HR Roundtable: Diversity Is More Than a Program

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Mar 11, 2019

It seems that when the (Cincinnati) HR Roundtable gathers there’s usually inclement weather. That didn’t deter folks from an incredible turnout for the February HR Roundtable which was jumping into a topic that is too often not spoken about. Today was a good time to change that trend because the topic was – “Do we have visible diversity in our organizations?”

To get the conversations started, the small groups tackled these three questions:

  1. How do you see visible diversity in a company?
  2. Why is diversity seen as a program and not a fact?
  3. How can we leverage our differences as strengths?

The room seemed to burst with various conversations taking place at the many tables. It was fantastic to watch and hear. After everyone had a chance to talk about each question, the folks came back to share the following:

1. How do you see visible diversity in a company?

People of color — This seemed like an “easy” and obvious answer. It is true and often overlooked as an assumption. Steve cautioned that people need to make sure to see everyone as people because the spectrum of colors in our workplaces these days is far broader than when this originally was a focus. It’s valid, but it shouldn’t the only way diversity is seen.

Tattoos, piercings and hair color — This was unique because there are far more employees who are expressing themselves and their individuality with tattoos, piercings and hair color. Unfortunately, most of these realities fall into whether personal expression is allowed or not based on dress code policies. Workplaces are getting a bit more open to these factors of diversity, but it’s moving slowly.

Different ages — This is another reality. The caution that Steve shared here was that businesses as a whole have made this a factor of separation versus inclusion. This is especially true with the term “millennials.” It’s sad and unnecessary to call out people and categorize/generalize a person by their age just as much as any other facet of diversity. Any separation needs to cease and not be justified.

It was interesting that everyone at the Roundtable answered this question based primarily on appearance. That isn’t right or wrong, but it is narrow. There is a way to embrace our visual differences along with many more features which collectively make us diverse humans.

2. Why is diversity seen as a program and not a fact?

The easiest answer to this question is that programs have been developed, followed and implemented because companies want to make sure that diversity and inclusion isn’t overlooked. The intentions behind these programs are usually good, but they relegate people to numbers instead of learning more ways which make us diverse. So, the group shared more factual factors of our diversity.

Learning and communication styles — No two people communicate or learn the same – completely. There are larger categories where people tend to communicate and learn better. The challenge in HR is that we try to make things follow more of a “one size fits all” in the attempt to keep things simple. We need to realize that since we communicate and learn in various ways, then let’s meet people where they are to accentuate how they communicate and learn best.

Personality – All the “verts” — We are consumed with assessments in HR because we want to define people and categorize them on personality types and whether they’re extroverts, introverts or ambiverts. It’s cool to be self-aware of who we are. We just need to take the reality of how people are wired for understanding versus categorizing each other.

Personal experiences — This is an area we consider when we recruit and hire people, but we ask them to just cough up the high-level work skills and employers they’ve gone through. Personal experience is about life in general. Where we were born, where we live, our family make-up, etc. We are a beautiful tapestry that is unique and defines us far more than our outward appearances.

Thoughts and approach — This may be more difficult to quantify because it’s more of a reality when we have personal interactions, but it is a “fact” of diversity. If you put an object on a table and ask people to describe it, you won’t have one answer that is exactly the same as anyone else’s. It’s not possible. Ironically, this is the one area where most interpersonal frustration occurs in the workplace because our approaches rub each other the wrong way. We want others to be like us. It’s such a large area where we could improve by taking time to understand our differences.

3. How can we leverage our differences as strengths?

Hire for culture add not culture fit — For years HR has been talking about culture fit. That implies that you want to hire people who are like your current people. It’s not “wrong,” but it is limiting. Hiring talent from the perspective of how they’ll “add” to your culture is much healthier because you’ll consider the innate diversity of the people looking to join your company.

Admit we have biases and filters — This isn’t meant to be pointing blame. We all have biases and filters about others. We are quick to make judgments with little, or no, interaction. It’s time we talked about this openly so that we can do our best to limit these realities so that they don’t exclude others unintentionally.

Work on being transparent and open — Diversity and inclusion need to be the fabric of your company and not a program. It’s built in because you have people. Quit making mass efforts and start accepting the wonderful reality that our differences can bring strength far more than they do separation.

Stop leading with labels — Know people by their name. Learn as much about them as a person as you can. Having intentional interactions, conversations and shared experiences available for all of your employees that aren’t just tasks for work. Know your humans and stop trying to categorize each other by labels.

Assess your culture all the time — HR and work are continuums. Therefore, looking at diversity, inclusion and culture means understanding that we are all more on a constant flow versus a series of projects, deadlines and tasks. Step back and see how your flow is going. Make tweaks where and when you need to so that the flow continues. When you do this you’ll be more cognizant of diversity because it, along with other facets, is a major component of the successful flow of each and every day.

It was refreshing to break the ice around having a broader conversation about diversity and inclusion. The challenge as everyone left for the day was that we need to embrace our diverse reality from now on.

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