Sandra Oliver | Forbes Councils Member
Founder of Impact-Coaches Inc., recognized leader in strategic coaching programs. 25+ years coaching executives for large global companies.
When it comes to diversity programs, I’ve found that while many are well-intentioned, they don’t address the behavioral changes needed to give credence to the work experiences of marginalized groups. An initiative designed to merely check off the boxes or say that a company’s leaders have engaged in “diversity training” simply cannot work when the leadership team doesn’t practice what it preaches. Employees know that action always speaks louder than words.
The most effective changes come from a leadership team committed to listening, asking the right questions, and then working together to address everyone’s unique needs. These discussions on how to balance individual and organizational needs must occur at a granular level, so that everyone understands what every individual needs in order to perform at their personal best level.
Companies can go about creating individualized diversity plans that are simultaneously mindful of the organization’s needs by focusing on capturing the best possible opportunities to meet their team’s career aspirations. As a coach, my job is to guide leaders toward figuring out how to elevate everyone and optimize their opportunities to shine, both personally and as part of an effective and highly productive team.
One good example of change in action is leadership’s response and agility during the past year of Covid-19 lockdowns. We learned that for many workers, especially women and minority groups, flexibility is an important aspect of the work environment. For some, that still means getting back in the office as soon as possible, but for others it may be a hybrid environment that keeps them in a better work-life balance. In terms of listening to these needs, many companies have made great strides in keeping everyone moving forward following a period of uncertainty; however, it’s actual policy change that will make the biggest difference. The same is true for diversity training at the dominant culture level.
In fact, working with the “dominant culture” is actually what makes the biggest difference. Awareness training has proven to make the situation worse – raising expectations but not providing enough concrete change. Without behavior change within the dominant culture, coaching becomes even more imperative. It’s not that the leaders don’t want to help, but they often lack the support they need to up their game and assist in developing individualized career plans.
How do we fix these issues and help our employees’ voices be heard? First, we need to realize that the problem isn’t just about training and feedback: It also requires conducting leadership training, individual coaching, providing ongoing mentorship opportunities, and learning from each other on an ongoing basis.
Coaching and mentoring for both leaders and targeted groups makes a meaningful difference in people’s careers. Programs that do not recognize that can be seen as window dressing. In the end, we need to help people excel and achieve their career objectives, as they want to be given the same opportunities as the dominant culture. To make that happen, we need to work harder with more coaching and mentoring.
Perhaps the most important element is leadership by positive example. While many leaders mean well with diversity policies aimed to make things better for everyone, many still don’t have diverse leadership teams at the top levels of their own organizations. That’s an easy fix, isn’t it?
In the end, investing more in a deeper, more inclusive, and more meaningful leadership training, coaching, and mentoring program means taking a much closer look at the problem from the top down in order to effectively solve it. This puts the responsibility squarely back on the leadership team’s shoulders, where it should be, because they are the true policy makers and example setters.