding themselves in this position. There has been a big push for DEI since May, 2020 with the circumstances surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Some have called for diversity in executive leadership, which is fair. Diversity should be seen in all levels of your organization. As you review your hiring strategies and make changes to build diverse internal and external candidate pools for future openings, there is other work that can be done. You don't have to be part of a group to hear their concerns. Be transparent about where you are lacking and honest about what you are going to do about it. Seek guidance. Ask for input from focus groups or established affinity groups. Hear them out and start implementing their suggestions.

Baskaran: Training and communication is vital. Ensure the recruiting team is integrated with HR and not functioning as a stand-alone department. Train hiring managers on the need and value for diversity hiring and help them understand the firm's approach to diversity hiring. Share the D&I data, and engage managers in setting the D&I goals. Recruiters and hiring managers should work closely in terms of the expectations from the candidates to how the interview process would go. Ensure the interview process involves multiple teams, ideally BIPOC, and have a voting system to avoid bias.

Make it a practice to hire people fit for the job and not the culture fit. — Baskaran Ambalavanan

Melanie: There has been a great deal of discourse regarding unconscious bias training for hiring mangers and while this is valuable, it is not going to bring about change all by itself. My past experience shows that people will naturally fall back into comfortable patterns of behavior without realizing they are doing so. This is an example where a human resource professional can provide added expertise and value in the hiring process. Questioning the process itself and asking people to see if their expectations of candidates are valid and providing these strategic queries at timely points throughout the process will help to ensure a more comprehensive lens. In essence, the only way to ensure that a more diverse and inclusive perspective is used within a supervisory team is to place someone on this group who is trained — and tasked — to do so.

Scenario 4: An individual was promoted to manage a large facility within your organization. Within the first year, turnover at that facility has risen 80% among employees of a specific ethnic group. What do you?

Baskaran: Take a data-driven approach and engage the manager in the discussion. Educate the new manager to understand the value of diversity and inclusion. Determine the diversity turnover and its cost and share that information with managers. Immediately train the manager on unconscious bias and prejudices, and train the employees to recognize and counter unconscious bias. Establish a transparent, retribution-free reporting mechanism.

Leverage technology to identify flight risk employees and develop personalized retention plans. Conduct a town hall or focus group with the new manager's team by an independent facilitator, identify the reasons, concerns, etc., and take appropriate action. Conduct 'stay interviews' to understand the things employees like and improve them further. Make retention and development part of the manager's metric and reward their successes appropriately.

Tessa: Put boots on the ground and start talking to people immediately. It's important to find out what the leader thinks, but more important to find out what the employees believe. You have to identify the issue and resolve it, even if it means making a change in leadership. The work does not stop there. A leadership change is not your only step towards resolution.

The next step will be to repair the damage that was caused by bad leadership. Such a spike in turnover has lasting effects for those who remain. Are they still there because of their commitment and engagement? Or is it because they feel trapped and are waiting for a better offer? The next leader needs to be aware of the past issues and be prepared to engage their team. Because the last leader was promoted from within, there may be old friends or other employees who were aligned with that person. Check in on them, nip any lingering issues, and be clear about the future of the facility.

Jackye: First, we will have to look at the initial diversity plan. Have we embraced diversity or simply created diversity hire checklists? The latter rarely works by itself. Next, interview the individual that is losing employees to see if they have any insight as to why candidates are leaving. I would also survey the remaining team members so that I have a better understanding of the department culture to see if there are any anomalies in how this manager is treating diverse candidates vs non-diverse candidates. I would offer training that will help identify and reduce any unconscious bias that this manager may have. You have to take it further, however. I would work with the manager to create an action plan to retain diverse candidates. This is a new manager that may need additional training on how to be a leader regardless of the ethnic groups they are managing.

I know that this question is targeting an individual, but oftentimes the company culture was long set before this person was promoted. I would want to also consider building out Employee Resource Groups (sometimes referred to as ERGs, Affinity groups or employee networks) to make sure that our diverse employees have a safe space. I would make sure that these groups are visited by our executive team to make sure that members of these groups are being heard as well as respected for their commitment to the team as we go through this growing period.

Melanie: This is a scenario where exit interviews can be useful. An external resource who can speak with those leaving the company is often the best course of action to ensure that detailed and honest feedback is used, compiled and shared with senior management. It is important that this information is used to conduct an audit of various company processes ranging from training and development opportunities, to assignments on special projects, to compensation, to recognition initiatives to mentorship programs. Those that are exiting a company can be a rich source of information as to what is not working and what changes need to be implemented.

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Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson

Innovator/Banker - VP Digital Marketing and Content Creation, eRep, Inc.

Steve has a career in project management, software development and technical team leadership spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (, and when he isn't writing, he enjoys cycling, old-school table-top role-playing games, and buzzing around the virtual skies in his home-built flight simulator.

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