Making diversity and inclusion a cultural distinctive of your organization is an ongoing process that requires mindfulness of every opportunity to encourage and inspire.
Creating meaningful activities around traditional monthly diversity celebrations requires advance planning. Otherwise, you will likely resort to knee-jerk, minimally-effective, and possibly controversial events that focus solely on external aspects of culture. An example of this would be the traditional pot luck luncheon where people of a certain ethnic background are asked to bring food from “their culture” and music thought to represent a certain group is played. These often well-meaning events can, at worst, be perceived as reinforcing stereotypes, and, at best, can appear simplistic gestures with no lasting benefit or business result. Thus, they garner support neither from employees nor from the C-suite.
In order for diversity to evolve into an effective strategic reality of inclusion, celebrations must be perceived as relevant to the business and empowering to employees. Thus, celebrations should NOT merely cite famous historical figures of general interest but rather highlight pioneers and titans within the company’s own industry and organization.
For example, in celebrating Black History Month, rather than talk about the more generally known figures of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, etc., spotlight African-Americans who have been and are currently important to your own industry. A good place to start might be Savoy magazine’s 2016 edition Top 100 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America. In that list, you can surely find someone representing your particular industry. In addition to presenting their stories through research, contact those individuals and ask to interview them or better yet, ask them to do a video clip (Facebook Live would be the simplest) specifically directed toward your employees. See www. savoynetwork.com
Celebrate Diversity, Autism Awareness
Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage, Older Americans, Jewish Americans
SEPTEMBER 15-OCTOBER 15:
National Disability Employment Awareness
Contact professional associations that represent groups of employees and partner with them, providing information to your employees and encouraging them to take advantage of resources and networking opportunities that those associations provide. A good place to start to find such organizations is on www.monster.com, where, for example, I quickly found links to over 200 national professional associations devoted to advancing blacks, women, and Hispanics in fields as diverse as sales, journalism, nursing, culinary arts, chemistry, engineering, accounting, and HR. A joint event with the local chapter of such a professional association could be advantageous for many reasons, including the development of a potential future recruiting source. Florida is blessed, for example, with very prominent and nationally-recognized chapters of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) and ABWA (American Business Women’s Association) who would likely be pleased to be approached for a joint event highlighting the accomplishments of women in various business fields and who could provide statistics and information for newsletters and e-blasts.
Highlight people in your own company. The most empowering examples, however, are usually closer to home, so enlist those leaders who have become successful in your own organization to tell their stories to inspire and motivate others. Be aware, however, that people feel differently about the extent they wish a diversity aspect to be emphasized. For example, although some people may be pleased to be highlighted as “the first woman to hold this position,” others may not want to be defined in that way. Ask individuals specifically about how they want to be positioned and introduced, and also be sure you allow people to self-identify, and do not assume or force employees to designate that they belong to a certain group.
There is a saying that “all politics is essentially local.” I would say the same is true of successful diversity initiatives. Until both the C-suite and employees see a tangible connection between the soaring rhetoric of celebratory messages and the actual impact of diversity in their own companies and industries, well-meaning celebratory initiatives will be viewed as non-meaningful. The monthly diversity awareness campaigns do, however, provide great opportunities for mindful organizations to bring the message home that inclusion is good business – not just philosophically or historically or in general -- but for the company that we keep – right at home.
J. Lenora Bresler, J.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is the president and founder of Bresler Training, LLC., a leadership and engagement keynote, training, and coaching firm. She is the author of Instant Insight: 15 Questions to Great Relationships, and currently serves as editor of the HR Florida Council Review and Newswire, HR Florida Conference Entertainment chair, and Diversity Chair of Mid-Florida SHRM, of which she is a past-president. www.jlenorabresler.com