'Inclusion' Should Be Goal Of Diversity Plans

December 17, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — A willingness to talk about a business issue is the first step in dealing with a business issue, and diversity in the workplace is clearly a business issue. It’s no longer an option.

So says Craig Clayton, who will be in Grand Rapids Wednesday to present a diversity management planning workshop on behalf of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Clayton is a nationally recognized expert in organizational diversity measurement and management. He is founder and chairman of the Spartacus Group and runs the Institute for Diversity at the University of Houston. He’s also founder of the Greater Houston Diversity Coalitions and the Center for Diversity Research.

Clayton said the primary goal of the workshop is to help organizations frame a diversity management and measurement plan. What is the company going to be doing? Who will do it? When will it be done? How will it be measured? What will be the return on investment?

“Hypothetically, if you were going to enter a new market and sell products, the strategy and planning that would go into that  would be no different than when you’re trying to put a strategy in place that leverages those assets that are human capital,” Clayton said.  

From a best practices perspective, there are multiple components that go into a successful diversity management program, he observed. The key is how the program is managed in the work force, the workplace and the marketplace.

Clayton said there are three primary factors that have a tendency to derail workplace diversity programs. First is a lack of support at the executive level: Management says one thing but does another. For a diversity program to work, executives have to be committed to the issue of meritocracy and how people are treated in the workplace, Clayton said.

“If you really do value your employees, you would never start a meeting without reference to how significant people are in the broader perspective of your organization’s success.”

Second is the lack of metrics, Clayton said. Most people whose job it is to measure the progress of a diversity effort tend to do it around one or two extremes, he observed: They measure “activity” — as in how many employees took training or how many employees have a particular competency or skill that can be documented — or they designate how many employees the company has in each “category,” such as the percentage of women, immigrants and people of color who are in management, or the percentage of people who require accommodation in the workplace. 

While that’s important, that’s not diversity work, Clayton said. The diversity effort must be established upon a baseline of metrics around implications for the company’s top line, i.e. revenue growth; implications for its bottom line, i.e. cost reduction; and implications for its pipeline, i.e. recruiting, retention and talent management, he explained.

“If you omit a baseline of metrics, how can you possibly explain to the leaders and stakeholders what you got for what you spent a year ago or two years ago? Maybe the workplace feels nicer, but most leaders manage by numbers and not by feelings, and when you can give them a number and they can measure it, they can manage it.”

The third biggest drawback for diversity work is the people leading the process, he said. A lot of them are “social justice driven,” but they don’t have the business acumen to go with it, Clayton said.

“Their whole conversation is touchy-feely,” Clayton said. “Twenty years ago that might have helped, when it was the right thing to do.”

Under Clayton’s leadership, the University of Houston’s Institute for Diversity conducted a study last year with 13 companies and 5,200 respondents to explore the impact that “derailing behaviors” had on employees’ willingness to give their best efforts in the workplace. Derailing behaviors include corporate bullying, disrespectful behavior that undermines a person’s dignity and self-esteem, and acts of incivility.

Clayton said it was “astounding” how many correlations the study showed between derailing behaviors and the effort people put forward at work, their propensity to leave, and an array of other things. The data in the case study indicated that only 43 percent of the work force comes to work and gives 100 percent of their best effort on a regular basis. The No. 1 reason, he said, is because people don’t feel the boss treats them with dignity and respect, which doesn’t cost anything to dispense.

“We cut the data and looked at who was being impacted across multiple dimensions and the context of derailing behaviors that were either observed or experienced. Employees of color were three times more likely than Caucasians to start looking for new jobs if they had witnessed or been the target of derailing behavior.”

Becoming diverse should not be the goal. Rather, the goal should be for the company to become “inclusive,” and inclusion involves creating a culture of meritocracy, Clayton stressed. Demographics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that women, immigrants and people of color represent nearly 80 percent of the people entering the U.S. work force. 

“Becoming diverse is an inevitability,” Clayton pointed out. “What are you doing to create an environment where people feel valued and respected?”    

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