What it really means to embrace diversity

Let's be real. While some companies do a phenomenal job and have created standards and best practices, diversity can be overwhelming for many organizations.

Rashada Whitehead
Rashada Whitehead

I spoke recently (and separately) with 10 leaders of organizations from different industries and backgrounds, and asked them their perspective on diversity. What I essentially got was 10 different responses.

Rather than focusing on what varied in their feedback, I was more intrigued by what was similar.

Companies of all sizes are challenged with defining and redefining what diversity means to them. In the case of my 10 C-suite leaders, the strongest parallel was between diversity and talent. In many cases, they expressed the two interchangeably.

They each in some shape or form want to see creativity, resourcefulness, perspective, confidence, drive, self-governance, and collaboration as key traits for their ideal employee team members. They also want an internal culture reflective of both global and local views.

At the same time, all 10 of them admitted, even at a senior level, they aren't always sure how to best translate this wish list into viable strategies reflective of a fruitful outcome that can be felt throughout their respective companies.

The bottom line is this: diversity doesn't just mean race, gender, age, and ability—although these obviously are key drivers.

So often, hiring managers get stuck and even paralyzed because they simply don't know how to vet candidates in ways that factor in the breadth and depth of their assets. And quite honestly, there is still so much unease in talking about race, gender, age, and ability in the workplace that it's hard to focus on all the other qualities talented candidates from diverse walks of life have to offer.

When asked the number one barrier of cascading diverse tenets throughout their organization, a few cited lack of priority, the notion that it doesn’t impact their specific industry, and feeling the need to choose between diverse audiences for a single platform (e.g. multicultural hires versus veterans or women). One leader said sometimes it is easier to not deal with it because it’s "hard" to wrap your arms around without creating bigger challenges.

Again, it was clear that none of them believe ignoring the opportunity is a sustainable approach.

Let’s be real. While some companies do a phenomenal job and have created standards and best practices, this can be overwhelming for many organizations. Many companies are dealing with everything from perceived challenges managing millennials, grappling with how to avoid social issues like Black Lives Matter in the work place, and debating if younger talent is softer on the bottom line, to whether a woman can ever truly be viewed as qualified to run the country, and how topics like this translate into appropriate internal communication.

Is a candidate less professional because he or she has locks – or less driven because they are a woman?

In no way am I suggesting we tolerate employees wearing their club clothes to work. I’m simply presenting a case for unconscious bias that sometimes prevents us from recognizing valuable talent.

Public relations companies are "experts" at tackling difficult issues. At the same time, we know diversity is a conversation that is constantly revisited because of the opportunities prevailing within this industry. 

Recruiting diverse talent gives you more than a positive tick or credit in the column for good hiring practices. Attracting and retaining diverse talent, I would argue, is the secret sauce in taking an organization from surviving to thriving.

Diverse talent equals thought leadership, macro- and micro-level perspective, a more informed organizational culture, balance of passion and compassion, and a fulfilling workplace experience that translates into tangible takeaways for life outside of work.

As an African-American woman who has served as both an employee and employer, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I would encourage anyone at the ownership, leadership, human resources, hiring manager, or even the entry-level stage to be empowered and proactive about shaping organizational strategies and solutions around a more cohesive and diverse workforce—especially in public relations.

Rashada Whitehead is a professor, writer, and the president and chief transformation officer of KGBERRY, an organization that helps conscious companies navigate big changes. Connect with her here on Twitter.

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