Diversity beyond the numbers: Dare to be more courageous

Accountability is a necessary first step, but only a first step, says Karen Kahn, chief communications officer for HP

Challenging organizations to hire and promote diverse individuals – and holding those organizations accountable – is foundational to creating an inclusive workforce.

Yes, to establish thriving, creative cultures we need to up the numbers. But we also need to move beyond them. We need to be much more courageous. And by courageous I mean doing more than just speaking up.

First, the numbers. In 2016 HP launched its Agency Diversity Scorecard to get our foundation right and hold ourselves and our agencies accountable. We consider it our collective word in action and a core metric in our agency partnerships.

By creating the scorecard we asked our agencies to improve the representation of women and underrepresented groups in their ranks, just as we have done at HP. I’m proud to say that not only have they met and exceeded many of their targets, but the momentum has permeated the entirety of their organizations.

Most agencies took things a step further: One assessed pay equity across their entire company and built a process to maintain it. Another hosted a series of company-wide events educating employees on diversity and inclusion topics, and then implemented an action plan on corrective actions for gaps/unequal treatment of men and women in the workplace. Others, launched speaker series and encouraged the creation of internal diversity councils.

But more is required. For diverse workforces to flourish, people need to feel safe and know they can express themselves without fear of judgement. Creating this type of environment requires courage, by leaders and individuals alike.

Research from Harvard Business School's Dr. Amy Edmonson found that an overwhelming number of people do not feel safe speaking freely at work. According to Edmonson, people worry about the perceived risk to their image and of being seen as incompetent, disruptive, or negative.

For diversity and inclusion to thrive, leaders need to purposefully create safe environments characterized by trust, respect, and an awareness of unconscious biases.

It’s also important for people to be more courageous themselves. This translates to speaking up, challenging the status quo, having difficult conversations and holding themselves and others accountable.

"When we do speak up when others are being treated unfairly or hurt, we not only demonstrate courage, we also influence others to follow suit," said Francesco Gina in a recent Harvard Business Review article. "Bravery — whether we’re calling out harassment, unfair processes, gender or racial bias, or discrimination — can motivate observers to overcome their fear of repercussions."

However, courage must move beyond the bravery of speaking up. Courage should also be about honesty, perseverance and enthusiasm. We must be honest about how open we are to diverse perspectives so that we check our hidden biases and really hear and see views and ideas that are new, uncomfortable, fascinating, and creative.

We must cultivate perseverance. Diversity and inclusion are long games that require perseverance. We can’t give up when we encounter the inevitable challenges of bringing different kinds of teams together. Being a trailblazer means recognizing when we need the support and advice of trusted friends and mentors to help us work through challenges and maintain our tenacity.

We must have enthusiasm. Working with purpose and enjoying our work and our work mates is an incredibly powerful motivator for others. It’s contagious. Enthusiasm and positive energy create cultures of creativity, growth, passion and meaning. And fundamentally, this gives us purpose and purpose to our brand.

Challenging ourselves and our partners with a scorecard makes us accountable. Creating the conditions and summoning the courage to do more demonstrates our genuine commitment to creating more diverse and inclusive cultures.

Karen Kahn has been chief communications officer for HP since 2015She is also a member of PRWeek's Hall of Femme 2018.

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