Human Resources

Changing workplace diversity, inclusion a tall task

Values, culture, accountability and leadership form the backbone

October 15, 2012
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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are laudable benchmarks, but making it a standard that all employees embrace requires an effective plan all will buy into, said two speakers at a forum sponsored by the Partners for a Racism-Free Community at the Dominican Center at Marywood.

Some of its success and the ease of implementing such standards depend on the generation employees are from, said David Barrett, director of talent management at Cascade Engineering. Wise is the company or corporation that understands this generational variation, he said.

Those from the World War II generation (born between 1920-48) tend to associate with their own, while on the opposite end of the inclusive spectrum are the Gen X (1965-80) and Gen Y (1981 on up) folks who have a much easier time associating with people of varied ethnicities, cultures and sexual orientations.

“Our philosophy of diversity and inclusion has everything to do with our culture,” said Barrett. “In many ways, it’s what made Cascade Engineering successful in its 40 years (of operation).”

Barrett referred to 10 steps that represent a systematic way for an organization to develop, implement and sustain its diversity and inclusion policies.

The 10 steps are: promote diversity as a priority; secure top level buy-in; create and communicate the vision; form a multi-level diversity and inclusion action team; assess the current state of diversity and inclusion in a company; write a diversity and inclusion plan; provide education and training; measure the impact; monitor performance and accountability; and finally, review and revise.

Such a 10-step plan is necessary because human nature tends to make assumptions toward others without knowing who they really are, said Chris Macon, human resources diversity and inclusion consultant with the firm he founded, Macon & Partner LLC.

But before managers rush in with the 10-step process, four key areas must be considered: values, culture, accountability and leadership.

**Values, representing the beliefs of a company that should include statements about how people are viewed, what the organization stands for and how they want to be known.

**Culture, meaning what a company is known for. It represents the kind of environment that has been created. Culture is created and can be changed by fervently held ideology and indoctrination.

**Accountability, which ensures a company is walking the talk and that policies and procedures are followed so the organization develops the kind of culture it desires.

**Leadership, which is a key to the success of any diversity and inclusion initiative. Leaders make or break an organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Leaders must commit to making diversity and inclusion a reality and be able to create a high level of trust with all employees.

It’s best to admit that racism and prejudice are not easily turned around, he said.

“I suggest to you you’re not going to stop doing it,” said Macon. “This is where we form our stereotypes and generalizations.”

This is an important reality to keep in mind because at the nation’s founding, institutionalized slavery has marred its history, said Macon, which even after it was declared illegal, written and unwritten rules have trailed in its wake.

“For example, in the military, women cannot fly fighter jets, even though that has nothing to do with women’s ability,” said Macon. “In the NFL, there was an unwritten rule blacks could not play quarterback because that was considered the most intellectual position in the field. There were unwritten rules women could not play at certain golf courses.”

Income level, geographic location, marital status and religious affiliation also play a part in determining how people view co-workers and those they report to, said Barrett.

All of which means people need to realize how they were raised and that their personal experiences shape their opinions of people based on their gender, race, ethnicity and other factors.

In the workplace, this is known as a carpet and cement issue, said Barrett. Office workers (carpet) have a different perception of those who work on a manufacturing line (cement).

“I do not like the term race,” said Barrett. “It’s a misnomer. Biology says we are only one race.”

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