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Home  > Article

What Every Consultant Needs to Know About Diversity Consulting and Training

By Simma Lieberman

What is a diversity consultant and why are companies hiring them?

 
Diversity in organizations encompasses all differences that people bring to their work environment.
 

Diversity consulting is unlike other areas where you can become proficient if you are an experienced consultant and know how to develop content. Diversity consulting takes some additional skills.

To be successful you have to live it, and have a passion for the subject. It's crucial that you have a clear definition of what diversity is and what it's not. Diversity in organizations encompasses all differences that people bring to their work environment. It includes but is not limited to race, age, gender, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, work level and function, economic background, communication and learning styles. There are consultants who specialize in specific areas such as race, gender or sexual orientation. While they may be experts in a particular area they are not really diversity consultants.

As a diversity consultant you must:

  • Understand all dimensions of diversity and their impact on the work environment.
  • Have worked on and continue to work on your own biases and assumptions.
  • Be able to push your clients beyond their comfort zones and be willing to go beyond your own.

There is a common misconception that diversity is only about race or that it is affirmative action or EEO. It's a mindset about creating an inclusive organization where all people are allowed to do their best work. It's a long-term business strategy that includes all systems and processes of an organization, while affirmative action and EEO have more to do with laws and eliminating discrimination in hiring based on race and gender.

Chevron Corporation is an example of a successful company that has linked diversity to its vision. Their values statement says, "We have an inclusive work environment and actively embrace a diversity of people, ideas, talents and experiences."

When diversity consulting became "popular" in corporations over ten years ago, a lot of trainers and consultants jumped on the bandwagon, but fell off fairly quickly. They saw it as another subject to teach and didn't understand why companies didn't change or contracts didn't last. That's because if the diversity initiative is not tied to the bottom line, and integrated into all aspects of the business strategy, it will fail. Organizations do not want to throw money into programs or processes that will not benefit their business in some way.

There are several reasons why companies call in a diversity consultant;

  • they understand the competitive advantage and want to hire and keep the best people
  • open up new demographic markets
  • involvement in a lawsuit

Avon changed the way it did business when it realized that sales had fallen due to demographic changes. More women were entering the workforce and no longer being home to answer the door for the "Avon lady." They increased the numbers of women in leadership positions and now market to men and women.

Oftentimes they think they can do a quick fix and simply have all employees go through diversity training. Your role is to help them see that it is not just a training issue. The first step is meet with the decision makers and review their business goals. Show them how a diversity initiative will create new business opportunities and help them achieve their goals.

Just because someone is a CEO, and their company is profitable does not mean that they are aware of their organizations' diversity issues.

After you get clarification of business goals, the next step is to conduct a cultural audit to identify key areas for the diversity initiative. Some organizations may balk at the idea of surveys, focus groups and interviews, but it is a waste of money and time to do training without knowing where to focus. Training may not even be the solution. You have to examine all systems and processes from recruitment, hiring, performance evaluations, promotion, and marketing. As you address each of these its crucial that as in any consulting relationship, you establish a process for feedback and communication.

It is not unusual to get resistance from organizations on the management and employee level. Resistance breaks down when you stay focussed on the business case for diversity. Managers see that it will make their business more successful, no matter what the motivating factor is. Denny's became involved in diversity because of a lawsuit and fell under a consent decree. They brought in Jim Adamson as CEO who championed diversity, throughout the organization. Denny's is now considered one of the best organizations in terms of diversity.

Employees become more open when they are involved from the beginning, and understand how they benefit from any diversity effort. When I worked with the San Francisco Municipal Railway many employees were resistant until they saw how learning about other people and changing their own attitudes could make their work easier and more enjoyable.

Changing demographics, new people entering the workforce and conducting business globally mean that old ways of doing business won't always work. Organizations that can utilize the potential of all employees and that can market to different segments will be the ones that last and grow. Although we might not all become diversity consultants, we all need to relate to the diversity of our clients and their markets to help with their success.

About the Author: Simma Lieberman works with people and organizations to create environments where people can do their best work. She specializes in diversity, gender communications, life-work balance and stress, and acquiring and retaining new customers.







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