From the
Diversity
Experts

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From inclusion officers to HR experts to consultants, Talent Economy gathered advice from them all. Here’s their advice on successfully leading diverse teams.

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Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

photo illustrations by Theresa Stoodley

How have you seen diversity initiatives change during your time as a diversity leader?

Most of the change I’ve seen in diversity initiatives (and the diversity conversation in general) over the years has been positive. Though, I think there’s been a shift in focus in recent years. Organizations across industries are really waking up to the need to do better when it comes to diversity. It’s something we’ve focused on from day one at Ultimate — respecting, valuing and caring for all individuals — because it’s about doing the right thing. But, now you’re hearing more about the tangible impacts and seeing more and more research showing that diverse workplaces not only have happier employees, but also stronger bottom lines. I think we collectively still have a long way to go, but we’re definitely making progress.

Vivian Maza,
chief people officer at Ultimate Software Group Inc., an HR software company based in Weston, Florida.

Vivian Maza,
chief people officer at Ultimate Software Group Inc., an HR software company based in Weston, Florida.

Most of the change I’ve seen in diversity initiatives (and the diversity conversation in general) over the years has been positive. Though, I think there’s been a shift in focus in recent years. Organizations across industries are really waking up to the need to do better when it comes to diversity. It’s something we’ve focused on from day one at Ultimate — respecting, valuing and caring for all individuals — because it’s about doing the right thing. But, now you’re hearing more about the tangible impacts and seeing more and more research showing that diverse workplaces not only have happier employees, but also stronger bottom lines. I think we collectively still have a long way to go, but we’re definitely making progress.

Terri Cooper,
chief inclusion officer at Deloitte.

It’s constantly evolving. I believe that things have changed pretty dramatically. One of the biggest changes that has occurred is from the perspective of how we all look at each other. For many, many years, we really defined people by their gender, by the color of their skin or by their sexual orientation. I think what has changed is our emphasis now in recognizing that every one of us is multidimensional and that we have unique needs and expectations that merge and change at different points in our professional and personal lives.

One of the really interesting things we found recently in talking to our talent, our practitioners, is that they want to work for an organization that not only acknowledges but also supports and celebrates inclusion across the board. And as a result of that, they want to find an environment where people feel they can be their authentic selves and that you’re creating an inclusive culture. We’ve gone from thinking about do we have a diverse workforce, where now the demands are that you need to develop this inclusive culture, which is critical and essential to who we are, but it’s also important for all of our staff that they feel they can bring their authentic selves to work every day and as a result of that truly realize their potential.

Kristin S. Kaufman,
president of Alignment Inc., a coaching and consulting business based in Dallas, and author of “Is This Seat Taken? Random Encounters That Change Your Life.”

I have been in the workforce as a senior executive in three publicly traded companies beginning in 1983. To say the environment has changed since the 1980s would be an understatement. In the 1980s, women and people of color were often put under a microscope relative to their competency and abilities to deliver. Most of us took this as a challenge and worked even harder to be taken seriously.

What I have observed over the decades is what used to be a canned or HR-sponsored approach to diversity training; this has evolved to a systemic, corporatewide enthusiastic embrace of diverse candidates. Not because of the quota-driven approach of hiring diverse candidate or a heightened awareness of even ratios of men to women or minorities, but a benign belief that the most-qualified person — based on expertise, deliverables and track record — will be hired, promoted, recognized and celebrated. We have made tremendous progress, yet we still have a long way to go.

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Sherri Collins,
executive director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

When diversity and inclusion are focused only on recruitment, this makes it limited. Diversity should be the center of the organization. Unsuccessful initiatives are so because they were poorly conceptualized, lacked specificity and were not linked to strategic organization plans. They also lack accountability for the successful implementation and progress, failing to link performance evaluations and compensation to these initiatives.

What do you see as an unsuccessful diversity initiative?

Kristin S. Kaufman
The arbitrary “quota” or “ratio” approach to filling the seats on a team or an organization based on color or gender, etc., was totally ineffective. Hiring or promoting individuals using this criteria for the sake of the appearance of developing a diversified team is not equitable for any person. Individuals know when they are qualified for a position and when they are not. And propping up a hiring decision or promotion decision due to elevating a diverse candidate sends the wrong message. It is demotivating for the other candidates who may indeed be more qualified, and it also sets the candidate up for a challenging experience or even a failure.

