Diversity and Inclusion: Learning What We Don’t Know

by RaeAnne Marsh

Diversity is a social force that continues to gain momentum in the workplace as well. Corporate programs are expanding and gaining a diversity of their own as we recognize identifiable subgroups in our country’s “melting pot.” What was once just race and gender now also includes military veterans, the LGBT community and other groups with identifiable specific needs and/or points of view.

“The commitment to diversity and inclusion began in the 1960s with passage of Civil Rights laws and movements that recognized our country was becoming more diverse,” explains Joel P. Martin, Ph.D., president of Positively Powerful/Triad West Inc. and an international speaker, trainer and coach. And in today’s business world, that commitment has created a relatively new office in the C-suites: Chief Diversity Officer.

The existence of a chief diversity officer developed out of an awareness of the purchasing power of difference segments of the consumer population, Dr. Martin explains. Citing the black consumer market’s purchasing power today at $1.7 trillion, she observes, “That’s a lot of money to ignore.”

In addressing issues of diversity and inclusion, it’s important to note there is a distinction between the two. As Dr. Martin explains in her Guest Editor letter, “diversity” focuses on the existence of varied groups, and “inclusion” focuses on creating a culture in which the people of the varied groups work with one another.

In this realm, generational differences have emerged as a growing concern in the workplace. “People are wanting to have presentations on this topic,” Dr. Martin shares. Noting that now is the first time in American history that there are four or five generations in the workforce at the same time, she observes, “Each has its own distinct, complex way at work and way of communicating.” And she makes the generalization that the younger generations are far more inclusive.

This underscores another important distinction in the discussion of diversity and inclusion: generalizations vs. stereotypes. Generalizations (saying something is true in general) are based on science and recognize the existence of variation within the group; stereotypes (saying everyone is or has some characteristic) are based on perception.

Diversity Improves Business

“Focusing on diversity and inclusion helps all aspects of our mission. A diverse group who feels included can bring creativity to our research, to our educational programming and to our conservation efforts. An inclusive environment embraces everyone, and we can truly be the ‘community’s garden,’” says MaryLynn Mack, COO of the Desert Botanical Garden and director of its human resources diversity and inclusion initiative.

And the Garden has benefited from having five generations working at the institution at the same time lending their voices in planning committees and long-range planning — and strengthening media campaigns.

“Millennials allowed us to incorporate more technology in everything we do, from ticket sales to marketing. Younger employees talked about what strikes their fancy to have in exhibits. These were the voices that had us add art in the garden — which is not usual for a garden, so it gave us a whole new audience.” Gardens, historically, catered to older groups, those specifically interested only in gardening, but, Mack relates, “When we brought in art — the year we brought in Chihuly — we doubled the attendance, the member base more than doubled (from 12,000 to 30,000), and people were not coming for just one time.”

Barbara Whye, Intel’s vice president, human resources chief diversity and inclusion officer, sees the same experience in the technology and manufacturing environment of Intel. Observing that diverse and inclusive teams with diverse perspectives and experiences are more creative and innovative, she says, “It allows Intel to be even more competitive, because we have teams working on products that more accurately mirror our consumers.”

Through diversity and inclusion, companies have the advantage of different points of view, providing many different solutions to any challenge, affirms Dr. Martin, calling diversity and inclusion the most progressive way to work. But it takes both parts to make an adequate whole. Diversity refers to differences; inclusion refers to the context of how a company operates — the confluence of its recruitment, retention and promotion practices. A company may have an inclusive corporate culture in which everyone is welcoming and open to hearing what everyone else has to say, but not be diverse — for instance, everyone having same socio-economic profile. At the other extreme, a company may have a global workforce and be driven by a global business model, but not necessarily be inclusive. Such companies, says Dr. Martin, would experience low retention and correspondingly high turnover.

Building D&I into Operations

Part of the Garden’s plan to strengthen its D&I efforts was to focus on recruitment. “This allows us to ‘work from within,’ knowing that having diverse representation will help to organically change our visitorship,” Mack explains.

Essen Otu, senior director of diversity and community affairs at Mountain Park Health Center, explains his approach is to think about dimensions of diversity “in relation to who we serve and who we employ, what unique needs our stakeholders have, and how we can better understand and be prepared to meet those needs.” He shares an issue identified early on in developing MPHC’s D&I program, prevalent at least at its largest facility: The community was heavily African-American but felt MPHC was focused more on serving the Hispanic and Latino community.

