As experts in our respective fields, we are often called as consultants or coaches to help managers in our organizations manage through an ever-changing, diverse workforce. It’s usually in these situations that you discover a basic challenge: most managers oversimplify the diversity issue and forget that diversity without inclusion can hurt an organization. We’d like to offer a real-life example to illustrate this challenge.
One of the Art of Resolution principals worked as the HR manager for a small organization, in a small town, whose growth had been stagnate for many years, but received funding to increase staffing. Before staffing-up 38% of the current workforce could retire. Without the new hires, the organization was close to being in crisis. In little over a year, the organization doubled in size. Most of the original group of employees all had more than ten years with the organization and they were a close-knit group. The new hires were generally younger, many who had just graduated from college. This recent recruitment diversified the age in the organization and provided it with a better representation of their customers, but the new employees lacked experience, they listened to different music, they were just starting families, they used different slang, they relied more on technology and in many ways were very different than the original employees.
As time went on, the divide between the new hires and the original employees grew. The original employees did not include the new employees in informal gatherings; they had nothing in common; they weren’t transferring institutional knowledge; they weren’t working as a team and they weren’t taking advantage of the different views of the new employees that could help move the organization forward. Many of the original employees were intimidated by this new group of employees and feared they would take their jobs and hurt their opportunities for advancement.
Morale was declining by the day. Management was baffled because they solved the impending crisis – hiring up made them less vulnerable to losing up to 38% of its workforce, but in doing so, they made the original group of employees feel devalued and the new employees felt unwelcome. A second crisis developed.
If you looked on paper at the organization, it had all the external appearances of diversity (albeit one dimension – age). But there were many additional diversity components that were actually a barrier to inclusion. The HR manager proposed an inclusion plan which included approaching several of the influential employees in the original group to discuss the morale and the impact it was having on the organization’s ability to meet its mission. These group members agreed it was harming morale and together brainstormed ideas to be more inclusive. This included inviting the newer hires to brainstorm ideas for inclusion, inviting them to informal gatherings and ensuring they were represented on employee committees. It also included a plan to capture and share the institutional knowledge in the original group and share it with the newer hires.
This was already a good organization before the growth. They produced quality products. They were timely and were recognized by Headquarters as a high producer, but over the next few months, with this true recognition of diversity and implementation of its comprehensive inclusion plan, the organization flourished to new heights raising the production expectations of all employees.
The story illustrates the challenge of achieving diversity without a plan for inclusion. It also illustrates the important role we all play as EEO, diversity and HR professionals in helping management navigate building a diverse but inclusive environment.
What strategies have you employed to address diversity and inclusion in your organization? We’d love to hear them.