Compliments of Festa Multicultural – 2013 via Flickr

Developing an ongoing education program, simply making statements, or setting goals is not enough to change culture.” From Valuing Diversity: A Tale of Two Organizations

Macmillan dictionary defines slogoneering as, “The use of slogans, especially by politicians who want to communicate a simple message that people will remember.” Messaging about racial injustice (or the importance of diversity) is like the wrapper surrounding a box—pretty to look at, but not always indicative of the contents inside. Organizations engage in “performative allyship” when they jump on the bandwagon of the politically correct message du jour. But big splashy ads and postings on social media, unaccompanied by lasting change, is akin to throwing coins into a fountain and then making a wish. Public relations advertisements position firms in a positive light within the public’ eye. Deceptive ads, if they are slick enough, may persuade us to buy–or at least not bother to dig any further. Neon social media signs are however a far cry from inclusion.

The pedestrian, “We are committed to equal opportunity at this firm” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what an inclusionary workplace should look like. An organization that values its people threads this messaging throughout each facet of its communique—on its website; in its newsletter, annual report, intranet, letterhead, company signage, and even buttons that employees wear when they’re at work.

Company X is an inclusive employer that values the unique perspectives of each person and uses these to improve its products, service, and culture” is a good starting point.

are the scaffolding behind the statement, and what’s typically not present. A CEO who does little more than create jingles and slap statements on a web site will seem disingenuous to both the employees, and to the public. The top person must be the champion, the chief story teller who explains why inclusion is important and most importantly how the company will achieve it. Only he/she can introduce systemic change efforts that are employee driven, worker centric, and all-encompassing. At one store workers wear buttons that say, “I am an owner.” Inclusionary measures empower employees to speak their minds, and routinely solicit their opinions to make adjustments. Multicultural organizations are safe spaces where people can speak without fear and where everyone feels respected.

Willis Towers Watson began a novel program called “Guardians” as part of a larger Respect at Work program. Colleague guardians are selected for their collegiality and for their empathic approach to problem solving. They help peers by acting as a sort of internal ombudsperson who lends a supportive ear and who brainstorms possible solutions. Nicolas Aubert, head of Willis Towers Watson Great Britain, describes the program:

“Respect at work is important for all businesses, particularly in the professional and financial services sectors. We must demonstrate leadership in driving improvements in culture, ensure the quality of conduct and behaviour within our organisations, and provide clarity of purpose to drive value for clients. If we are to retain and attract the kind of talent we need, then it is vital that people know that they can work and thrive in a culture of inclusiveness and respect.”

Another initiative Willis Towers Watson launched is a type of “crucial conversation” workshop called “Let’s talk about respect” where employees share how they feel about work process and culture. Aubert explains that employee feedback will be used to revamp the organization and to incorporate elements of heightened sensitivity and awareness. A message of “We strive to be the employer of choice and here’s what that means and here’s how we do it” puts the onus on tangible results.

Definitive action is much more difficult to achieve than paid ads. Holiday Phillips, author of “Performative Allyship is Deadly (Here’s What to do Instead) discusses “. . . easing your guilt with the empty advocacy of keyboard warrioring when what you really need to be doing is advocating with your actions.” An organizational conscience surfaces when people can see that companies are making a concerted effort to be good corporate citizens.

Show, don’t tell. In my dissertation research the organization that struggled with diversity was one where its mention in company materials (or in any type of corporate goal setting) was elusive. If achieving profit and market share are the driving strategic factors, problems with minority turnover and inter-ethnic conflict may go unnoticed or undiagnosed.

Greater acceptance of diversity is achieved by using multiple efforts, constant reinforcement, and broadscale change initiatives.” Emphasis on a singular phenotype relegates other dimensions of an employee’s persona to a lesser status. Unless unseen dimensions of diversity and valuing every aspect of a person are company priorities, people may feel misunderstood, and experience the need to hide certain parts of themselves. Neurodiversity (e.g., Autism and Aspergers Syndrome, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Tourette syndrome, Depression) that promotes different thinking styles can result in unanticipated perspectives. Commitment to honoring the totality of employees in mission statements and in subsequent action is imperative for firms that wish to walk the talk. “Monthly workshops, panel discussions and open forums featuring subject matter experts are a great way to keep the diversity, equity and inclusion momentum going and allow for an open line of communication between employees and management.”

Sloganeering is a first step to alerting the public and the employees to what should be a dynamic grass roots systemic initiative. Modifying systems, policies, processes and dismantling physical barriers is the substance that should buttress and reinforce organizational slogans.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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