We talk a lot about the necessity for business managers to “take ownership” of diversity and inclusion efforts. But we often fail to give...

by Mary L. Martinez
Director, Workforce Management & Diversity Consulting

Michal Fineman
Senior Talent Management & Global Diversity Consultant
ORC Worldwide

We talk a lot about the necessity for business managers to “take ownership” of diversity and inclusion efforts. But we often fail to give them the support we routinely provide to managers filling other crucial roles in the business.

Perhaps the most frequently neglected support for business champions is learning opportunities that will expand their vision of diversity and their ability to make that vision a reality. Champions are asked to lead D&I change in the organization, but few have had any formal exposure to how to do that.

Business managers sometimes tell us that they feel at sea in their roles as D&I champions. They support diversity and inclusion, but they don’t really know how to activate it. They need to be able to talk knowledgeably about the basic theory behind D&I work and have the skills to take effective action. In particular, they should know how to:

  • Define diversity and inclusion,
  • Make a compelling case for D&I in the context of their organizational goals and strategy,
  • Set meaningful objectives for themselves,
  • Gain support from other business leaders,
  • Integrate D&I into the organization’s management processes,
  • Recognize the subtle, often unconscious ways bias may express itself and influence employment decisions, and
  • Communicate effectively about D&I to a range of audiences—often in different parts of the world.

What is the best way to deliver learning experiences to business champions who have a lot on their plates already, are reluctant to commit time away from the office, and may even feel they “already know it”?

“We talk a lot about the necessity for business managers to “take ownership” of diversity and inclusion efforts. But we often fail to give them the support we routinely provide to managers filling other crucial roles in the business.”

There are a number of ways to make the learning compelling and to accommodate busy schedules, such as bringing experts into the organization rather than sending people outside; creating a series of relatively short events, interspersed with structured sharing of participants’ experiences with applying the learnings; and blending learning with visioning, strategy formulation, and action planning. For creating real engagement and bringing champions up to speed on diversity fundamentals, we believe the most effective approach is a half- or full-day session—long enough to create a pocket of time and space in which participants can focus entirely on diversity and inclusion. A dedicated day allows time for more than just imparting information: Participants can discuss, reflect, and actually apply what they’ve learned to their own personal experiences and business challenges. An executive at a major pharmaceutical who recently participated in a session of this kind noted that it provided the “opportunity to have an open, fresh dialogue, beyond anything we had had in the past about diversity.”

Aside from guidance on how to fill their roles, business managers gain something else very important from these discussions, particularly when they are in the room with their peers from other companies or even other parts of their own organization: the chance to learn from other champions and trade war stories about the challenges they’re facing, the things they’ve tried that have worked—and those that haven’t. In the process, they widen their own personal networks.

The diversity function may want to help maintain and nourish these networks by providing ongoing opportunities for alumni to share their subsequent “real-life” learnings—in person, or via some virtual communication tool such as a D&I wiki or discussion board, or even Twitter exchanges!

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