Diversity Must Be Woven Into-Not Tacked Onto-Company Culture

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Diversity and inclusiveness are like integrity—they can’t be captured on a scorecard, but their presence or absence is noticeable, said Tiane Mitchell Gordon, senior vice president of diversity and inclusion at AOL.

Gordon explored the relationship of culture and diversity and inclusion’s success with a company during her luncheon address at the annual Workplace Diversity: Practice and Research conference June 10, 2010. George Mason University hosted the conference in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

“There is a different feel to an organization where everyone feels included,” Gordon said. Discussions are more candid and “you feel the authenticity of the organization.”

Corporate culture must be addressed intentionally, deliberately and specifically in order to realize the benefits of diversity and inclusion, she said.

“Culture is probably the most difficult organizational attribute to change,” outlasting an organization’s products, services and leadership, said Gordon. She has worked with seven CEOs at AOL since joining the company as HR director in 1995.

At every point with a new CEO, “I go back to square one” because each has a different ‘take’ and comfort level about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The CEO’s commitment, Gordon said, “must be clear and unambiguous. The senior leaders must be responsible for articulating diversity and inclusion as a business requirement. It is not just a workplace issue, it’s a marketplace issue.”

Not an Add-On

There must be a link to business and an awareness of diversity as a business issue, creating scorecards and baselines to track its progress or lack thereof. Make sure, she urged, that diversity is “not an add-on but an add-in.”

The conditions under which diversity is introduced into the workplace are important, she said.

“Too often organizations fail to fathom the potential impact of culture. Culture is important because it drives either the acceptance or the rejection of diversity and inclusion,” she said.

And an organization’s culture—its attitudes, values, beliefs, and how things are done—can differ from department to department.

“You need to understand what cultures you’re dealing with at what time,” she said.

“Changes have to be made in virtually all aspects of the organization, and that transformation [to a diverse and inclusive culture] does not occur overnight,” Gordon pointed out. “Ideally, an organization’s culture has diversity and inclusion incorporated in the corporate strategy and receives the necessary attention and support of senior leaders and is backed up with resources. Having the right culture that has a diversity and inclusion mind-set is a competitive advantage,” but it must be managed intentionally, deliberately and aggressively, and done so consistently, she said. It takes time and discipline.

Gordon shared the following 25 reasons why most corporate diversity and inclusion initiatives fail:

  1. It’s framed as an initiative, not the normal way of doing business.
  2. There is no clear definition of what diversity and inclusion really means.
  3. Diversity is not linked to the company’s existing vision or strategy.
  4. There’s no sense of urgency to implement diversity and inclusion.
  5. The workforce is suffering from initiative fatigue—there’s always a new initiative.
  6. The CEO does not embrace the effort fully.
  7. There is no compelling vision or reason for diversity.
  8. The senior team is not aligned.
  9. Key players don’t have the time to focus on diversity.
  10. Diversity champions are not empowered.
  11. Decision-making processes are nonexistent or fuzzy.
  12. There is a lack of trust.
  13. The culture is risk-averse.
  14. The workforce is ruled by past assumptions and old mental models.
  15. No process is in place for funding diversity and inclusion efforts.
  16. Senior team members are not walking the talk.
  17. There is analysis paralysis.
  18. There is no intrinsic motivation to diversify.
  19. Leaders are not held accountable for results.
  20. Best practices are not shared.
  21. Middle managers are not on board.
  22. Diversity initiatives are perceived as another flavor of the month.
  23. Individuals don’t understand how to be a part of the effort.
  24. Diverse inputs or conflicting opinions are not honored.
  25. There is an imbalance of left-brain and right-brain thinking.

Eric Peterson, manager of diversity and inclusion initiatives for the Society for Human Resource Management, spoke at the conference. Shirley Davis, SHRM’s director of diversity and inclusion initiatives, served on the advisory council for the 2010 workplace diversity conference.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kathy.gurchiek@shrm.org.