pyramidMost organizations start their actions for building an inclusive and engaged workforce by offering diversity and inclusion training. This usually raises everyone’s awareness of how they can interact more effectively with people different from themselves, but then what’s next? If new behaviors are not reinforced, those behaviors will not become habits, thus the work culture will not change significantly.

There are many articles and research projects that try to debunk the effectiveness of workplace education focused on diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias training. Among the best known studies is the one conducted by Alexandra Kilev, Ph.D., “Best Practices Best Guesses,” American Sociological Review, August 2006. Since her report, there have been many studies that have tried to replicate Kilev’s findings. These studies grab headlines, but a read of the full research documents points to a much more complex conclusion.

Broadly speaking, our findings suggest that even though inequality at work may be rooted in managerial bias and the social isolation of women and minorities, the best hope for remedying it may lie in practices that assign organizational responsibility for change. (Kilev, “Best Practices,” )

What my clients and Trailblazer companies have experienced is that education focused on inclusion is effective when it is connected to a larger business strategy for the organization.

Diversity councils can help create and communicate that bigger picture. They serve a powerful purpose of assisting the company’s leadership by becoming a trusted advisor and a resource to help accelerate results. Diversity councils provide insight and information that’s reflected in the organization and beyond, and they are a sounding board that managers can engage to accelerate the advancement of inclusion and diversity efforts. Councils provide a means to broadening the horizontal reach of the CEO, the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) and other top leaders across the organization, whereas middle managers provide the vertical depth of inclusion and diversity into the organization. The council leaders work closely with the CDO to ensure tight alignment with the overall inclusion, engagement and diversity and business strategy.

Diversity councils may be chaired by the CEO, jointly by the CEO and CDO, or solely by the CDO. In all of these cases, the CEO visibly champions the council’s work. These councils have helped top leaders institutionalize many human capital practices that support and accelerate these initiatives.

While executives have seen how important it is to have a council, it is equally vital to have the right people on it. The typical council member is a well-connected, very well-respected, highly influential leader. He or she has a great deal of knowledge regarding the organization itself, the challenges and issues associated with specific business units, and has intimate knowledge of the concerns associated with how work gets done. As a group, the council reflects a balanced representation of the business. The organization’s leaders work side-by-side with council members to ensure that the overall business plan is fully aligned with the inclusion and diversity strategy. Through the work of the councils, leaders co-create the expected outcomes and monitor strategy execution.

Regardless of where your organization starts its diversity journey— training, recruiting, celebrations or small group discussions— the key to success is to connect these activities to a broader business-driven, results-oriented strategy. As the late R. Roosevelt Thomas, Ph.D. used to always ask, “What is the requirement for diversity?”

Author’s Note: Many of my client organizations use various names for their diversity council. Often the word “diversity” is not in the name. Be creative and action oriented. Use a name that will resonate with the employee culture in a positive way.