Who holds the responsibility of creating and sustaining a workplace that is diverse, respectful and inclusive within your organization?

  • Everyone?
  • Human Resources Director?
  • Chief Diversity Officer (CDO)?
  • No one?

The HR department holds the responsibility in most organizations, even though within trailblazing businesses D&I is its own department with the CDO reporting directly to the CEO or president. Many leaders tell me everyone should hold the responsibility, but the problem is when everyone should, no one does.

Actions and Optics   A few months ago a client invited me to their initial search committee meeting to provide direction and guidance as they embarked upon finding a new division head. Prior to this, spanning an eight year period, they had made great strides in creating a more inclusive climate, and in hiring and retaining significantly more diverse employees at the entry level. Somehow, they just could not find “qualified” senior level leaders who also possessed the diversity they sought.

The CEO and the search committee members were fully aware that as long as top management did not reflect visible diversity, the organization would continue to struggle with its image, and this issue was having a negative impact on their ability to attract diverse clients as well as “main stream” clients. Words were not enough.

I recommended several untapped sources for them to explore. The response to each suggestion was a “yeah, but.” Some of the comments were, “People from those groups don’t understand how we do things;” “We hired a person from there once. It was not a good fit;” “To develop the relationships you suggest, is too time consuming and costly.”

Sound familiar? Everyone said they wanted more diversity but no one was taking responsibility to make it happen.

C-Suite Commitment In the case above, the intentions were good, but the commitment was not there. With any new venture there are growing pains, awkwardness, and obstacles. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are no different. Xerox, American Express, McDonald’s and others made a long term commitment to find the best talent and increase diversity. I am sure none of their CEOs were selected only because they were ethnically diverse. Companies that commit to creating and sustaining an environment of inclusion do so by demanding a diverse candidate slate, and they weigh diversity sensitivity seriously along with other skills needed for the position.

However, according to the Huffington Post women and minority CEOs tend to have rockier tenures and less freedom to lead than their white male counterparts. The pipeline for top positions continue to be sparsely populated with under- represented groups in most organizations because women and minorities are not given the assignments that allow them to show their leadership strength.

Of course we know a person does not have to be a woman to be sensitive to issues impacting women; one does not have to be black to be sensitive to race issues. However, if the pattern is that no suitable candidates are found for senior positions, the argument that the leadership supports diversity becomes a hard pill to swallow.

What’s really going on?   In spite of best intentions of the leaders in power, people who are different continue to hit a glass ceiling, bamboo ceiling, or brick wall. Instead of “blaming” the candidate, it is time for leaders to acknowledge their own unconscious bias. I believe in most cases the locked door on top positions is not intentional. Leaders, just like others in the organization need to take a hard look at what their unconscious biases are. All of us tend to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us. Humans are just more comfortable with people like themselves. However, in the workplace that commonality stifles innovation and often leads to “group think.”

What can you do? Trailblazing companies create a work climate where it is safe for team members to use “carefrontation” techniques to question long held truths. For example, when a hiring leader says candidate Tyron Washington is “not a good fit,” others ask the leader to explain exactly what is meant by that comment. Often they discover it means the candidate does not talk, look or act like the majority of leaders in the organization even when his qualifications are strong. These conversations help everyone become more aware of their unconscious biases and how those biases keep organizations from hiring and retaining the best talent.

Are you willing to ask the courageous questions?