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Companies Must Set Diversity Goals

May 28, 2008
Related Topics: Diversity, Workforce Planning, Featured Article, HR & Business Administration

While many people think diversity in the workplace is a numbers game—think headcounts and quotas—the truth is measuring diversity involves more than simple math.

    "It should all start with a plan," said Christopher Metzler, former director of Equal Employment Opportunity studies, diversity and inclusion at Cornell University and now the associate dean of human resources at Georgetown University. "What exactly do you want your diversity program to do?"

    Some companies may want to increase their bottom line with new contract wins, while others want a staff that is more varied in their ideas.

    Sometimes searching for the latter ultimately brings in the former.

    "Back in 2005, with instruction from our board of directors, we started to investigate our diversity strategies," said Ed Dodge, vice president and director of human resources at Detroit-based SmithGroup, an architectural engineering firm.

    "We knew there had to be some focus on the bottom line. As it turns out, we were recently selected for a project at Indiana University after they narrowed the pool down to our company and another firm, both of which had indicated above all the other firms that there was a diversity program in place. We were selected ... that is a very obvious case of how our program is affecting our bottom line."

    Not all strategies have such a direct effect.

    "Having a diverse staff is not necessarily going to increase your bottom line," said Metzler. "In order to do that, you may have to look externally, possibly at marketing strategies, like gearing products towards a more Latino customer base, for example."

    Internally or externally, diversity is something that can be woven through an entire company, said Amri Johnson, executive vice president and partner at Cook Ross Inc., a Silver Spring, Maryland-based consulting company.

    "You can look at every part of your organization and ask if diversity is showing up. A lot of the measurement with diversity comes from looking at your whole company. How is the corporate climate? Are employees satisfied? ... Look at every part from recruitment to external vendors," he said.

    Diversity within a corporate staff is something that has caused angst amongst companies, as it is often hard to pinpoint what, if any, effect diversity has on overall revenue.

    "I have seen from my own experience that if you don’t have diverse people on board you could be missing opportunities to be innovative," Johnson said. "You can prove this through surveys or even focus groups."

    This is not to say that diversity trumps quality, experts say.

    "You don’t just want talent or diversity, you want diverse talent," said Scott Page, professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan. He also is the author of the book The Difference, about how diversity in the way people think produces benefits. "It is good for a company to put together teams that are trained differently, from different age groups, genders or racial backgrounds.

    "If you have a set of homogenous people, things could be running smoothly, but you may be blind to opportunity. I think it is important to reward people on how different they think from other people at the company."

    Comerica Bank keeps scorecards to determine how it is faring with diversity.

    "We want to recruit from that diverse population and connect with our customer," said Janice Tessier, Detroit-based Comerica vice president of business affairs: "We want to recruit from that diverse population and connect with our customer."

    Southfield, Michigan-based Clayton & McKervey has seen its diverse staff help grow new business. The accounting firm has built a multilingual staff, with 13 to 15 languages spoken among its 65 employees. And, the firm holds cultural training. About nine to 12 months ago, the firm hired a Russia-born CPA, which ultimately led to a new Russian client. "We have had this happen with Chinese and Mexican clients as well," said Kevin McKervey, shareholder in charge of international services.

Diversity survey
   According to the 2006 Diversity Survey by the American Society of Employers, Southfield, 22 percent of the 113 area companies that were surveyed report having a formal diversity policy in place. Of this 22 percent:

  • 81 percent have diversity recruitment.
  • 73 percent have diversity training for managers.
  • 62 percent engage in outreach with local diversity organizations.
  • 58 percent have diversity training for their employees.
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