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Terri Cooper,
chief inclusion officer at Deloitte.

It’s constantly evolving. I believe that things have changed pretty dramatically. One of the biggest changes that has occurred is from the perspective of how we all look at each other. For many, many years, we really defined people by their gender, by the color of their skin or by their sexual orientation. I think what has changed is our emphasis now in recognizing that every one of us is multidimensional and that we have unique needs and expectations that merge and change at different points in our professional and personal lives.

One of the really interesting things we found recently in talking to our talent, our practitioners, is that they want to work for an organization that not only acknowledges but also supports and celebrates inclusion across the board. And as a result of that, they want to find an environment where people feel they can be their authentic selves and that you’re creating an inclusive culture. We’ve gone from thinking about do we have a diverse workforce, where now the demands are that you need to develop this inclusive culture, which is critical and essential to who we are, but it’s also important for all of our staff that they feel they can bring their authentic selves to work every day and as a result of that truly realize their potential.

Kristin S. Kaufman,
president of Alignment Inc., a coaching and consulting business based in Dallas, and author of “Is This Seat Taken? Random Encounters That Change Your Life.”

I have been in the workforce as a senior executive in three publicly traded companies beginning in 1983. To say the environment has changed since the 1980s would be an understatement. In the 1980s, women and people of color were often put under a microscope relative to their competency and abilities to deliver. Most of us took this as a challenge and worked even harder to be taken seriously.

What I have observed over the decades is what used to be a canned or HR-sponsored approach to diversity training; this has evolved to a systemic, corporatewide enthusiastic embrace of diverse candidates. Not because of the quota-driven approach of hiring diverse candidate or a heightened awareness of even ratios of men to women or minorities, but a benign belief that the most-qualified person — based on expertise, deliverables and track record — will be hired, promoted, recognized and celebrated. We have made tremendous progress, yet we still have a long way to go.

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Sherri Collins,
executive director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

When diversity and inclusion are focused only on recruitment, this makes it limited. Diversity should be the center of the organization. Unsuccessful initiatives are so because they were poorly conceptualized, lacked specificity and were not linked to strategic organization plans. They also lack accountability for the successful implementation and progress, failing to link performance evaluations and compensation to these initiatives.

What do you see as an unsuccessful diversity initiative?

Kristin S. Kaufman
The arbitrary “quota” or “ratio” approach to filling the seats on a team or an organization based on color or gender, etc., was totally ineffective. Hiring or promoting individuals using this criteria for the sake of the appearance of developing a diversified team is not equitable for any person. Individuals know when they are qualified for a position and when they are not. And propping up a hiring decision or promotion decision due to elevating a diverse candidate sends the wrong message. It is demotivating for the other candidates who may indeed be more qualified, and it also sets the candidate up for a challenging experience or even a failure.

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What advice would you have for companies and industries that struggle to become more diverse?

Vivian Maza
It’s important to recognize that no one is perfect in this area and we all have unconscious biases. Even when you focus on diversity initiatives, you can still end up having blind spots and overlooking or missing crucial opportunities for improvement.

Rather than dwelling on them or deeming ourselves hopeless, the key is to focus on removing biases from the workplace and from your HR processes. While it takes a companywide commitment and the change won’t always happen overnight, you don’t have to act alone. Today’s HR technology — from survey solutions that measure employee sentiment to people analytics that predict high performers and flight risks — can help us all take an unbiased approach to HR. By combining these advanced tools with our years of experience and expertise, we can make smarter, data-driven decisions with more positive outcomes for our people and our business.

As you grow, you must continuously commit yourself to your people. You can’t just assume everything is OK all the time. You should have an ongoing, open dialog with your people to not only talk with them but to truly listen to them. Understand what’s most important to them and find new ways to provide a better employee experience every day. And you have to be willing to evolve and adapt to changes in workplace environment and employee expectations. What might have worked five years ago may not work five years down the road.

At the end of day, a diverse workplace is one where all employees are treated equally and where everyone is encouraged to bring their whole, unique selves to the office. Make people your first priority in everything you do, and the success will follow. When you truly care for your employees, they’ll care for one another, your customers and the community, and this will foster a workplace that thrives on respect for all individuals.