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Diversity is becoming a big component for many companies. I believe that diversity should not be just stated but it should be felt. What are some ways an organization can make diversity something that is felt rather than sold?

As a student that is on the Diversity Empowerment Council at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, I would like to find out new creative ways to create initiatives that will help empower my community.
#business #consulting #diversity

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Donald’s Answer

Diversity is certainly more than "unity and Integration" that is stated or felt. And, many companies are embracing diversity not only because of regulatory requirements but as a "move forward strategy" that allows them to differentiate themselves in today's highly competitive business environment. There are significant tangible benefits to be had by being inclusive....and most of them show up on the bottom line if they are effectively implemented.

An academic environment may be the perfect stage to demonstrate the practical benefits and difficulties of a n inclusive and diverse environment. Perhaps the following will give you some "food for thought":

If the academic organization supports this initiative, get a few faculty members to to develop an academic "challenge" using several groups of students, some diverse and some not (these should include groups by ethnicity, race etc and should reflect those people in the diverse group). Let these groups work through the "challenge" and then analyze the result for commonality, uniqueness and effectiveness.

Explore "diversity" from other perspectives.......One might consider diversity in the area of education as well. Have you ever had the opportunity to see all of one discipline (engineers seem especially prone to this) trying to provide solutions to another? If you are encountering lots of “instant agreement”, if you are hearing lots of “you know” and if there is general agreement on just how great things are progressing……..watch out……The results are almost always inferior to a diverse group.....try it!

Include non-students in your groups to get "how others view the process". Use people who are experienced in the subject matter but without formal education. Try to establish what might be the "educational equivalents". In some cases, people functionally working in "state of the art" feel that newly minted academics are less than beneficial to their jobs......the perspectives of these people may help in providing an inclusive environment for all.....What do they bring to the table, what will you bring.....How does one integrate these differences to achieve optimal efficiency.

We once did a panel of several student leaders, faculty and company owners. Each gave their individual expectation of how they expected to be treated, compensated and utilized. When the moderator brought up diversity, only the owners seemed prepared to speak on the subject. In my career, I have interviewed hundreds of people.....I have yet to be asked anything about "diversity"....quite enlightening......why isn't that important? Is it important for an individual to articulate how her/his background would be beneficial to an organization.......the industries know why.........

Explore Cultural diversity, the methods by which different cultures make decisions as these differences may serve as a cross check and validation process. We are all individuals and the way we see the world/problems needs to be reflective of the “swath of humanity” which we develop solutions, services and/or products for. To do this effectively, the people designing should be empathetic and representative of the diversity of the end users. Compare the decision making process and it's effect on the end users. A group of well meaning folks once decided to build a well in a village. This was in response to the knowledge that the women of this village walked several miles each day to get water. After the well was built, it was sabotaged almost daily. Turns out the only time the women of the village ever got together was during their walks to the old well........they didn't want the well in the village....cultural differences count!

Explore diversity in specific professional areas: In design, ergonomics is a good simulation for diversity. It is generally easy to get a group of interested parties together to design anything, it's fun! Tall, short, heavy, light, quick, slow, all must be represented to get proper perspective for hardware and service solutions. Sometimes we don't take the time to put together diverse groups. I once put together a group to work on a product design; They were tall, males and unbeknownst to me, mostly left-handed. There is at least one system that was designed by left-handed people for left handed people. The other 90% know it every time they use that hardware. Divide groups by physical attribute to design something and compare the results.

Do a "walk in my shoes" day...spend the day in a wheelchair, some time blindfolded, carry a heavy weight all day...2% of the population is mobility impaired.....it gives one a different perspective......Evaluate your institutions compliance levels......

I think you'll get the idea, Old/young, experienced/educated, new/old, all have something to offer.....keep looking outside the box,


Don Knapik

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Laura’s Answer

This is a great question. I think it's important for companies to think about diversity and inclusion together. Simply having a diverse workforce will not make a difference if diverse individuals don't feel able to fully participate.

At a corporate level, the leadership needs to believe that diversity will make a difference to the bottom line, will bring new ways of thinking and innovation and bring valuable skills to the organization. If there is not a business benefit it is difficult to have leadership really invest in D&I initiatives. Fortunately, there is a lot of research now that demonstrates that diverse teams are more creative and perform better, so I think a lot of organizations have bought in to the idea.

One area where organizations can focus is on the recruiting and hiring practices. There is a lot of bias in the recruiting process, so technology such as SAP Success Factors can help to remove bias from the recruiting process (https://news.sap.com/sap-successfactors-moves-business-beyond-bias/). Requiring diversity in the candidate pool and in the hiring team also is important.

The company should invest in a D&I office. Ideally the D&I office should report to the CEO or the board, not be buried deep in the HR organization. The D&I office should be responsible for managing D&I programs. One example of such a program at SAP is the Autism at Work program (https://www.sap.com/corporate/en/company/diversity.html).

Supporting employee led groups is also important. At SAP there are a number of Employee Engagement groups: the SAP Business Womens Network, Pride@SAP, Black Employee Network, Latin Employee Network and others. These groups enable employees to come together to support each other and celebrate their uniqueness in the company. The activities and initiatives are organized by the employees for the employees, but the company funds these programs to encourage the diversity.

These are a few D&I activities that are working very well at SAP.

Laura recommends the following next steps:

You could explore some organizations that support D&I initiatives in organizations. A couple related to gender diversity are http://pbwc.org/ and http://www.catalyst.org/

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Allison’s Answer

Diversity and inclusion have been hot topics for the past several years in a multitude of industries. You're right that these are not just buzz words and that diversity should be felt within a company. For me, I think that diversity within a company is not just about seeing that there is noticeable diversity, but about recognizing the value of variety of experiences.

I can feel the appreciation of diversity within organizations I'm involved in when we conduct panels, when colleagues disagree with each other and bring a new perspective to the table, and when we have organized diversity discussions where we challenge one another to evaluate our initiatives.

While not exactly an event, I think that the best way to feel and understand the diversity of your organization is to call for openness and to challenge the status quo. Diversity remains top of mind for organizations and I'm excited to see additional progress in the coming years!

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Elizabeth’s Answer

I've found that applying best practices from other industries can be one way to get started on launching new diversity and inclusion initiatives. For example, diversity and inclusion are hot topics in the tech industry right now and you may be able to experiment with using the initiatives you see tech companies taking as models.

Here are few resources that might spark some ideas:

Good luck! And thank you for being a champion in this space.