Last Wednesday, I attended the DFW SMA’s Diversity Strategies panel discussion at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine. The group of five panelists not only represented a variety of perspectives, but brought a lot of value and insight to the table. Here’s a run down of the panel:
- Melissa Wallace, Manager of Diversity Strategies for American Airlines
- Elizabeth Otenaike, Diversity and Inclusion/Change Strategist for Lockheed Martin
- Gracie Vega, Vice President HR for Gaylord Texan Resort
- Sherri Elliott, President of Gen InsYght and Author of Ties to Tattoos
- Nancy Ruth, Program Manager for Cultural Awareness International
Generally, diversity and inclusion are topics that can begin to sound redundant to employers and employees alike, but I found the contributions from these five professionals refreshing. During the discussion, they covered several topics including the scope of diversity, recruiting, and understanding diversity as a competitive advantage within an organization. As far as diversity goes, many of us have mastered “talking the talk”, but how many companies actually “walk the walk”?
Recruiting strategies can have both a positive and negative impact on an organization, and implementing methods that take diversity into account doesn’t necessarily translate into race and gender considerations, according to Sherri Elliott. When asked how an organization can recruit and attract a diverse set of employees, she emphasized that although there are many factors to consider in the process, age and generational differences must be thoroughly understood.
Understanding the nature and impact of these generational differences may be to an organization’s advantage, particularly in times of economic distress when keeping valuable employees involved is crucial. Today, for example, more “Gen Yers” place more value on contributing worth to a company as opposed to reaping monetary benefits.
Another, perhaps more prevalent, diversity issue was touched on frequently throughout the discussion–differences in values, nationalities and backgrounds. From an HR standpoint, it is not enough anymore to ensure your workforce is diverse. In fact, this reality often creates unintended and completely avoidable problems that affect productivity and profitability within a company.
For example, Nancy Ruth, the program manager for Cultural Awareness International, cited a particular cross cultural conference call she encountered that underlined the consequences that can arise from not familiarizing oneself with cultural differences. This particular discussion, like so many others, faltered because of a lack of awareness–something organizations can help prevent by implementing the right programs and asking the right questions.
Perhaps the main send home in this entire panel discussion was that organizations and all individuals involved in running them must understand the intrinsic value and competitive advantage diversity provides. Greater success lies not only in the recognition of a problem, but also in the assessment of solutions.
As Nancy Ruth put it:
“We tend to give platitudes for being diverse, but leave that value of it on the table… find the value that the diverse workforce brings.”
In summary, simply ensuring you have a diverse workforce is not enough. Effective articulation of goals, self benchmarking and assessing and initiatives by all levels of management to ensure understanding among employees and employers is the cornerstone of today’s more productive and profitable organization. It’s not only an opportunity to strengthen and establish commitment and security. It’s a business case for diversity.
For a more in depth look at this subject, check out Mike’s podcast interview about workplace diversity with Scott Airitam of Leadership Systems.