A Commitment to Changing Corporate Culture

February 1, 2016

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[hiep vu/masterfile/corbis]

Diversity and Inclusion Priority. U.S. Hispanic Initiative. Hispanic Forum. Employee Resource Group.

These are just a few examples of company-led initiatives focused on minority groups. I know this space well, having volunteered for and been assigned to many such groups in my career over the past two-plus decades.

This is why I can unapologetically say that all, if not most, of those corporate initiatives are set up to fail. The often well-intended, but naïve, priority misses its mark for four reasons: visibility, frequency, proximity and accountability.

Those four traits are the difference between a corporate symbolic gesture and real commitment to changing the corporate culture.

Why corporate initiatives fail

It’s not hard to find what’s most important to a company because it is always front and center. That’s why it’s ironic to me that the initiative to provide greater visibility to a community often lacks visibility itself.

For all of the talk about being inclusive and reflective of them, centered content does not get the top billing that it deserves. It is placed in forgettable slots reserved for program fillers and it’s the first to get cut, due to time or space constraints. The committee in charge pats themselves on the back for the few bread crumbs that do make it through, but then are bewildered when those tokens do not bear fruit.

This brings us to the second failure: frequency. For any message to get through, it needs to be consistent. Campaigns that show up once a year for Hispanic Heritage Month or the patronizing, landmine-riddled Cinco de Mayo are doomed to fail.

Any strategy needs frequency in order for its intended audience to notice and understand. Companies should not adopt diversity initiatives for a finite time or have expiration dates. They should be standard operating procedures, considering the impact that diversity has on businesses.

The third reason that diversity initiatives fail is proximity. The content developers must be part of the audience that you’re trying to reach. I can’t tell you how many arrogant executives speak as if they know better than the employees who are part of the target community. While I am a champion of female and African-American issues, I’m not a woman and I’m not African-American. I would never pretend to be the right person to lead initiatives in reaching those two groups. That’s not to say that my experience and interest wouldn’t be of value in a larger discussion; it’s just that the point persons should be representatives of those groups.

There are many nuances in developing focused messages, which require people who have firsthand experiences to walk in the shoes of those you’re trying to connect with.

Now, an area where all executives should show up, but usually don’t, is accountability. This is the  fourth reason why diversity initiatives fail, because of a lack of responsibility beginning with the C-suite. And it trickles down. The front line cares about what the back office has determined as important.

There isn’t a greater motivation than knowing that the diversity initiative will be part of someone’s performance review. There’s a whole new perspective when an employee understands that their salary increase and promotion are tied to their ability to meet the goals of the company. This is how conversations turn into actions.

Visibility, frequency, proximity and accountability make up the formula for the litmus test I use in determining how serious an organization is about a diversity initiative. Failure to succeed on any of the four counts means that company leaders are giving the campaign, and you, lip service.

Hugo Balta

Hugo Balta is the senior director of Hispanic Initiatives at ESPN. His work focuses on collaborative projects across platforms and networks focused on best serving U.S. Hispanics. Find more articles like these on his blog, Straight Talk.

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