Going Beyond Diversity

Over the past ten years the term “diversity” had become to the social conscience side of business what the word “re-engineering” was in the previous decade to the operations process side of business. These catch-all words were used interchangeably with any number of business and human capital issues so much so that they were ultimately diluted through broad applications and loose affiliations from their original definition and intention. Diversity became the star of “buzz word bingo” in board rooms and corporate communications across the landscape. While good work was accomplished with all the focus on diversity, much of it seemed to be lacking a clear strategy with specific goals and outcomes that everyone from the bottom to the top of the organization could not only articulate but really participate in and benefit from. Sure it was nice to have a Black History Month program that highlighted significant figures in the struggle for racial equality in America. But how does that impact us today? Where does it lead to in today’s currency? And the key question all businesses have, how does it translate into increased employee engagement and downstream business?

At Fifth Third Bank we ask ourselves those questions as we began planning for our 2012 diversity initiative. Employees from the president to the our customer service representatives were asked for their impression on how we were doing with diversity and what they might like from the 2012 version of our initiative. Overwhelmingly we heard that the movement needed to be more about inclusion and provide tangible tools that will help them do their job more effectively. We learned that while business resource groups (BRG) were great ways to make employees from specific minority communities feel connected, they also inadvertently created “silo’s” that built walls rather than “understandings” that disintegrated barriers.

Finally, we set out to align our diversity initiative with our core sustainable strategic growth strategies. Specifically it was important to recognize how vital diversity was to being a “destination employer,” our number one core strategy. To attract and retain the best talent, we needed to be more innovative with the way we viewed diversity than anyone else-¦not just banks, anyone!

The program we emerged with is still in its formative stage. The theme was to go “beyond diversity.”

First we attacked the structure. We established an Inclusion Council that had a representative from every area of the bank, including each of our BRG’s. This broke down silos and promoted inclusion, not just diversity.

Next we set an overriding goal that was developed to provide everyone with a unified outcome. Ours was to shift from diversity to “intercultural competence.” Intercultural competence. Think about what that means. That we are not only exposed to other cultures but that we are learning and experiencing those cultures in a meaningful way that provides us with a certain level of competence and understanding. Our definition for Intercultural competence is “understanding the behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work and thought as expressed in a particular community.”

The tactics for delivering on intercultural competence to the employee body are communications, experiences, education and community outreach. The Inclusion Council has set a calendar for the year utilizing these tactics to promote intercultural competence with a specific community each month. The energy surrounding planning for these activities is already palpable and indicative of the reception changing our diversity initiative is receiving.

As a destination employer, we could not afford to remain status quo on one of the most important employee engagement initiatives -” innovation from all sorts of inquisitive thought patterns. For us our new Inclusion Initiative came from going, to beyond diversity.

Jack Riley is senior vice president and affiliate marketing director at Fifth Third Bank Eastern Michigan where he is responsible for developing competitive initiatives resulting in market share growth and increased revenue and profits for the southeastern Michigan market. He can be reached at [email protected]. Fifth Third Bank is a 2011 winner of Metro Detroit’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.