The Best Leaders Tip #9 – Embrace the breadth and depth of diversity

This is my 9th of 12 posts about how to be among the Best Leaders.  In these, I provide inspiration for everyone seeking professional and personal growth as a leader of people, projects, groups, teams and organizations. I welcome your comments and feedback.  Visit my website for more information.


Best Leader Tip #9          Embrace diversity in all its definitions.  Although it’s tempting to hang out only with your friends at work (the ones you hire, the ones you know, those with whom you have a lot in common), resist.  Cliques make you narrow and exclusive, and not in a good way.   Instead, be welcoming and expansive.  Seek out and be involved with new hires, and those who are different from you in background, age, professional status, education, mindset, culture, and personality.  You’ll be richer, more well-rounded in your perspective, a more effective professional, and a more mature person.


Designing Leadership: Thought of the Week

Be Diverse, Not Safe.

Surround yourself with people who don’t think like you. Don’t confuse their differences with lack of skill. Don’t pretend you are acting in the best interest of your organization by hiring only people whose resumes and looks are the same as everyone else’s. Learn how to understand people with differences, and learn how to lead them.

Cultivating “unusual suspects”: diversity and creativity

oprah magazine nov 2013 In the November issue of Oprah magazine, Ori Brafman, co-author of The Chaos Imperative, advises us to cultivate contacts outside our usual social circle. Most of us would find that stressful (and who has the time?), but forming relationships with all kinds of individuals gives us the chance to push our thinking in new and different directions. Brafman especially tells us to reach out people in groups that might have made us feel uncomfortable in the past. Making a point to get together with these new connections even just to chat – with no agenda – this creates opportunities for ideas and inspiration.  Maybe the best professional and personal reason of all to seek out and embrace diversity in those all around us!

the chaos imperative

High performing cultures require diversity!

A high performance culture (as measured in research conducted by PA Consulting Group and reported in a recent Bulldog Reporter article), is one in which:

  • There is a clear mission and vision, deriving directly from the organization’s strategy.
    The organization is highly adaptable and responds rapidly to the influences of the external market place and customer needs.
    People are aligned and engaged and there is a “team” orientation
    Values, systems and processes are in place and aligned to support performance.


How to achieve a high performance culture:

  • Begin by reviewing the organization’s operating model, reward system, and its mission and purpose.
  • Build talent from within and challenge roles. Lack of diversity must be rooted out on the road to executive leadership, and this means the next challenging role has to be visible and achievable.
  • Look to the future.

There is a link between how clearly an organization articulates its mission and the percentage of women in executive roles. This link is vital to the long-term engagement of the best female talent.


Cheerios brings diversity to the breakfast table

Cheerios-Just-Checking-1A TV ad for Cheerios released a couple of weeks ago shows a multiracial family talking about the heart healthy aspects of the fabulously popular cereal.   The ad sparked a rather intense flurry of comments, some really emotionally charged, and the PR world took notice because of the unique communication opportunity and challenges it posed for General Mills.  (Watch “Just Checking” on the Cheerios YouTube channel).

Click this link to see the ad, and also the comments on General Mills’ site.

From an organizational or corporate standpoint, this is terrific fodder for those of us in diversity and multicultural communication.  Honestly, my family didn’t even notice the racial makeup of the family in this ad until I started to see the comments and media coverage. Then I took a closer look and noticed their differences. And then I was sad. Because before, I noticed them as a family in an everyday moment in an everyday interaction – as it should be and as General Mills intended. I don’t want my daughter or myself to be a person who focuses on how different people are – and I know this is the heart of diversity dialogue and debate. I understand we need to notice differences in order to appreciate them, but there is a danger that in focusing on what makes us different, we further divide groups of people. I think the discussion needs to move beyond differences and on to similarities. We are ready for that to happen… the next generations already are there. Thank you, General Mills, for making us ultra aware of the way America really looks today.. and for making it an everyday – not unusual – experience.

Would like to hear your thoughts!

Eight Tips for Diversity Excellence in the Workplace

1. Have a diverse leadership team.  Gandhi’s oft-quoted “Be the change you seek in the world” means that, to have a diverse workforce, you start at the top, you start with yourself.  If younger professionals can’t picture themselves at the top of your organization, they probably won’t stay for long.  Show them there is a future for them, don’t just tell them.multicultural marketing isn’t diversity and inclusion

2. Define “diversity” accurately, and make it personal. Every company has to define what it means to be a diverse and inclusive culture – for themselves, taking into account operations, industry, size and type of their workforce, their type of business, and other considerations. In addition, start with knowing what diversity is – it is surprising how many companies don’t know.  Generally, diversity and inclusion are business strategies, ideally led from the C-suite and embedded at every level of an organization, that values and practices hiring and retaining people from many types of backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, ages, lifestyle preferences, and other attributes. It is an internal, employee set of programs, that can expand to supply chain, partners and other stakeholders in the organization’s sphere (if a company purposefully seeks out diversity in those groups). Having multicultural marketing programs, doing business across the globe – these do not automatically mean you are effectively practising D&I.

3.  Hiring is only the beginning. Once you have your diverse workforce, you need a plan to keep them, train them and move them up.  This is where inclusion matters, and it is the key, even more than diversity.

