Diversity & Inclusion

The Purpose of Diversity & Inclusion Programs

By Amy Waninger • August 5, 2020

Many companies have launched Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) programs within the last few years. These initiatives often incorporate some combination of training, executive coaching, networking opportunities, mentoring programs, and other components. Companies benefit when they can find and attract diverse talent, introduce new employees to the corporate culture, identify and retain top talent, and expand into new markets. 

Finding and Attracting Diverse Talent

A significant talent shortage exists in many industries. Many companies are struggling to meet recruiting goals because they continue to recruit from the same professional networks, schools, or geographic areas from which they have been recruiting for decades.

To help find and attract new talent from areas they have not approached before, companies can engage employees from diverse backgrounds to leverage their connections. People tend to know others who are similar to them, so companies can find new pools of talent through D&I initiatives. 

From a recruiting perspective, companies with D&I programs may be attractive to job candidates because they demonstrate cultural understanding and acceptance. Prospective employees want to believe they will feel welcome and accepted when they join a new company, and having D&I programs tells job candidates, “There are successful people in the company just like you, and they want to help you be successful, too.”

Introducing New Employees to the Corporate Culture

New employees may need help understanding the cultural norms of their company. Fellow ERG members can often help them, especially if the corporate culture does not readily translate to the ERG’s subculture. For example, Asian-Americans may find it difficult to tout their own accomplishments because of values instilled in them since childhood. Women may have been taught to downplay their intelligence in group settings. In a large company, these professionals may need to find ways to adapt that are both advantageous in the workplace and culturally acceptable. D&I leaders can help provide integration strategies from a firsthand perspective.

Identifying and Retaining Top Talent

D&I programs can help managers recognize talent they might otherwise overlook. Research shows that managers are more likely to reward and promote employees who are like them. This is especially true when managers do not recognize their own biases. Therefore, if a company has a high percentage of managers with similar demographics, it is likely that those demographics will not change much over time. D&I programs call attention to other employees, which can help managers move out of the default mode of hiring, recognizing, and promoting only those employees within their existing inner circles. 

D&I programs also give a voice and sense of community to employees who may otherwise feel isolated or underrepresented, helping companies to retain talented employees. When people feel isolated, they are unlikely to be engaged with their company. Connected employees are more productive, more loyal, and better brand ambassadors. Connected employees stick around.

Expanding into New Markets

Breaking into new markets can be challenging. Many companies have struggled to set the right tone in their advertising. Others may not even recognize that they have a potential niche customer base. In a 2017 interview for the Inclusive Leadership Global Conference, Howard J. Ross, author of Everyday Bias, stated that it is hard to sell to someone you have just insulted. It is perhaps even harder to sell to someone you do not know exists.

A diverse employee base can offer an insider perspective on different markets and customer preferences. For example, a Latinx ERG could help a company translate both the language and the feel of commercials so that they seem natural to the target community. A lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) ERG could help a company create new products or services tailored to the specific issues faced by this consumer group. By working with management and marketing teams, networks of diverse employees can provide a competitive edge in underperforming market segments.

Get Involved and Make It Personal!

If your company has launched a D&I initiative, consider getting involved. You may find a sense of belonging that didn’t even know you were missing. You may also find yourself empowered to include others in ways you never expected!

If your company does not have a formal D&I program, consider some alternatives. You could, for example, help start a mentoring program for new employees or set up networking luncheons for people across departments. When you attend conferences, association meetings, or other events, find ways to include people who are still finding their place in the group. Also consider inviting colleagues to join you at professional networking events. 

Remember, everyone wants a chance to contribute, do valuable work, and belong to something bigger than themselves. And in most cases, there is no shortage of work to be done. By including others, we maximize our own impact on the organizations, communities, and interests we serve.

About The Author

Amy C. Waninger, CEO of Lead at Any Level LLC, works with organizations that want to build leadership bench strength for a sustainable competitive advantage. Her book, Network Beyond Bias, is available online and in print.