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14 Mar. 2012 | Comments (0)

“I don’t have time for Diversity.”

“Diversity is not a priority for me because I don’t see how Diversity helps me help the business.”

“I can’t distract the business with added D&I work right now.”

These comments may sound familiar because they are common objections to Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.  With tight headcount, budgets and timelines, leaders and managers might not see how they can afford to focus on D&I on top of their business responsibilities.  Indeed, part of being a leader is deciding what to do, as well as what not to do, with limited resources.

Gaining leaders’ commitment to D&I requires a multifaceted approach.  Among the many things we must do well is align D&I goals with business goals in a way that integrates D&I into the genes of our organizations.  Unfortunately, we often go about this in a suboptimal way

One common mistake is to design a D&I strategy by starting with activities and initiatives that we find through benchmarking.  We look at what might be called best practices and select ones that seem feasible in our own organizations, or we look at D&I award criteria and implement initiatives that line up with these external standards.  Then we find ourselves in the precarious position of trying to show how our D&I initiatives cause D&I outcomes that, in turn, cause outcomes important to our particular business.

How can we improve the meaningful and mutually beneficial harmony between D&I outcomes and business outcomes? The causal relationship between D&I and the Business Outcomes needs to flow from left to right, as outlined in the simple graphic below.  However, D&I efforts can achieve better alignment with business outcomes when we plan our strategies in the other direction. 

 To plan a D&I strategy, we need to begin with understanding the priority business outcomes that our organization is committed to deliver.  The next step is to determine what D&I outcomes will enable, enhance or accelerate those critical business outcomes.  Finally, we need to plan the D&I initiatives that will lead to the identified D&I outcomes.  In this way, D&I becomes a clear lever to generate value for the business.  When D&I becomes a catalyst for strategic business outcomes, it is no longer seen as a competing addition or distraction to the vital objectives of our businesses.  Moreover, our D&I initiatives become aligned with the commitment, momentum and resources that are already dedicated to priority business goals.

A simplified example illustrates this point.  Suppose a strategic business goal at your company is to improve customer experience.  Your business leaders have decided to focus improvements on meeting customer expectations during interactions with the customer service call center.  In asking ourselves how D&I can be a relevant enabler to this goal, we can start by considering the diversity among customers as well as the D&I skills and competencies of our Customer Service Representatives working in the call center.  If our customers are culturally diverse, but our Customer Service Representatives are predisposed to one mainstream culture, the company’s ability to understand and meet a multicultural variety of customer expectations will be at risk.  Part of the solution to address this gap may be for D&I to offer Cultural Intelligence training to improve the ability of Customer Service Representatives to adapt to the variety of cross-cultural situations that they will encounter.   As shown in the graphic below:

  • The Business Outcome is improved customer experience. 
  • The D&I Outcome is Customer Service Representatives who are enabled to effectively adapt in cross-cultural interactions with customers.
  • The D&I Initiative is Cultural Intelligence Training to develop culturally intelligent Customer Service Representatives.


Integrating D&I goals with business goals is one important step to create shared value for D&I and the business.  It is similar to the mutually beneficial interaction between honeybees and flowers.  Bees gather pollen and nectar to make honey and, without adding any work, naturally disperse the flowers’ genes across the world.  By starting our D&I strategic planning with the financial and organizational outcomes that are most vital to business success, we can design ways for D&I goals to be integrally important to business success.  In this environment, our leaders’ comments change from those at the beginning of this blog to:

“I need D&I to deliver my priority goals because D&I helps me help the business.”

 Optimal goal integration is the first key element to demonstrating how Diversity is an enabler, not a distraction, to tangible business results.   

Share your comments below with your own best examples of seamlessly integrating D&I goals into priority human capital, customer, brand, operations or other business goals.  Then, tune in to my next blog in this series on integrating D&I into your organization’s genes.

View our complete listing of Diversity & Inclusion blogs.

  • About the Author: Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a senior fellow providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. She serves as program director for both the Diversity & Inclusion Executives and…

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


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