4.  D&I must be driven from the top.  It’s not a recruiting thing, not an HR thing, not a positioning thing…  diversity and inclusion need to be a culturally embedded mindset embodied by the C-suite and those just below them, who must drive the concepts and behaviors deeply into all levels of the organization. Measure results, repeat.

5.  It’s not about the money nor the recognition.  Some D&I programs depend too heavily on money spent on sponsored workshops,, conferences, dinners, and awards, and they appear on “best” lists galore.  Some of this can be important to show your commitment and for learning opportunities. Don’t rest there, though. Remember, D&I is iglobal diversity imagenternally driven programs to help your organization work better. Be sure the glamour supports that.

6.  Be ultra patient.  Cultural changes, mindset shifts, behavioral outcomes… these take time.  Maybe a lot of time, depending on the size of your company and your starting point.  Take some deep breaths and steadily, persistently, consistently, keep moving toward your goals, gaining support along the way.  Mark and celebrate your milestones. You will have them!

7.  Have a strategy, a roadmap, a plan of action.  This is a MUST!  If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you arrive… it’s trite, and true!  The most successful D&I programs have a near and medium term plan (1-5 years), reviewed by leadership teams and measured against results 1-2 times a year.  This is important to measure the ROI on your D&I budget, too.

8.  Learn as you go.  D&I, like every other business area, is growing and changing along with the population, the economy, the age of the workforce and all those other lovely factors we can’t control.  Talk to people in other companies similiar AND DIFFERENT from yours. Make D&I part of a learning environment. It’s a journey – make it a joyful one.

Boardroom Diversity – more work to do

“Just as diversification in a company’s business units and brands allows it to balance market uncertainties, so too does diversification in the boardroom allow it to broaden its worldview, then hone its strategic direction.”  Maria Green, Illinois Tool Works (in Chicago Tribune).

Chicago Urban League released survey results reported by Samantha Bomkamp in today’s Chicago Tribune that reinforces what we already know, and here are some of the facts: 36% of Chicago’s population is African-American yet only 6.6% of corporate board members in the region are black; that while executives believe diversity is important as a business necessity, they don’t often translate the belief into practice; that diversity is improving at lower levels of companies but not as much at the highest levels.

Some solutions suggested by the article:

  • Continue to enlighten business leaders on the importance of diversifying their executive teams (including hiring executives of different backgrounds)
  • Use recruiters and others to help recruit and hire diverse executive level leaders (rather than rely on traditional networking, which can be too narrow)



Diversity in hiring – it’s more than you think

Hiring and engaging a diverse workforce is on everyone’s mind these days, including those of us in the communication profession.  Some might say our profession and its employers are arriving late to the diversity and inclusion party – to address that, the Council of PR Firms and PRWeek created the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards, for which I’ve gladly served as judge for its first two years.  It’s an eye-opener, for sure, and a launching pad for sharing of programs and practices among agencies and clients. (I will share my top ten observations and insights from this awards process in my next two blogs – watch for it!)For now, I want to share one key observation, that has to do with the definition of “diversity.”  On the surface, it has come to mean, for most of us in the professional setting, to proactively recruit and hire employees from racial, gender, and other populations who are traditionally underrepresented in the typical workplace. Toward that goal, we create our programs and practices.  Yet, to have a truly diverse workforce, we have to look beyond those physical and behavioral attributes, and go deeper.  In my view, we need employees who match our clients’ needs, who come from diverse professional and educational backgrounds that are different from their bosses and their peers.  I hear so many stories of senior level communication pros who aren’t being looked at for agency positions because they don’t have decades worth of agency experience… or stories of people who want to work in a CPG company and have solid skills and pedigreed education, but they’ve made the mistake of working in other industries rather than CPG.  We’re missing opportunities to put great people in leadership roles because too often, maybe most of the time, we hire people who are similar to us, rather than different. We want to be comfortable, rather than challenged.  Instead of looking for specific agency, corporate or industry experience, , I encourage you to look for candidates who, because of their difference from you and your clients, can bring fresh perspective, new thinking, best practices from outside your specific business environment, and potentially, a whole new network of business and communication/media contacts.  Look for leadership skills of teambuilding, inclusion, visionary thinking, a strategic mindset, polish and poise, excellent business and relationship building skills, flawless writing and speaking attributes, a real passion for the profession.  Trust me – senior level employees with these qualities, who have demonstrated success in a variety of business venues and industries, will learn the specifics of any new industry quickly.

For more on the Diversity Distinction in PR Awards, click here.

The Ugly Truth

The Ugly Truth, from Elle magazine, August, 2012

Ann Bauer writes a poignant, sometimes painful to read article in August’s ELLE magazine. In it, she describes a life of feeling ugly and being treated poorly because of her unconventional (for the U.S.) looks. I highly recommend everyone read it, and here’s why. Regardless of your actual definition of beauty, the actual way features are arranged on your face, your height, weight, age, absence or presence of wrinkles and flab… there are times in everyone’s life where we feel we don’t belong, that we’re not conventional, that all eyes are on us and not in a good way. To me, this is the basis of diversity and inclusion – that we approach everyone as if they fit in no matter how they look. Bauer concludes her stark and honest story with the realization that it’s true, after all – beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. So are differences, and so are similarities. Let’s get on with clarifying our focus.

%d bloggers like this: