Ask the White Guy: Diversity Is Not in Your DNA

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.


Question:

I attended DiversityInc’s most recent ERG webinar and recently reviewed the September/October 2009 ERG issue of the magazine … I provide college seminars on diversity and have decided to feature ERGs in my next series of presentations … and would greatly appreciate your help with the following:

1. If a company has no diversity program or a poorly conceived/managed one, it would seem that informed employees could/should approach management with an ERG proposal designed to make a strong business case and maybe lay the groundwork for a committed/meaningful diversity program or meaningful improvement on an existing one. Essentially, can/should an ERG be attempted if there is no diversity program As a way to lay the groundwork

2. And, if a company sells business-to-business/is mainly industrial and is not global, it would seem an unlikely candidate for a diversity program. Is that correct

Thank you in advance for your assistance…

Answer:

The answer to your first question is no. CEO commitment is essential to diversity-management programs. In more than 10 years of publishing DiversityInc, we have not seen a single example of sustainable diversity efforts driven from employees up. We have also seen companies fall off the DiversityInc Top 50 list due to a change in CEOs. I don’t think this is exclusive to diversity; different CEOs will emphasize different things about a wide range of subjects. However, there are several companies that used to be on our list that descended in rank and eventually dropped off over a period of years.

Once in awhile a company spokesperson will tell us that diversity “is in our DNA.” We usually hear that as they disassemble diversity efforts.

The only thing in human DNA is to discriminate. It’s a part of normal human tribal behavior. That’s why you have to manage diversity if you want to extract the best talent, performance, market share and suppliers from a diverse countryand world. Constant management is necessary in a wide range of corporate functions; you would never hear “accounting is in our DNA” or “compliance with the law is in our DNA.” Every company has accountants and lawyers, even though they’ve followed accounting and law practices successfully for decades.

The answer to your second question is also no. Diversity management is essential for all companies because it builds equitable employee engagement. Considering that 70 percent of the U.S. work force will be women and/or Black and Latino by 2016, not having equitable engagement creates a slew of problems, from unequal retention, regrettable loss, sub-optimized productivity and low innovation. Not having diversity management is a sure way to be beaten by a competitor that does. Further, B-2-B companies must have diversity efforts in place if they wish to sell to progressive companies. Ninety-eight percent of DiversityInc Top 50 companies include questions about diversity and supplier diversity on their RFPs, up from 2 percent five years ago. Finally, and this is the least important point, a lack of diversity efforts exposes companies to potential liabilities from lawsuits. I think this is the least important point because a lawsuit is often a symptom of a much wider-ranging problem with financial impact far greater than paying a bunch of attorneys and perhaps a settlement or court-imposed penalty.

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