Diversity Councils: The What, Why, and How

Diversity councils comprised of employee representatives from throughout the business are often not as productive as we think!

I have established a number of diversity councils over the years. I have also been the ‘external’ helping to support and guide these councils.

Twelve years ago, ‘best practice’ for diversity councils involved gathering a bunch of well meaning ‘representatives’ from throughout the business. There would be a monthly meeting where these passionate and well-meaning people share their research around diversity and inclusion. Usually, this came in the form of seeing what other organisations were doing.

The upshot was that these groups did a great job of educating themselves. But there was limited impact on the business and real outcomes. They would get stuck in micro issues – like fixing the toilets to make them more female friendly! I soon realised that gathering a group of well-meaning people who did not have the expertise nor the power to make big decisions – was a complete waste of time.

Unfortunately, some organisations still go down this road. Why? Because it LOOKS like they are being very collaborative and inclusive by including the views of the masses. But the truth is that the overall impact is ineffective.

Which model works best for diversity councils?

The only model for ‘diversity councils’ that work? Where the senior leadership team in its entirety is the diversity council. This works.

We get the ELT to sing from the same hymn sheet. Set them an inclusion score card. And keep them accountable with a discussion for at least an hour at EACH ELT meeting. Nothing shifts the dial quicker that ELT members competing with each other on progress.

In our experience we see well-meaning people become ‘champions’ within their organisations for diversity and inclusion. These individuals do this out of passion – not expertise – it’s their voluntary ‘night’ job – and we applaud their enthusiasm.

The problem with ‘champions’ as diversity councils

The problem is that these individuals who come from the business have no experience in behavioural change/ habit shift science. It’s not their day job, so why should they!

They are tasked with supporting diversity and inclusion efforts – and what we typically see is that they look externally for ideas. So, what happens? They go and see what other major organisations who have had prominent press or awards in diversity and inclusion, are doing. They have coffees with senior executives of these companies. These executives believe their initiative is awesome – and they sell it to the next company as a great idea.

BUT because these executives are also non-behavioural experts – they are defining success by the degree of ‘PR’ or popularity or the ‘feel good factor’ of the initiative – rarely do we see solid ROI analysis.

Sometimes the decision to add an item to the diversity and inclusion laundry list is based on no other rationale than ‘I’ll have what they’re having!” i.e. if XYZ major company is doing it, it must be right, so we had better do it too!

Limited ROI when ‘champions’ are at the helm

Another issue we see is that many of the ‘champions’ are very senior executives. These well-meaning senior people come up with their own ideas based on their areas of passion and frankly, who they may be connected to externally. They share these ideas with the human resources and/or diversity and inclusion team, and because of their level of seniority, everyone scurries to make it happen.

Again, there is limited ROI analysis or assessment of suitability for the particular organisation.

Organisations are unfortunately like sheep when it comes to designing their diversity and inclusion strategies. They look at the ‘famous’, assess what is sparkly – and add it to the shopping cart. What results is a laundry list of diversity and inclusion initiatives that look like the organisation is doing AMAZING things in this space – but if you dig deeper and analyse the substance and impact, it’s just not there.

Time to question the status quo

Are you ready to make a change to your current approach with new diversity and inclusion solutions? Are you looking at building diversity councils following best practice, not just copying your competitor in your space and hoping for the best?

If you’re looking to disrupt D&I and want to implement strategies and programs that focus on the bottom line, then our award-winning options could be for you.

Take our questionnaire to find out – we ask you a series of short, sharp questions and email you with your next steps.

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