HR Professional Magazine
February/March 2009

Duff McCutcheon

Here are two good reasons for implementing a diversity plan in your organization: it’s good for business and it’s a tremendous boon to attracting and retaining talent. The fact is you can’t afford not to have one. And if you don’t, you can be assured your competitors do. HR Professional talks to LCBO’s Janet Naidu and KPMG’s Michael Bach on the whys and wherefores of strategic diversity plans.

Mirror your customers

The first question you must answer in selling the idea of a diversity plan to your senior management (and you’ll need their buy-in) is “why?” Fortunately, it’s easy to answer.

From a business perspective, it makes sense to leverage diversity – new Canadians, gays and lesbians, aboriginals, persons with disabilities – in your workplace. These people mirror your customers. If you’re selling consumer good and services, these groups make up huge markets that your diverse employees can help you reach.

“Here’s a great example I always trot out when I’m making the business case for diversity,” says KPMG Canada’s director of diversity, Michael Bach. “A few years ago, Frito-Lay was struggling with the launch of a new product – a guacamole-flavoured tortilla chip. It consulted with its Hispanic employees, reformulated the product, tinkered with the branding and boom – it resulted in the company’s most successful product launch ever. They sold $5-million worth of guacamole tortilla chips in the first year.”

Building your brand

Then there’s the HR rationale. If you want to attract the best and brightest – from around the world – you need to show that you’re an employer that embraces everyone. Leveraging diversity into your employer brand shows new Canadians that your company is a good place to work.

And once you’ve got them, it helps to keep people happy and engaged. “An inclusive workplace means people from all walks of life can bring their whole selves to work and not leave anything at the door,” says Bach. They’re more engaged, and therefore more productive and ultimately the company becomes more profitable.

Your diversity business case should address how diversity fits the needs of the organization (recruiting and retention, new markets) and what shape it will take. “Getting buy-in is critical. It means the difference between having a plan with teeth, and being seen as a soft, ‘nice to have’ initiative,” says Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) diversity manager, Janet Naidu.

First steps

Once you’ve got senior leadership buy-in, Naidu suggest testing the workplace waters with an employee survey on diversity, gauging interest, general knowledge and thoughts on hiring and accessibility. It provides an idea of where your employees’ heads are vis-à-vis diversity and can be done via employee focus groups or anonymous e-mail surveys.

Naidu also suggests undertaking an employment systems review to ensure existing policies and practices are barrier-free and equitable.

Getting ownership from staff is key to success and Bach says forming an employee diversity advisory board early on in the process is a good way to provide guidance on diversity strategy and take diversity ownership out into the business and become diversity champions in the office. “They’re the salesmen of diversity. They help ensure the naysayers are converted,” says Bach. “Plus, these people can advise as to what the need is in the business. They provide shape in what you’re trying to pursue – what the diversity agenda looks like, programs, initiatives. This is especially true if you don’t have full-time resources (e.g., a full-time diversity manager) for your diversity strategy – they do the work and drive it.”

Education and communications

Education should be a huge piece of your diversity initiative, especially in the first year or two.

This means hosting a company-wide introductory session on why you’re rolling out a diversity program, the initiatives you’re working on and what it means for your organization, says Naidu.

Education is also an opportunity for your organization’s various diversity groups to showcase their culture and traditions.

“We do Celebrate and Educate,” says Bach. “Four times a year we pick a celebration and do a two-hour presentation on it. We provide food specific to the culture and celebration, and bring in a speaker who answers the whys and whats. What is Ramadan? What is LBG Pride? What is Black History Month?”

As a consequence of these events, KPMG has seen diversity networks sprout up: pride, international employees (those on secondments), parents of children with special needs, Muslim employees and East Asian employees. The networks are split into two groups: clubs, for social support (as in the case of the network for parents of special needs children) and groups, which must have a business development component (e.g., Chinese employees looking for ways to promote KPMG within that community).

Keeping momentum

So how do you embed diversity in your organization? Don’t let up. “You have to keep people focused o the different aspects of diversity. Keep doing events, try new things and listen to your people,” says Naidu.

You’ll know you’ve achieved some success when people start accounting for diversity in their decision-making. KPMG’s recruiters are now actively seeking out new candidates via non-traditional routes, such as the Canadian Immigrant magazine’s Hire Board, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) and the Job Opportunity Information Network (JOIN) – an Ontario job resource for persons with disabilities. “Our recruiters started sourcing these communities independently,” says Bach, “and that’s success, when you’ve got your people thinking about incorporating diversity in what they do in the business.”

Reference: HR Professional Magazine