Successful Diversity Programs Mean Survival

Twenty years ago, workforce diversity meant that women and people of color were represented in the workforce. Today, workforce diversity has expanded to include those groups as well as people with either physical or mental disabilities, people of various generations, and people with different sexual orientations. As workforce diversity has grown, so has the business infrastructure to support diversity.

Where there once was a single human resource (HR) professional handling a corporate diversity program, today there can be entire departments dedicated to diversity and inclusion (D&I). In addition, universities are now offering degreed programs in diversity studies. This change and the delineation between HR departments and their initiatives and the D&I team and their initiatives can benefit companies but can also cause issues if the corporate vision is unclear.

Understanding where HR handles and where diversity directs
D&I initiatives have their history within HR and in some cases are still managed as a part of that department. Employee recruiting for diversity is an area that relies heavily on both HR and D&I professionals. D&I professionals provide the road map for their initiatives whereas the HR professionals act on those initiatives. Another facet of business where these areas collaborate is on corporate activities and celebrations. Since both affect employees directly, HR has the lead here, but in order to adhere to D&I initiatives, D&I representatives need to be involved in all aspects of these programs from planning to execution. It is critical that the diversity vision and the vision for HR are clearly defined so they can work together productively.

There are, however, some aspects of D&I programs that do not require HR involvement. Assisting with tutoring of disadvantaged students is an example that supports a corporate diversity strategy, but since the activity occurs outside of the office, it doesn’t require HR involvement. Other areas that fall primarily under D&I include: offering volunteer programs to assist others in the community; allowing the use of corporate facilities during non-work hours for community activities, meetings, receptions, or school tutoring.

Where there are challenges, there are opportunities
There are mixed opinions as to whether D&I have a direct and measurable impact on corporate revenue. D&I initiatives are multifaceted and complex, and so is the measurement of its impact on business. Nonetheless, it is well documented that a diverse workforce produces diverse ideas and solutions to complex business problems. One of the biggest hurdles that D&I initiatives face is getting and keeping the support of top executives, especially if these initiatives can’t be justified to make the company more money. Many times these programs are one of the first to hit the chopping block during a downturn. To keep these programs top of mind, D&I professionals should do the following:

  1. Document the value -“ Include in your documentation the value to both the company and the community. Measure achievements where you can and present these to upper management on a regular basis.
  2. Publicize your programs -“ Get local press involved with your outreach. Whether it is through a newsletter, email, radio or TV, make sure that your program is getting the recognition it deserves.
  3. Create partnerships -“ Develop relationships with other companies, churches or community organizations. This can help to reduce the financial burden on your company as well as help to publicize all the good that you are doing.

Programs that are well known and well received in the community will be harder to remove from the corporate budget. By promoting a diverse workforce with strong community involvement, companies can improve their image, brand recognition and in turn their bottom line.

Deciding whether to outsource diversity functions or handle in-house
Since the diversity of our workforce has expanded exponentially, it is important that companies have a diversity program in place. Yet, many traditional HR departments are not equipped with personnel, expertise or both to create and maintain a successful diversity program.

Of course, there are always some pros and cons when considering how to handle your diversity program. You may consider having the program in-house as an advantage since you would have the resource at your disposal, but the disadvantage would be an increased cost to the business. By outsourcing the program, costs related to overhead, personnel, and training for required certifications can be eliminated. Another benefit of outsourcing your program to qualified professionals is that the program remains relevant and up-to-date. In many instances, a diversity program is just added to the list of responsibilities of an in-house HR professional. By using an outside resource, you get up-to-date information on all aspects of diversity and your program will be more consistent and comprehensive.

If you are on the fence about how to handle your diversity program, consider the following factors during the decision making process.

  1. Cost -“ Compare the costs of handling the program in house (labor, overhead, training, materials, etc.) versus outsourcing.
  2. Government regulations -“ In some instances, there are government regulations regarding diversity, diversity training and overall diversity programs. Consider whether keeping up with these regulations can be handled in house or with an outside resource.
  3. Relevant Program -“ Can you keep informed on the topics and trends on diversity within your current resources?

These days, a successful diversity program is critical for an organization’s ability to gain innovations, adhere to governmental regulations, and create an inclusive work environment. The survival of your organization may depend on it.

Michelle Benjamin is the founder and CEO of Benjamin Enterprises headquartered in Bronx, New York. She has created Workforce and Diversity Solutions for major corporations and government agencies for more than 25 years and can be reached at 800.677.2532 or [email protected].

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.