Why Collective Leadership is Needed When Addressing Diversity and Inclusion in the Work Place

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is one of the most critical and challenging issues faced by HR professionals today.  Most large Fortune 500 companies (for example Microsoft and Ernst and Young) have extensive diversity messages on their websites and dedicate tremendous time and effort to building a diverse team that more closely reflects the makeup of he world.  

That said, continuing to move the needle on work place diversity is going to require a collective effort from leaders of companies big and small to tackle the systemic issues that limit meaningful diversity change in various industries.

Diversity as an Industry Wide Issue

Different industries struggle with diversity in different ways.  For example, in technology a huge problem exists around the number of minority students who study Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  In fact, the Level Playing Field reports that African-American and Latino students combined represent only 15 percent of all AP test takers in Physics and Calculus.  This is a shockingly low number and amplifies the difficulty faced by any employer looking to hire minority STEM candidates for any position within their organization.

In the accounting field, a similar issue exists. Diversity Inc, reports that at CPA firms in 2010, only three percent of professional hires were African-American and only one percent of partners were African-American.  Many students of color have a hard time envisioning the pathways to success in accounting, given how few individuals that look like them are currently holding high-level positions.

Simply put, from a systemic level, companies interested in increasing their diversity need to act collectively to bring greater light to these issues, which both start at a young age and cannot be remedied by more exhaustive hiring searches.

The Importance of Building Diverse College Programs

Intern programs offer some unique advantages to bringing long-term diversity change to both companies and industries.

  1. For many companies, an internship program dictates the future DNA of their work force.  Internships have now become the number one way in which companies make entry-level hires, with around 70 percent of students being offered a full-time role.  Hiring diverse interns and diverse new grads is one of the most effective ways to create a sustained shift towards a more diverse workforce.
  2. For students, an internship is the first exposure to a particular industry or field.  By helping more students explore a potential career in your industry your diverse intern program becomes a powerful tide that improves the future diversity profile of all companies in your space.
  3. Students and young hires will ultimately be the biggest drivers of change within your industry.  They come in without deep knowledge of how an industry should or shouldn’t work.  They bring the youthful energy needed to disrupt norms.  By making diverse hires at the intern level, supporting these employees throughout their career, and empowering them to make an impact on your organization, you help pave the path for a more diverse future within your industry.

Interesting Events on this topic:

If you are interested in this issue, please check out the below list of upcoming college diversity events:

1.)  Outforundergrad is a leader in connecting  in helping LGBT student teach their full potential.  Their recent technology event in Palo Alto was a success with top companies represented.  Their next event is in April and will take place on Georgetown’s campus.

2.)  Inroads is one of the most recognized organizations supporting underserved youth and students of color.  Check out this list to view their upcoming career fairs.

3.)  Join speakers from Facebook, Viacom, Geico and Saks Fifith Avneue, for InternMatch’s first ever diversity hangout.

4.)  NCWIT is a leading organization for women in technology.  Their May summit is a must attend for technology companies.

Ultimately, tackling diversity at your organization is a difficult challenge.  There are large systemic factors at play, cultural and labor market barriers, and much more.  College and universities remain one of the best areas to bring positive change into your company. 


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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