Through the program now in place, MPHC addresses each dimension of diversity through a multitude of strategies that include training, dialogue that occurs through diversity site councils and an annual summit, diversity lunch and learns, and internal and external messaging. “And even through community visioning when designing facilities,” Otu says, “to better understand how multigenerational, families, individuals with disabilities, LGBT patients, or limited English speakers will navigate our health centers.”

Whye describes Intel’s current efforts, which started in January 2015 with a bold goal to reach full representation of women and underrepresented minorities in its U.S. workforce by 2020 and was augmented by the company’s commitment of $300 million to support this goal and the broader goal of improving diversity and inclusion in the entire technology industry. “My vision is for Intel to have and sustain an even more vibrant, representative and inclusive culture,” Whye says. “I am an engineer by training, so my approach to solving diversity and inclusion challenges is by looking at the holistic system and addressing issues in all aspects of recruitment, onboarding, career development and retention with various internal and external programs.”

And Derrick Hall, president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, shares, “We determined early on that it needed to be all encompassing — the interviewing and hiring of diverse candidates and employees, the promotion of those employees from within, the training of the importance of these practices to the workforce, the partnering with third-party vendors minority-owned, and the bridging of generational gaps through education and understanding.”

The Garden adopted the same all-encompassing approach, surveying both staff and visitors. “You can’t have diversity without a culture of inclusion. You have to start there first; it breeds diversity,” Mack says. She sits down regularly with each department — without the department head present — to ask, “What’s on your mind? What’s not working? What can we do better?” “Don’t assume the staff is happy because a few people tell you that or because you have department heads who are being productive and giving you the results you want,” she says.

Regularity of the ongoing program is key. As Hall observes, “It is far too easy to assume the practices continue to be prioritized without frequent culture and inclusion internal auditing.”

There may be challenges to attaining an inclusive culture, but Mack relates that, in her experience, “For the most part, once we told people the ‘why’ behind the change, then they were on board to be part of it.”

In Mack’s opinion, “It always comes back to communication.” But that can be a challenge of its own, making sure communication is clear, consistent and includes everyone — especially when employees are separated physically and have a varied work schedules. “We’ve had to be creative,” she says. Finding a variety of ways to get the word out to everyone and make sure all voices are heard includes having representation from all levels of the organization in the hiring process, getting important information out in as many ways as possible (such as digital, staff meetings and cascading communication) and finding ways everyone could come together to celebrate accomplishments and get to know each other outside of work.

“Employee engagement and contribution has also been a major part of our success,” Otu relates, noting MPHC’s Diversity Site Champions and councils at each of its large clinic sites have provided a mechanism for ongoing feedback, idea generation, connection and engagement. “This has also allowed us to recognize the contributions of our employees who have helped build a welcoming and inclusive culture. Rewarding those who model the behavior helps to establish organizational values that permeate and show up when you least expect them. For example, one of our Diversity Site Champions was recently highlighted in an employee spotlight and said, ‘The attention to detail, the diversity of our staff and the emphasis on inclusiveness is really awesome. Being able to come together and make a connection with someone from another background is really special. It’s what being human is all about.’”

Specific parts of MPHC’s program include a weekly memo with D&I-related content; lunch and learns; diversity site councils that meet quarterly and provide a forum for an ongoing dialog of ideas and concerns, to engage in how people are experiencing the organization; and diversity and inclusion assessments, to measure progress points and gather feedback.

The Diversity Officer

An emerging trend is companies establishing a management position of Diversity Officer. Shares Otu, “The impact of having a full-time, high-level role that reports directly to the CEO of the organization has been critical to our success.” He notes the ability to have the needed resources, influence, and autonomy to build a culture where diversity and inclusion are valued takes time and resources. “Having a high-level role allows diversity and inclusion to be in the strategic conversation. For example, my role in growth and expansion has been important in moving us closer to understanding the diverse needs of our patients in order to build more patient- and community-responsive facilities. Understanding the need for consistency and resources needed to build this type of culture requires being at the appropriate level of leadership and decision-making.”

