[Note: This post was updated March 2021 for freshness & clarity.]
Diversity initiatives usually sound great on paper and on an organization’s website. However, upon closer inspection, it is easy to see that there often exists a huge gap between rhetoric and practice.
Jayne and Dipboye (2004) stated that simply having a diverse workforce “does not . . . produce the positive outcomes that are often claimed” (pp. 411-412). Increasing diversity, in and of itself, will not improve the talent pool. It will not build commitment, improve motivation, or reduce conflict. Nor will it increase group or organizational performance.
One of the first challenge in managing a diversity initiative is to understand that the concept of diversity is difficult to operationalize, with different organizations defining the term “diversity” differently (Jayne & Dipboye, 2004).
Second, a diversity “training” program on its own is not a panacea. A company with only a diversity training program should never think of itself as having a diversity initiative. For example, in reviewing the components of a diversity initiative at one organization (I’ll call it Acme Company), it became evident that the diversity training program was just one part of a much larger, more comprehensive diversity initiative. The other pieces of a diversity initiative, in addition to training, MUST include: recruiting, retention, development, external partnership, communication, and staffing and infrastructure (Jayne & Dipboye, 2004).
Due to the absence of many of the parts listed above, the diversity initiative at Acme Company was ineffective. Unfortunately, the diversity programs that were in place played a very minor role in shaping the diversity initiatives at this particular organization. Among some of the major omissions were: there were no leadership development programs, no community outreach, and no employee benefits with a diversity component integrated into the larger framework. For instance, at Acme Company there were no domestic partner benefits for employees.
To succeed in properly instituting a diversity initiative, it is essential to integrate diversity priorities with the overall mission of the organization. For instance, to achieve diversity success for a college or university, Wade-Golden and Matlock (2007) suggested creating a well-crafted, well-articulated and integrated strategic plan that engages each level of the institution and one that reflects a commitment to action.
When there is a lack of consistency between what’s written or advertised at the organizational level from the reality of what employees (and/or students if it’s at a university) perceive, feel, and/or experience, tensions (sometimes subtle and other times more visible and vocal) can surface.
Jayne and Dipboye (2004) listed some steps that organizations can take to manage diversity more effectively:
- There must be commitment and accountability from upper management.
- A comprehensive needs assessment must be conducted.
- Tie the diversity strategy to business results in a realistic way.
- Emphasize team-building and group process training.
- Set up metrics and evaluate the effectiveness of diversity initiatives.
Takeaway: Effective organizational diversity initiatives are difficult, comprehensive, and time-consuming. There’s no doubt that it is a challenging, laborious undertaking. However, if it is done correctly, organizations and its employees will benefit.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant
Jayne, M. E. A., & Dipboye, R. L. (2004). Leveraging diversity to improve business performance: Research findings and recommendations for organizations. Human Resource Management, 43(4), 409-424.
Wade-Golden, K., & Matlock, J. (2007). Ten Core Ingredients for Fostering Campus Diversity Success. Diversity Factor, 15(1), 41-48.