Currently our nation is facing mounting racial tension, it seems, in nearly every state. The state of race relations in this country has not been so hostile since the South’s Jim Crow Era. With the election of the nation’s first black president and the campaigning of so many diverse presidential candidates, it is easy to dismiss or even ignore the racial and ethnic tension still plaguing this country. However, now is the time to move forward with diversity and ensure that our schools, workplaces, and professions reflect the threads from which our country’s fabric is woven.
During this past holiday season, it occurred to me that diversity can be viewed in terms of preparing for a large dinner, gathering, or celebration. When preparing for a gathering you have to plan; no one “wings” a large social gathering. When seeking diversity you should do the same, make a plan. This analogy, although simplistic, is one that everyone can relate to—and diversity, at its core, is all about relatability.
I. Determine What You Need.
There is no way to plan a gathering without first determining what you already have and what you need. The same is true for diversifying your organization. If diversity is to be an attainable goal instead of a mythical concept, you must first determine how your organization views diversity—at all levels. It makes little sense to devise plans up top that will not or cannot be successfully implemented down low. Thus, an effort must be made to understand the attitudes of everyone in the organization about diversity. Is everyone “all in”? Do some feel threatened by a policy change or policy shift on diversity? Is everybody clear on how diversity is or will be defined and measured within your organization? And most importantly, does everyone in the organization understand the importance and necessity of diversity? The answer to these questions will dictate the initial scope of your diversity initiative.
After you ask those questions and analyze the answers, you will have an idea of what you need to start diversifying your organization. You may find that you need to hire an outside consulting firm to conduct more analysis of attitudes on diversity within your organization and offer suggestions for overcoming biases and prejudices. You may find that hiring a director or management level expert in diversity to lead the charge will better fit the needs and/or climate of your organization. A diversity committee, made up of existing managers and employees, may be what the results reveal for your organization. No matter which of these you select, make sure the person or persons leading the charge is firm and resilient without being insensitive or overbearing. The ideal person or persons must be committed to understanding your stance on diversity, persistent, able to understand that not all ideas are good ones, and that trial and error are the order of the day. Chiefly, empower the person or persons with the ability to act—labeling a person “diversity officer” is useless if nothing they say matters.
II. Set the Table.
Now that you have figured out what you need, go get it. Once you have contacted the consulting firm, hired the director or manager of diversity, or formed your diversity committee, start collaborating. Arm that person or persons with your organizational vision on diversity and ask for feedback. Do not suggest or agree to quotas. Quotas are unfair, inherently limiting, and more often than not, promote resentment. Now that you have people onboard and dedicated to helping your organization become diverse, or more diverse, do not stop there. Do not let your good ideas on diversity go unnoticed. Too often, diversity initiatives die in committee. If you want diversity to spread and flourish throughout your organization, go about it like any other initiative. For example, everyone agrees that workplace safety and sexual harassment are topics that every employee should be educated about. However, no organization has one or two closed committee meetings on safety and harassment and concludes that the job is done and the issues are sufficiently addressed. Generally, committees are formed, presentations are created with accompanying materials, and then (here’s the crucial part) the presentations are given company-wide, the materials are distributed to all employees regardless of title or pay grade, and everybody is expected to comply. The same is repeated at regular intervals indefinitely. Diversity should be handled no differently.
III. Hand-Deliver Your Invites.
After you have examined your organization from within, created awareness, and addressed all issues and concerns with informational sessions and materials, the real work begins—seeking out qualified diverse candidates. To do this you must go where the candidates are. Do not take the position that diversity will “happen.” If you wait on it, it won’t. Be proactive. It is not taboo to ask minority employees or leaders within your company to provide insight or leads on ways to find diverse candidates. Send leaders from your organization, who are clear on your goals, to minority group meetings, professional organizations, and historically majority minority colleges and universities with recruitment in mind. However, do not go for the singular purpose of recruiting. Visit with the intent to learn. Learn and observe the culture and atmosphere of the candidates you are trying to recruit. Advertise. Put the community you are trying to attract on notice of the fact that your organization is consciously seeking to retain, not just employ, diverse people.
IV. Make a Great Impression.
No one wants to make their home in a place where they are uncomfortable. Thus, your parallel objective should be to create an atmosphere in which diverse employees feel welcome. Treat all employees fairly. Start with equal pay and equal opportunities for advancement regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or background. Refrain from engaging in stereotypes—give everybody an opportunity to excel. Do not assume that one group is “naturally” adept at a given task. Additionally, foster an atmosphere where employees at all levels can voice opinions without fear of judgment and everyone feels valued. This can be modeled by making constructive observations (and suggestions for improvement) during meetings where all employees are present.
After you have diversified your organization, continue to assess the strengths and weaknesses related to diversity. Think of diversity as a verb—it is perpetual. If you continue to purposely seek it, your organization will never be without it.
Kimberly R. Snagg is a Senior Attorney at Thompson Coe in Houston, Texas. Her practice focuses on the defense of professional liability and casualty claims. Kimberly is the Diversity Liaison for the Young Lawyers Committee. Kimberly can be reached at [email protected]
This article was published in The Whisper, The Newsletter of DRI's Young Lawyers Committee.