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How To Make Diversity A Priority At All Levels Of Your Organization

How to Make Diversity a Priority at all Levels of Your Organization

According to Forbes magazine, seventy percent of companies believe primary responsibility for the success of their diversity efforts lies with their executive or “C-suite” employees.  But while diversity initiatives may begin at the top, savvy organizations know that they cannot end there.  Organizations must make diversity a priority at all levels. 

Recent events at Starbucks demonstrate what can happen when discussions of diversity don’t include frontline employees.  Though Starbucks worked for decades to create a reputation as a champion of diversity, a Starbucks associate caused a furor by calling the police on two African American men.  The company’s executive chairman, Howard Schultz, explained that insufficient training was one of the factors that lead to the incident. 

Though organizations suffer when all employees do not receive the same messages regarding diversity, implementing diversity initiatives in large organizations presents challenges.  An organization with hundreds of locations and millions of employees may find it difficult to ensure that each worksite and each worker is following the organization’s diversity directives.  Nevertheless, organizations can take several steps to create a culture that respects diversity at all levels.  

Train the Right Way

Most companies offer some form of diversity training.  However, money spent on ineffective training programs is money wasted.  The timing of the training is also important. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, two types of diversity training are especially effective.  In the first type, perspective shifting, employees are asked to place themselves in the position of a person who they view as different.  The second type, goal setting, requires employees to set specific, yet attainable, diversity goals for themselves.  Organizations of all sizes can add these elements to their existing training program.

Train Early, Train Often

The timing of the training is also important.  Organizations must make diversity a priority for employees at all levels from the very start.  Some companies, such as Nordstrom, provide diversity training during the employee onboarding process.  A company that waits too long to explain its views on diversity takes the risk that employees will make their own rules while they wait for the organization’s to be explained.

Additionally, many organizations require few diversity trainings for operations-level employees.  Perhaps they feel that the cost associated with training large numbers of employees in positions with high turnover is not the best decision.  However, frontline employees represent the organization to customers.  Investing in these employees is an investment in the organization’s brand and its future success.   

Tell Employees Why Using Diversity Skills Matters

For an organization to make diversity a priority at all levels, employees at all levels must be told that diversity matters.   However, research from the University of Houston found that management and frontline employees have different experiences with diversity policies.  Specifically, the study stated that management employees are generally involved in creating an organization’s diversity principles and therefore have more familiarity with the concepts.  But service-level employees usually receive their instruction from management, which puts them one step removed from diversity efforts.  

Fortunately, organizations can bridge gaps in diversity knowledge between management and operational employees.  The University of Houston study also reported that telling employees how diversity benefits their careers makes a difference.  For example, when service-level employees learn that understanding diversity can help them better assist customers, they respond.  Organization leaders can make sure that employees know that diversity doesn’t just affect the organization’s bottom line – it affects theirs. 

Evaluate Your Diversity Plan Often

An organization must evaluate how its diversity plan is implemented at every level.  Luckily, there are multiple ways to test if all employees are hearing a company’s message.  Some organizations include a diversity metric on employee evaluations.  Others use mystery shoppers to evaluate their frontline employees in real time.  Organizations that strive for diversity can employ many methods to evaluate their plan’s effectiveness.

All employees must know, understand, and execute the organization’s diversity principles.  To learn more about building a culture that supports diversity at all levels, enroll in The Equity Toolkit e-courses. The Equity Toolkit is an interactive, four-course online series containing essential, research-based concepts on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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