Diversity - An Organizational Development Initiative

by Sollah Contributor and Subject Matter Expert - Kari Heistad

Diversity - An Organizational Development Initiative (Part 1)

Moving to an HR-Driven Program

Making the transition from diversity to diversity and inclusion (D&I) requires organizations to shift the way D&I is applied to business operations and understood through the organization. Companies need to move from the notion that diversity is an HR-driven program to one where D&I is an organization-wide initiative. This is an initiative that engages all employees to build upon knowledge, awareness and skills to create a new, more inclusive, respectful corporate culture. Richard Hinton, an HR Generalist for Shawmut Design and Construction, is a long-time diversity advocate, and he speaks to the positive business outcomes that result from running diversity as an Organizational Development initiative.

Diversity and inclusion continue to change. Organizations must notice these changes in order to best understand how to attract and retain key employees, and also establish themselves as a competitive employer and business of choice. An organization that recognizes diversity and inclusion as an Organizational Development initiative tied to business goals is one that will see a noticeable improvement in employee engagement, profitability and company vision.”

In order to effectively move forward to an Organizational Development focus for D&I, it is essential that organizations change their view of D&I programs. In isolation, HR-run diversity programs can do a lot to teach employees about respectful workplaces, but many times these programs lose momentum. Too often, employees feel that diversity programs are non-essential and, with- out ongoing and frequent reinforcement, become disinterested. However, taking an Organizational Development approach to diversity and inclusion means that the initiative is fully supported and reinforced on all sides by business operations and the company culture. While human resources may take a leadership role in the diversity and inclusion efforts, operational lines of the business are also engaged. Managers throughout the organization can help to push the initiative forward once they understand how the work helps to decrease friction, improve communication and fix the real-life challenges that they are facing every day.

This shift to an Organizational Development perspective expands the work beyond diversity to inclusion. Inclusion is about the more beneficial work of changing employee behavior. For employees it means that diversity and inclusion is not something done outside of their daily work, but is an integral part of their daily interactions with coworkers and customers. For companies, it means that diversity and inclusion initiatives can be integrated companywide by aligning their D&I goals with the efficiencies learned from previously successful Organizational Development programs.


Continuous Education

Approaching D&I from an Organizational Development perspective also means changing how diversity learning takes place.

Companies should build upon their diversity training programs to include the idea of diversity as a continuous education environment. Whereas diversity training is often seen by employees as a short-term program or skill building exercise that is done to them, education is empowering employees to acquire knowledge and skills over the long-term and to integrate that knowledge into their daily interactions.

Amica’s Sam Palmisano, Sr. Assistant Vice President of HR, has witnessed, first hand, the benefits of creating a continuous learning environment. “Our employees are very busy, so we make it a point to be conscious of their schedules when developing content and determining dates for the diversity pro- gram. Spreading out modules over the year keeps employees engaged and reinforces the message that diversity is an ongoing part of our culture and not a one shot deal.”

In addition to traditional instructor lead training, there are many educational tools that can be used on a daily basis to reinforce a culture of inclusiveness, including: manager-led team meetings on diversity topics, online training modules, themed email blasts, newsletter articles, an online diversity portal, international food in the cafeteria, international holiday calendars, etc. In combination with an Organizational Development strategy that supports an inclusive workplace, these tools empower employees to take responsibility in educating themselves about the people that they work with and the customers that they serve. With the richness offered by diversity, there will never be an end point where anyone can say that they have learned it all. Instead, employees will understand that inclusiveness requires lifelong education in understanding differences and learning to build respect across those differences. If diversity training was a push in the right direction, diversity as a continuous education environment becomes a pull towards a workplace that employees want to be part of.


Thoughtful and Strategic Decisions to Achieve Results

For an organization making the shift from diversity program to diversity Organizational Development initiative, thoughtful and strategic decisions must be made in order for that initiative to be successful and achieve business results. In our experience, organizations go through a seven-step process to move forward from programmatic training to Organizational Development continuous education. We have put these seven steps into a model that provides a practical framework to guide organizations through this transition.

The seven steps of the model help to guide an organization through the different decisions, considerations, goals, resources and time frames that need to be considered when setting up diversity as a continuous learning Organizational Development initiative. While each step of the model has additional considerations than what are listed here, this is the basic framework. The emphasis behind this model is that when you begin to run diversity as an Organizational Development initiative, there are many decisions and considerations that must be made.

While leveraging the knowledge from past Organizational Development initiatives will be helpful, here are some additional success strategies to keep in mind when creating an Organizational Development initiative for diversity and inclusion work:

  • Seek and gain senior leadership sup- port and active engagement through-out the entire process. Have them model their own personal engagement with the initiative.
  • Ensure that the D&I work is closely aligned with organizational goals.
  • Focus on augmenting training with ongoing education. Design a comprehensive strategy that layers D&I training, learning tools, themes/topics and programs year after year to reinforce and support your diversity education.
  • Provide regular communication to employees about the diversity work, its alignment to organizational goals, and why it is important to them.
  • Allow sufficient time to implement programs. Diversity is a highly personal and emotional topic for employees. As such, it will require longer implementation than some other Organizational Development initiatives. Employees need time to integrate inclusion into their interactions and this can take longer than expected.
  • Engage and support managers in the work. Provide them with the training and resources to become advocates for diversity and inclusion within their teams. Help them to use educational tools such as manager-led team discussions to reduce friction and solve team issues.
  • Engage employees from all levels of the organization in this process to drive success and employee engagement.
  • Use diversity champions throughout the organization to gain insights into implementation challenges and success stories.


Want to learn more, please contact Sollah Interactive at clientservices@sollah.com.