Whye believes having someone with the title of Diversity Officer can ensure ownership, accountability and results across the organization. But it doesn’t have to stay with a single office. “My goal as a leader is to ensure everyone in the company is a ‘diversity officer’ and has strong diversity and inclusion acumen as a key component of their leadership skills. Diversity is not a side activity and should be integrated in all aspects of the talent management lifecycle.”

Otu also emphasized the importance of having buy-in from other members of the senior leadership team in order to effect change. “For me, I knew we had made headway when others began bringing up diversity and inclusion factors in their conversations and decisions. It’s difficult being an army of one, so getting as many champions who value diversity and inclusion is critical in communicating, scaling and making change stick.”


“The only challenges came early on years ago when new policies and priorities were introduced and stressed,” Hall says. “I believe it has become much easier over the years as a younger and more educated workforce seems to be inherently more understanding and inclusive.”

Calling it the “curse of knowledge,” Mack observes, “When you make a change, it’s always harder to get people who are already there on board. New people coming in don’t know any other way.”

To that point, two competencies all employees at MPHC are evaluated on are diversity and cultural adaptability, according to Otu. “We think about our diversity and inclusion work as mission-critical and also recognize that we are introducing change frequently. That change is something people must understand, buy into and expect to sustain. This, ultimately, results in a culture over time.”

At Intel, Whye says, “We continue to achieve our hiring diversity pipeline goals, but retention is where we have the greatest opportunity to learn and provide solutions.” In 2016 Intel introduced the retention Warmline to provide employees with additional support when they find themselves struggling with issues or concerns about staying in their current job or leaving Intel altogether. As of last summer, when she was interviewed for this article, Whye says Intel has processed more than 6,500 cases, of which 91 percent are still at Intel. “We proactively use the data collected from the Warmline to create diversity playbooks and interventions, which enable business units to look at their unique organizational challenges and see exactly where they need to improve.”

Impacting Inward and Outward

Otu believes the impact of a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture shows up in the care MPHC provides its patients and the satisfaction of its employees. “We have had generations of families loyal to Mountain Park over our almost 40-year history.” And, after almost eight years of conducting annual diversity and inclusion assessments, he has found the employees feel increasingly valued and respected. “As a matter of fact, when asked, ‘Do you feel valued and respected for the diverse culture(s), perspectives, beliefs, ability/disability, language(s) and opinions you bring into the organization?’ 87 percent of our employees say yes. This, and other markers of impact and engagement reinforce the meaningful nature of what we do and make us proud to be part of a larger team that creates this culture.”

Otu also makes the case for D&I efforts to extend externally as well. “They should extend into every facet of our work, including vendors and suppliers who know we are actively seeking women, minority and other underrepresented business enterprises to help fill our goods and service needs.” And he adds, “Supplier diversity is an area that requires a strong partner on the purchasing and supply side as well as a broad organizational understanding of the benefits and value having a divers vendor and supplier base brings.”

Among the benefits he cites are sources who can “supply something that’s outside the usual” or are able to “provide [services] in a different way”; building a relationship — which leads to better customer service; and helping some suppliers to, themselves, grow as a business.

“It absolutely must be a focus both internally and externally and must be sincere and genuine,” Hall asserts. “We have ambassador and diversity committees we have formed with community leaders to provide ideas and advice, while holding us and our promises in check.”

Whye believes creating an inclusive supply chain is an important way to extend Intel’s diversity efforts to the global communities where it operates. “The innovation derived from diverse-owned businesses adds to our competitive advantage while our spending results in the economic empowerment of the diverse communities we source from,” she says. Relating that Intel, in 2016, surpassed its goal to spend $400 million with diverse-owned suppliers, reaching $555 million in diverse spending, she says, “Each year, we are increasing spending to achieve our goal of $1 billion in annual spending by 2020, reflecting a sustainable change in our global supply chain.”

In sum, says Hall, “Diversity and inclusion contribute immensely to our culture of acceptance and family. We feel we are better served with individuals from all diverse backgrounds and opinions. It becomes a true competitive advantage to do business with third-party vendors and companies owned by women and minorities, and becomes an instant point of pride when these hiring and vending objectives result in success both on and off the field.”


Speak Your Mind

In Business Dailies

Sign up for a complimentary year of In Business Dailies with a bonus Digital Subscription of In Business Magazine delivered to your inbox each month!

  • Get the day’s Top Stories
  • Relevant In-depth Articles
  • Daily Offers
  • Coming Events