The panelists at the recent Boston Business Journal event, “Race Ahead: A Dialogue on Race, Business and Diversity” admitted they were preaching to the converted: a room full of area business leaders and HR professionals at an early morning forum to discuss the importance of workplace diversity. Indeed, a large part of the discussion centered on how to convey this message to the masses, from the C-suite to the entry-level, who may not yet understand or believe it’s “the right thing to do,” in the words of one panelist.
So why is diversity so important? For one, clients and customers expect it: they want to see themselves and their populations reflected in the companies with whom they do business. Diverse organizations have also been shown to perform better financially. And, without diverse viewpoints in meetings and brainstorming sessions, “groupthink” is more likely to occur, where damaging or dysfunctional ideas can gain traction among like-minded individuals, with no one offering a dissenting opinion.
But what can be done to embed diversity initiatives into the fabric of an organization? The panelists and participants had some great suggestions. For one, make it a measurable metric that is tied to performance review goals and compensation, such as bonuses. For another, secure buy-in from the top-down. It was impressive to see many top leaders at the BBJ event, from business executives to community leaders. Employees are less likely to support diversity initiatives or see their value if they don’t believe their boss or boss’s boss feels the same way. Finally, ensure diversity isn’t only a recruitment goal, but also extends to mentoring and “sponsorship” of diverse employees, development, support, and ultimately retention, for these efforts to prove successful in the long-term. Hiring is just the first step.
At InkHouse, we are fortunate to have a CEO and senior leadership fully committed to increasing the diversity of our workforce. We formed a Diversity Committee last year to tackle some of the challenges, which we’ve come to learn, aren’t insignificant. We care about diversity at InkHouse because we’re part of an industry that’s behind in this area. A recent study shows PR is currently comprised of only 8 percent people of color in the U.S.So what do we do if diversity doesn’t already exist in our industry? We help build it from the ground up. Much of the work of the Diversity Committee and the senior team thus far has been outreach to colleges, particularly those with diverse populations, to educate on opportunities and career paths in PR. And we’re starting to plant those seeds even earlier, at the high school level, through a new partnership with WriteBoston, a nonprofit trying to support high school students to become better writers, future journalists and social media storytellers. These efforts may not bear immediate fruit in terms of hiring but they are an important investment in the future of both our agency and our industry. We believe that it’s the right thing to do.