Honoring the Heritage and Valuing Diversity

By Etheline Desir | Desir Group

February is Black History Month and we pause to celebrate the legacy of civil rights giants such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his efforts to promote racial equality, equity, access and opportunity for all. His message was one of inclusiveness, and the need for a level playing field for all Americans. Almost 50 years later, many organizations are challenged with developing structure to create and foster a diverse and inclusive work environment. Despite a preponderance of research pointing to the inherent advantages of diversity from the perspective of ethnicity, thoughts, experience, and culture, diversity at the leadership level remains a challenge in many sectors, including healthcare and higher education.

Why is this so, you might ask. From observations and my own personal experience, I believe the primary reason is often fear of the unknown. In other words, how will the team dynamics change when someone outside the circle of trust enters the team?

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Years ago, I was being interviewed for a position in a completely homogeneous, southern company. Sensing the apprehension among some of the interviewers, I immediately put everyone’s mind at ease by suggesting we make this a two-way learning experience without any inhibitions. My hire led to an amazingly rich experience of blended cultures and ideas that lasted many years – even long after I left the company. So I invite you to consider the following as you move from Good to Great with diversity and inclusion as a core philosophy:

1. It’s best NEVER to diversify your team than to place an unqualified minority into a leadership role — the ramifications of failure are too far reaching.

2. Remember that Qualifications and Ethnicity must carry only 50 percent of the weight. Overall “fit” and credibility MUST account for the other 50 percent.

3. Be strategic and purposeful about your recruitment, interview and selection process. Interviewers must be trained to recognize the small cultural nuances that can lead to big issues down the road.

4. Organizational preparedness is equally important. Invite and engage your leadership team so that everyone is onboard to welcome and help acculturate the outsider into an insider.

5. Remember to measure, over time, your ROI. Consider both the qualitative and quantitative outcome of your diverse and inclusive leadership force.

Experts agree that embracing diversity results in increased performance as embracing differences can lead to the creation of unique solutions and ideas which create a competitive advantage. Finally, research indicates a connection between an organization’s ethical and social values and employee performance. Thus, how an organization treats its employees can have a direct impact on its bottom line.

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