“We need to focus on diversity or inclusion or maybe compliance we’re not
sure which but we need to do something – we know that.”
This is what I’ve heard recently in separate meetings with clients in different industries and regions of the country. All are facing sluggish, if any, growth and diminished career opportunities for incumbents. At the same time, they’re experiencing rising age-based tensions among those who want to advance and those who can’t leave, as well as frictions involving gender, ethnicity, race, religion, and global cultural differences.
In each instance, these conditions aren’t spawning waves of employment lawsuits; instead, they’re generating a surge in internal and external complaints. Further, engagement survey results indicate that employees don’t trust their leaders to drive their businesses forward and listen to their concerns.
These organizations share a dilemma. While their resources and options are limited, they know that failing to address these issues will damage their ability to operate efficiently while impeding their ability to retain their best workers, recruit for the future, and compete as the economy turns around. It’s in this context that they’re driven to act but aren’t sure whether to focus on diversity, inclusion, compliance or other initiatives.
Is it possible they need to implement actions somehow tied to each of these and other areas? Of course. But choosing neatly wrapped, distinct and fragmented solutions won’t solve their problems.
Diversity, inclusion and compliance are general terms – they don’t have a universal meaning; they vary among different organizations, thought leaders and practitioners. Looked at broadly, diversity deals with employing and engaging people of different backgrounds and respecting them for their differences; inclusion addresses the need to involve all members of the community; and workplace compliance deals with behaviors and practices affecting individuals in specific legally “protected” classes. Each of these shares common principles on some issues while conflicting on others.
Taken separately, none will coherently address the issues of trust, opportunity, productivity and risk identified above. These problems are too complex, interconnected and pervasive for a single grand initiative to have an enduring impact. Alternatively, launching multiple and separate initiatives led by different organizational champions will confuse leaders and team members as they receive what may seem to be an overwhelming barrage of inconsistent messages. Instead of starting by asking what to do, I’d suggest leaders first figure out the source of their underlying problems and consider who needs to be involved to solve them. Here are several key questions to consider:
- Has your organization identified any specific behaviors which are occurring in your workplace and are causing the problems you’ve identified?
- Are these behaviors caused by globalization, the economy, a change in leadership or ownership or the result of longstanding cultural practices or some other circumstances?
- Are your senior leaders aware of these issues and their impact, and do they see them as serious business problems affecting core business responsibilities?
- Are your senior leaders willing to take personal responsibility for fixing these problems, delegating specific responsibilities to others, or, do they see these issues as being the sole responsibility of others who report to them?
We don’t go to physicians, sit down, and say, “I need surgery, medication, or therapy – which do you recommend?” Likewise, at work we can’t cure problems by prescribing cures without fully understanding and addressing the problems which cause them. In most instances, the core issues for the workplace ills discussed above will involve how values are applied daily, leadership behaviors, and culture. Asking the preceding questions first will help determine what the real issues are and, ultimately, how they can be effectively treated and durably fixed.