Seven Ways to Help Supervisors to “Get” Diversity

February 15, 2009 - by: Diversity Insight 0 COMMENTS

Sometimes, broad diversity training isn’t enough. In fact, we’d venture to say that most times it’s not enough. That’s particularly the case when it comes to getting supervisors to take diversity seriously.

“We’ve found that simple ‘diversity training’ doesn’t seem to do much to help managers ‘get it,’” says Joanne Cleaver, president of Wilson-Taylor Associates, an editorial and research services firm that manages a major annual project for Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT).

Every year, the PAR Initiative measures the status of women in the cable industry and profiles best practices for advancing women and women of color. The research has revealed that most effective way to help supervisors “get it” is to link diversity to business growth.

In other words, in the case of WICT, that means “positioning women and women of color as key players because their life experiences give them insights into consumer behavior,” Cleaver says.

Over the six years that her firm has managed this project, they’ve seen women’s networking groups evolve into business resource groups that provide a channel for women and women of color to contribute to new product launches and to serve as a sounding board for marketing ideas.

“The key is for managers to understand that if they don’t have female DNA in their workgroups, they’re going to have to work a lot harder to understand women customers,” Cleaver advises.

Seven messages for Supervisors

The number one challenge in implementing a diversity program with a supervisor who doesn’t “get it,” is making the business case, says Denise Spacinsky, who as founder of Equator Sourcing has spent more than a decade in diversity recruiting. “It’s typically tough to answer the question ‘Why is diversity important for my business?’” she says.

We asked Spacinsky and Jessica Faye Carter, author of Double Outsiders: How Women of Color Can Succeed in Corporate America, to share their advice for helping supervisors get that answer. Here are the top seven messages they say HR pros should communicate to managers:

1. Your company wants the best talent, and talent comes in all shapes, sizes and ages these days. “Colleges and universities graduate a very diverse class, and your workforce should reflect that,” Spacinsky says.

2. Diversity must be concrete. “Managers must divide up diversity goals into concrete actions because diversity without practicality is abstract,” says Carter, also CEO of Nette Media. Diversity goals, she says, should cover recruitment, retention, advancement, procurement (supplier diversity) and performance (incorporating diversity factors into a 360-degree review) in which employees share how they perceive the manager’s stance on diversity.

3. Attrition is expensive. People — particularly the most talented people — will leave an organization if it is not a supportive or productive environment for them. “And, if you are in an organization where all the leaders and a majority of the team do not look or act like you, you’ll be inclined to seek out other more diverse and familiar environments,” Spacinsky argues.

4. Diversity professionals are your friends. “Managers for whom diversity is new should talk with their designated diversity professionals about strategies, best practices, and pitfalls,” Carter advises. “Having someone to run ideas by can be really useful for managers trying to gain their footing, and can help them avoid costly mistakes. That’s what the diversity designates are there for.”

5. Diverse workforces are more successful. Spacinsky recommends sharing excerpts from University of Michigan Professor Scott Page’s book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies: There was an exhaustive study on the topic that provides what any smart organization needs “proof,” she says.

6. Face-to-face is better than a memo. “Show me the diversity,” suggests Carter. “That is, communicate the company’s diversity position in a meeting with your team. Sending a memo around sends a message that diversity isn’t really important.” In face-to-face meetings with their teams, supervisors should: discuss the corporate diversity agenda (what it is and isn’t), encourage feedback and questions from the team, and lay out an initial strategy for the group. This “will help everyone to get on board with diversity generally,” she says.

7. A corporate culture that emphasizes diversity sends a message that the people come first. “That is powerful for loyalty, morale and productivity,” Spacinsky says.

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