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Diversity and Inclusion: Working from the Top Down

by Suzanne Price

Originally published in the ACCJ Journal, December 2012.

Diversity and inclusion: two words that are talked about in business circles but not always taken seriously by senior or middle-managers. Paying D&I lip service because “it is the right thing to do” will not have much impact if there is no buy-in by senior and middle management. People inside and outside the organization can easily pick up on tokenism. Compelling and sincere messages and actions from managers at all levels are major factors contributing to changing the mindset and culture. The simple fact is that diversity and inclusion are about fairness and a strategy that, if done well, can lead to a competitive advantage.

Don’t for one moment think that for senior leaders, implementing D&I is an easy undertaking. Rather, it is a long-term and active investment in organizational, intrapersonal and interpersonal change. While there are plenty of statistics and research, showing how diverse teams out-perform homogenous teams and how companies with a diverse board of directors are more successful, there is also potential for diverse teams to under-perform. Very few people mention this and, as a diversity expert myself, it may seem a counter intuitive observation for me to make. Well, here’s my point: diverse teams are more complex so require skillful management with heightened awareness of biases and diverse needs. Without a manager and a team who respect and include difference, there is potential for increased conflict and lower performance. The secret to making diversity work is to manage diverse teams well. It is not enough to simply hire for diversity and continue to manage the same way as before.