28 Nov Diversity and Inclusion Strategy – A Case Study
A Case Study on the Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Development
Recently I had a meeting with a company to discuss business opportunities and our conversation quickly turned to the entity’s recent termination of its first African American Division President. The Company was deeply concerned about the “public relations” impact of terminating a high-profile person of color and how it would be perceived by the public at large. The former employee was on board with great fanfare – particularly because the Company has a customer base that is largely comprised of people of color. Further, this company had never had a person of color in a senior management role despite being in business for more than 50 years. Further compounding the company’s problem was the fact that it aggressively promoted the hire of the African-American Division President – – embarking on a six (6) month long campaign of meetings with influential people in the community. Now, after a year and a half, the company was anxious about the community response and whether its diverse customers understand why it had to make this decision.
Decisions like these are made every day in the workplace and how they are perceived by the public can be impacted by who is at the table making the decision and what diverse experience they possess. I recently had the chance to read an article on CNN.com titled “Red Cross apologizes for ‘super racist’ safety poster.” The Red Cross was promoting pool safety rules and developed a poster to show what to do and what not to do in swimming pools. An observer took offense to the poster because it depicted children of color “doing dangerous activities, while all of the acceptable, “cool” activities were depicted with lighter-skinned people.” Now how could anyone question the motives of the Red Cross? This organization has helped people of all racial backgrounds during times of crisis and disaster. But how could the Red Cross miss this? How could they promote a picture that could be deemed so offensive to people of color? This situation begs the question: who was at the table when the poster was formulated? Were they diverse? Did they come from different socio economic backgrounds? What community were they from?
When I discussed the Red Cross experience with the company that had terminated the senior black employee, they were taken aback. They did not even think about who was at the table when they made the decision that caused its current dilemma. Of course, they could not discuss the intimate details of the termination with me, but maybe some advice on how to manage this issue before the termination decision was made would have been beneficial. The company appreciated the advice and asked me to partner with them on its diversity and inclusion strategy going forward.
Companies are increasingly tasked with making decisions on how to affect change without sending the wrong message to the public. I am sure that the Red Cross will seek diverse thoughts on their next “pool safety program”. Diversity and inclusion strategy is not just a “nice” thing to do. It’s a business imperative!
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