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Diversity and Engagement

This new course and chapter on diversity in Enterprise Engagement: The Roadmap provides practical information for organizations seeking to profit from the unique link between diversity and engagement. It is based on a formal framework for engagement developed by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance designed to address all critical levers of engagement in an integrated way. 
 
By Bruce Bolger, Co-founder of the Enterprise Engagement Academy Curriculum and Certification program at EEA.tmlu.org, and Adele Aguirre, Founder and President, Divvy Engagement Solutions
 
The larger or more geographically spread out the organization, the greater the issues related to diversity. Beyond the regulatory and ethical obligations to recruit employees and market to customers on an equal opportunity basis, organizations can benefit by recruiting and fostering a more diverse base of employees and customers because a diverse workplace can be more rewarding. 
 
When people break down barriers through personal contact to discover that all people share the same fundamental humanity and aspirations, when they enjoy the rewards of discovering new cultures and foods, they feel enriched. 
 
Diversity is not just about employees. To have the greatest impact, diversity has to include customers, distribution partners and vendors as well. This way, everyone understands that the organization’s foundation rests on commitment to diversity. 
 
Leadership, Recruitment, Coaching
No engagement initiative, including diversity, can succeed without the clear support of both the chief executive and the entire management team. To be effective, that support must translate into a formal written commitment to diversity as an organizational objective that is part of the strategic plan, as well as a plan to include diversity in an organization’s day-to-day engagement activities. While a large organization may need a diversity administrator to help support communication, groups and other activities, diversity should be woven into the fabric of the organization and not be just another layer of management.
 
The organization should have a clear brand proposition that is as inclusive as possible, with stated objectives that can be measured, and should include not only employees but also customers, distribution partners and vendors, volunteers, etc. based on the nature of the organization. The process for recruitment, manager and employee onboarding and ongoing coaching and assessment should include issues related to diversity to ensure that customers and employees experience a welcoming environment no matter what their ethnicity, race, sex, or sexual orientation. The more consistent the messaging across all audiences, the better the chances that people will understand where the organization stands on diversity. 
 
This commitment is embodied in a formal engagement business plan that incorporates the elements outlined below. 
 
Assessment
An organization’s customer and employee engagement surveys should include questions designed to determine that people of all races, ages, ethnicities, etc. feel they are treated appropriately. An action plan should exist for issues raised through surveys. This process may also include a review of vendors to ensure equal opportunity compliance.
 
Communications
Diversity should be an integral part of the organization’s communication strategy and not just a one-off affair. Organizations can use human interest stories about customers and employees in their ongoing social media and other communication efforts to highlight people of all ethnicities and religions, whether customers, distribution partners, or employees, and how they are contributing to success or demonstrating the organization’s values. 
 
Most people prefer to be treated based on who they are as individuals, rather than on their race, religion, or sexual orientation, even if such actions are intended out of respect. If an organization is facing tension related to a diversity issue that has become general knowledge, the organization may have to consider a proactive announcement or statement from top management addressing the issue (after review from counsel.) 
 
On the other hand, acknowledging the holidays of major religions in your corporate communications and allowing for people to take days off for them demonstrates a respect for all religions, even if the major religions are not all represented in your organization at any given time. 
 
Training
Ongoing training and coaching of managers and employees is critical to fostering a successfully diverse organization. The more diverse the organization, the more training is necessary to ensure that all customers, distribution partners and employees feel welcome and are treated appropriately. Generally, this approach can be included in other training programs to reinforce a commitment to diversity, but it might also include role-playing sessions with a diverse audience to help different types of employees understand the point of view of others. The main objective is to make people feel familiar with other groups of people and facilitate the ability for people to get to know one another.
 
Community
Many large organizations and institutions encourage diversity by enabling customers, employees, or communities to create groups or clubs specific to their religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. These groups or task forces are based on the principle that such groups enable voices to be heard and issues addressed, as well as make people feel they have a home in an organization dedicated to their interests. These groups can both serve as a sounding board for issues that might arise and also ensure that diverse groups feel they have a chance to get to know other members of their community. 
 
Note that these groups require considerable effort to sustain, starting with a clear mission and ability to articulate desired outcomes, and generally require support from human resources to set up meetings and administer outcomes. The first phase involves creating a task force representing different minority groups within the organization charged with specific objectives, such as to identify a strategy for attracting and retaining people (including customers) representative of that minority. This process fails unless management has a plan to address the recommendations in a practical way that is clearly demonstrable to the group involved. After initial issues are dealt with, the group might focus going forward on ways to create a welcoming and fulfilling environment, maintaining the initial recommendations, or on working with other groups to support the broader community. 
 
Alternatively, an organization might wish to focus company groups on interests rather than religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, with the goal of bringing people together to break down barriers. In such a case, activities are directed around causes or issues of universal appeal, or even those which might appeal to one group in a given year but are open to all. Examples include sporting, charity, learning and other activities that foster bonding among people. Naturally, organizations can choose to use both types of groups to promote a diverse community. 
 
An especially effective approach is to have a welcome committee for all new employees and perhaps even a new employees club to enable newcomers to get to know one another and feel welcome. Feeling part of a community is an important motivator for many and will by its very nature bring together diverse newcomers. 
 
Innovation & Collaboration
Whether an organization has a formal or informal approach to fostering innovation, collaboration and empowerment in the organization, it should make sure that it also encourages participants to voice suggestions on how the organization can create a more welcoming environment for all communities, whether as customers or employees. Innovation task forces should be charged with seeking ways to enhance diversity strategies as well. 
 
Rewards & Recognition 
Rewards and recognition programs offer a powerful way to support “welcoming behaviors” by providing managers and employees a means to recognize colleagues or managers who demonstrate such behaviors for customers and employees to all ethnicities. Manager-to-employee and peer-to-peer recognition programs can reward behaviors that demonstrate respect or welcoming behavior. By tangibly rewarding positive behaviors, organizations can make it clear that diversity is part of the organization’s bedrock culture. To reinforce the importance of fostering diversity, organizations should consider annual awards for people who have made a significant commitment to activities that foster a greater community within the organization, with an award selection and value commensurate with the importance of the accomplishment. 
 
Feedback
The larger the organization, the more important it is to have an anonymous means for people to report behavior they may feel is discriminatory or disrespectful that could do damage to an individual or the organization. This can take the form of strategically located suggestion boxes or an online form. People should feel empowered to report any behaviors that run contrary to an organization’s values and standards. Of course, each complaint must be handled with care, with the advice of counsel when necessary. 
 
Analytics 
Today, organizations of almost any size can track turnover and/or complaints of customers and employees, often by age, gender, ethnicity and sometimes more. Such information can be utilized to identify if there are unusual trends or sources of problems related to ethnic or other groups.
 
A successful diversity program can be measured by the composition of the workforce or customers and vendors when applicable, turnover, recruitment percentages, feedback and general composition of (or engagement in) an organization’s employee or customer groups and task forces. It can also be measured in part through positive or negative feedback in employee engagement surveys. 
 
Most importantly, success can be measured in having a broader community of customers, distribution partners and vendors more committed to your organization’s success. 

Additional Resources


For More Information

Bruce Bolger
Enterprise Engagement Alliance
TheEEA.org
914-591-7600, ext. 230
Bolger@TheEEA.org

Adele Aguirre
845 319 7825
Adele@taico.com
www.taico.com
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