Ask the White Guy: How to Implement Diversity in a Small Group

Only when values are in place can you implement a proper diversity-and-inclusion program.

Photo by Shutterstock


Photo by Shutterstock

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.

Q. How do I implement diversity-and-inclusion practices in a small agency of fewer than 10 employees (two full-time and eight part-time)? Is it necessary to put such practices in place now so that they are in place and ingrained in the agency culture and promoted as we grow? Or should we wait until we grow to put such policies, procedures and practices in place?

A. Implementing diversity-and-inclusion practices is a response to a question and a condition. Do you believe people are created equally? If so, then we must accept that people aren't treated equally. This is easy to measure—for example, only 4.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Yet, of people in that age group, women earned roughly 50 percent of the bachelor's degrees. The reasons are not necessary to address here; there are a list of articles you can read at the bottom of this page. What's left is what you will do to ensure your agency isn't an agent of injustice, and that your group will have clarity on its values.

Values are independent of size and really definable down to the individual. However, the difference between individual values and group values is extremely important. If you have clarity on the group values, you can define who does not behave in a way that is in keeping with the group. Therefore, clarity on values is scalable from a handful of people to hundreds of millions.

I think it's important to understand this key point: You may have your own values—and your own free speech—but when your values conflict with the organization, you run the risk of being detrimental to the work of the group.

Values usually end up being codified, but it's rare to see a well-written statement of value; most lack definition and specificity. I think our Constitution is the most powerful statement of values I've ever read—4,400 words and the longest-lived constitution of any country in known history. The specific values it set forth aren't perfect—our Constitution does not include the right to vote, did not include women and maintained slavery—however, the values are strong enough to overcome the weaknesses. Success is self-evident. There were 4 million Americans when it was signed. There are 316 million today. We have the largest GDP in the world—and on a per-capita basis, it will take China decades to catch up

In my opinion the best corporate statement of values is Johnson & Johnson's Our Credo. It fits on one sheet of paper and was written by Robert Wood Johnson, Chairman of J&J, in 1943, just before the company went public. In only 308 words, the credo outlines whom the organization must take care of, to what standard and in what specific order—patients and customers, employees, community and finally (and last) shareholders. Shareholders come last because as the credo's last sentence states, "When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return." The word "diversity" does not appear in the credo, but I see the concept tightly integrated with it. It is decisively inclusive.

J&J's website states that the credo is not just a moral compass, it's also "a recipe for business success." From J&J's results, you can certainly say that's true. It's worth noting that J&J's new CEO, Alex Gorsky, installed a 10-foot-tall copy of the credo in his office, across from his desk chair so it's in his view at all times.

So in your case I would start with values. If you're the leader, it's easier to do this and you can define how you want to run your small agency. But even if you're not a leader, I encourage you to think through how you're going to promote diversity and inclusion in your sphere of influence. Starting from the concept that we are all created equally, you can define your behavior, and the behavior that you will tolerate around you—for example, what language will you use and allow to be used around you? With whom will you socialize? What information will you share? How will you conduct your charitable work? You can also be very practical. Everyone in the hiring process can use the Rooney Rule (to interview at least one person not in the majority). My good friend John Kemp, President and CEO of the The Viscardi Center, came up with the Viscardi Rule—that every interview process should include a person with disabilities. Finally, we must all have self–discipline to continue to learn and evolve.

As you scale up, you will know you're doing a good job by watching the numbers. It's easiest to measure human capital—recruitment, retention and talent development. More difficult, but still quantifiable, is your market—whom you serve. Finally, the most elusive thing to measure is innovation—but we know intuitively and studies have shown that diverse groups, properly managed, will outperform homogeneous groups (see Professor Ron Burt from the University of Chicago and James Surowiecki, the author of The Wisdom of Crowds). Our DiversityInc Top 50 is the world's most heavily participated in diversity survey. It's all metrics, and in its 14th year will have more than 1,000 corporations participate this year. The metrics show that there are clear best practices that are correlated with results.

Why Companies Rise & Fall in the DiversityInc Top 50

Web Seminar: Top 50 Best Practices from Merck, EY

Meeting in a Box: Diversity Metrics

If you think about it, what you measure will tell you how successful you are at living your values. But the first step is defining your values.

Finally, if you agree that values and discipline are essential for business (or organizational) success, then you have an obligation to exclude those who cannot live by those values. Diversity and inclusion is the same as anything else—a rotten apple will spoil the entire barrel. What most leaders don't grasp is that tolerating someone who will say things or do things that hurt others around them is as damaging to business as taking a hammer to office equipment.

Related Links

Decision-Making, Clarity of Values and What to Do When It Goes Horribly Wrong

Meeting in a Box: CEOs Who Are Diversity Champions

Where's the Diversity in Fortune 500 CEOs?

How Do Companies Leverage Corporate Responsibility Branding?

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