In nearly 20 years of work as a labor and employment lawyer in a multi-national law firm and as the Chairman of the Society...

by Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

President & CEO
Thurgood Marshall College Fund
Former Chairman, Society for Human Resource Management

In nearly 20 years of work as a labor and employment lawyer in a multi-national law firm, as an in-house counsel for large companies, a chief human resources executive for a Fortune 500 company, and as the Chairman of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), nothing has proven more challenging than convincing white, male middle-management types why diversity should matter to them. But I think I figured it out. About 10 years ago, after banging my head against the wall trying to articulate a succinct and compelling case for diversity for this important subset of the corporate world, I developed a less emotional, very practical approach.

Rather than making them feel guilty (“you need to do this because these poor, diverse people have been victims for too long”) or scaring them (“you’re going to face a huge class-action lawsuit and your kids are going to be embarrassed to call you Dad”), I said diversity is simply one more thing you need to embrace if you want to be successful. I found that when you simply engaged in conversations about how to make them successful at their jobs, you took away the emotionally charged debate of whether diversity was good or bad, necessary or not, or should be compulsory or voluntary.

For example, years ago I ran human resources for a Paramount Pictures division when many of our geographic markets had unemployment rates below two percent. I knew a diversity recruitment initiative was a possible solution to our staffing woes, but I also knew the conservative, white, male district manager running this particular market was not going to be receptive to anything labeled diversity. So I took a different approach.

I explained to him that we needed to fish in different ponds because he was leaving money on the table by not having enough employees on the retail floor selling his product. I arranged a meeting between him and two community leaders from the Latino and Asian markets in California and suggested we develop hiring partnerships with them to identify talented employees.

“In my experience, entry-level professionals and senior-level executives are not as resistant to diversity initiatives as the white-male middle manager.”

Careful not to mention diversity, I showed him how this new population presented an opportunity to staff his business. He immediately got it. In less than a month, he was fully-staffed and his district’s financial performance was fabulous. More importantly, within six months, he had promoted two of his new employees to supervisory roles – adding to the diversity of his management team. This all worked without forcing a diversity initiative down his throat.

In my experience, entry-level professionals and senior-level executives are not as resistant to diversity initiatives as the white, male middle-manager. And instead of ramming diversity initiatives down his throat, which may create diversity but never results in inclusion, solving a real-life business issue for him by tapping into diverse markets was a better strategy.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

President & CEO
Thurgood Marshall College Fund
Former Chairman, Society for Human Resource Management

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