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Diversity's Strategic Role

As senior vice president for diversity and inclusion at AOL, Tiane Mitchell Gordon has an opportunity to put her ideas into practice.

February 21, 2008
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An inclusive workforce is integral to strong business decisions and financial results, according to Tiane Mitchell Gordon. As senior vice president for diversity and inclusion at AOL, she has an opportunity to put her ideas into practice. A 12-year AOL human resources veteran who previously held a vice president title, she was promoted to senior vice president last summer. She discussed her philosophy with Workforce Management staff writer Mark Schoeff Jr.

Workforce Management: What is the significance of your title change?

Tiane Mitchell Gordon: I think it absolutely sends a signal. It is a strategic role that says it’s not just about what traditionally people think about when they think about diversity and inclusion, which is the workforce aspect of it. It really is about looking at how we can influence and impact our business from a different lens perspective to understand how as a global company we have to be more culturally aware.

WM: What does your reporting directly to chairman and CEO Randy Falco mean for diversity at AOL?

Gordon: It really demonstrates the leadership commitment to this being a core, fundamental way of thinking and mind-set for the organization. Our leadership very much understands the potential of emerging markets, the insight that being an inclusive and diverse environment brings and how to leverage that … in terms of helping us achieve our business objectives. Part of [a manager’s] bonus is tied to creating a diverse and inclusive environment.

WM: How is diversity a strategic imperative?

Gordon: I’ll use the example of the AOL China Portal. As we look at emerging markets outside the domestic U.S., we want to make sure that our products are culturally relevant and appropriate and sensitive to the new consumers that we’re marketing to. We went to our Asian interest group to use them as a focus group to help launch, to test products. We have our own in-house lab, if you will, to do research. Not only do they bring the perspective of being concerned about delivering a great product from an AOL perspective, they are looking at it from a consumer’s eye.

WM: How does diversity increase Internet penetration in racial and ethnic markets?
Gordon: If you’ve got a compelling product and you look at our AOL Black Voices and AOL Latino … it’s a marketplace that says to those communities of difference,

“We understand your consumer buying habits and we understand your programming habits and we can serve up to you exactly the content, offerings, advertising that meet your needs.”

WM: Why do you think that the diversity function should separate from HR?

Gordon: A lot of companies have always focused on diversity as an HR perspective. You get focused on only looking at HR policies and practices. There’s a different lens you can bring from the outside of HR where you can comment on practices and policies that may not be helping to drive the business if it’s supposed to be a more global company. You can bring that outsider’s perspective.

Workforce Management, January 14, 2008, p. 5 -- Subscribe Now!

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