A retired practitioner's perspective
Having retired over a couple of years ago, I have had some time to reflect on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. After much thought on my role as the leader of Diversity at a Fortune 500 company and life experiences, I’ve come to some conclusions about where I stand today and what I might have done differently, or not done at all.
As I now stand on the “sidelines” of sorts, there are three key things I would do:
First, I would stop talking about the “business case” and treat diversity like every other integral principle of business. After all, as a rule, it is not incumbent upon marketing and sales professionals to present a business case as a persuasive argument for their function in a company; likewise, when D&I is presented strategically with business goals and objectives in mind, it becomes a business partner in success.
Second, what I would do differently is to spend less time talking about programs and more time talking about business strategy. This second point is related to the first. Programs without the context of a strong business strategy do not add value to the business. Consider cultural celebrations like “Cinco de Mayo,” may be nice, but many don’t even know the history behind the observance. And for clarification, it is not Mexico’s independence day. So, cultural observances and celebratory activities or programs such as diversity training not aligned strategically to the company’s core business are often perceived as “checking the box” and not linked to business performance.
In retrospect, the very “programs” that are well-intentioned can sometimes fall short for those they are meant to support. Good intentions, misled ideas, and focusing sometimes on the wrong audience (those who will never get it) can detract from what really needs to be done.
Third, where I stand now would be to focus my efforts on what is real, not perceptions. What do I mean? There are some that believe that D&I is solely about quotas and preferential treatment of certain populations or protected groups. They hold strongly to perceptions, which are myths. And, the reality is, no matter what one does, there will always be those who choose the myths.
I’d like to briefly share my story to explain how I came to the three conclusions. My first job in the U.S. was as a migrant farm worker in Arizona, California and New Mexico. After a number of jobs from bagging groceries to state government, I started a 25-year career with a Fortune 500 company. Here I held a number of jobs which, included work in 23 countries and 45 U.S. states, managed sales in a foreign country and, directed diversity and inclusion at the corporate level.
You see, I speak not only from professional experience, but personal experience. I share insights as a former Diversity Executive, and as a Hispanic man who, of course, values Cinco de Mayo because it is an important holiday in Mexico’s history. I learned from the spectrum of blue-collar manual labor to the white-collar ranking. I gained tremendous acumen from others’ cultures and experiences and know the challenges that historically under-represented groups have seen first hand – in sum, the good and the bad of diversity.
At the end of the day, diversity is among us whether we embrace it or not. As I reflect on it, the choice is more about how we leverage it instead of opposing it. Look at what happened in Major League Baseball in the last 50 years. We don’t hear people arguing a business case for diverse players nor whether is the “right thing to do.” What we hear is the importance of a sourcing strategy to attract and retain the best performing players whether they come from Asia, Latin America or the U.S. It is about competing for the best talent so that teams have a chance of a winning season and an opportunity to be World Series champions. And here is where we see a clear business example on how diversity has transformed the game with the competitiveness of diverse players. And we all benefit from it whether you like baseball or not. For me – I love the game.