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Stop Talking About Diversity Only During Black History Month

Diversity is a trending buzzword that people often associate with a checkbox on hiring forms or mandatory trainings that leave employees disinterested and uninspired. Yet, diversity on its own accomplishes little toward bettering workplace culture. The essential companion to diversity is inclusion, where diverse employee groups are heard, valued, empowered and provided access to resources and advancement opportunities. Lack of inclusion stagnates progress, costs companies talented employees and fails to deliver the business results that robust diversity and inclusion initiatives promise. 

Recognizing the presence and contribution of your African-American employees for 28 or 29 days of the year is glaringly patronizing. This manufactured acknowledgement does little to cultivate an authentic, thriving and sustainable workplace culture and, in fact, consistently backfires, negatively affecting morale and causing employee turnover which diminishes business profitability (1). These checkbox approaches do little to manage unconscious bias, combat microaggressions and establish interventions that effectively recruit, support and retain employees from underrepresented groups. 

One study, surveying 3,736 full-time professionals of all races, found that today’s diversity and inclusion efforts are failing African-American professionals (2).  The study found that only 8 percent of people employed in white-collar positions are Black, and this proportion falls drastically at higher rungs of the corporate ladder, especially when climbing from middle management to the executive level.  However, in the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance. Companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability (3).  

So, why don’t we make diversity and inclusion initiatives an organizational imperative?

The disconnect between holiday recognition and true recognition occurs in more than just February. We celebrate women in their existing professional and managerial roles all March long, but don’t promote them to leadership roles or board roles. Women only make up 6.6 percent of top executives in Fortune 500 companies (4). That’s 33 out of 500. Although that represents the highest percentage to date, it is still underwhelming considering the latest findings from S&P Global Market Intelligence reported that public companies with women CEOs or CFOs often were more profitable and produced better stock price performance than many of the companies that had appointed men to those roles (5). 

The grumble from consumers regarding companies’ four week alliance with the LGBTQ+ community in the summer is another example of inauthentic diversity recognition. While some companies do prioritize an inclusive work culture, recent statistics from Human Rights Campaign stated that 46 percent of LGBTQ+ workers feel closeted at work (6). However, creating environments that encourage employees to bring their full identities and experiences to work enhances productivity. And fostering representation of the full range of adult human experience in the workplace increases the likelihood that we reflect and connect with our customers.

All business professionals are acquainted with the fact that advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives benefit organizations.  However, many are not equipped with the insights to introduce and sustain these efforts, which is crucial to their success. These initiatives must be promoted from the top levels of leadership, incorporated into the strategic plan and goals, weaved throughout the organization and practiced throughout the entire year. Diversity initiatives are not to be thrown in with extraneous programming such as monthly birthday celebrations and company cookouts. They must be at the forefront of organizational efforts. When companies prioritize a strong diversity and inclusion practice, they’ll experience the benefits of increased profitability and innovation and they’ll be recruiting exceptional talent to take their business to the next level. 

Jacqueline Ferguson is the Director of Multicultural Programming at Walk West, a member of the National Diversity Council and a Certified Diversity Executive (CDE).

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Jackie Ferguson

Jackie Ferguson

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