Making managers accountable for diversity

One-on-one sessions can lead to customized approach
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/16/2011

Diversity Management: Managing a diverse workforce requires understanding of all groups, according to Bobby Siu, president of Infoworth Consulting and author of HR Manager’s Guide to Managing Diversity and Employment Equity, who spoke in July at a Strategic Capability Network event. For more information, visit (Scroll down to view a video of Siu talking about diversity in the workplace.)

Making managers accountable for diversity

Training for emotional comfort widens perspectives (Strategic Capability)

Ideal organizational culture about sharing, learning, respecting (Leadership in Action)

Get past complexity to gain mutual benefits (Organizational Effectiveness)

Making managers accountable for diversity

By Amanda Silliker

Workplaces are becoming more and more diverse, largely due to changing demographics but also due to the demonstrated business case for diversity. But effectively managing a wide range of diverse backgrounds within an organization can be daunting.

“Diversity management can really go beyond the four employment equity groups (women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal Peoples and visible minorities),” said Bobby Siu, president of Infoworth Consulting in Toronto and author of HR Manager’s Guide to Managing Diversity and Employment Equity, published by Carswell.

“It can include people with a different sexual orientation, immigrant status, different weight or height, marital status, family status… so knowing how to manage a workforce of people with different backgrounds requires an understanding of these people,” he said.

The first step in managing a diverse workforce is to assess the organization to determine if it’s ready to implement a diversity management strategy, said Siu, who spoke at a Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) event in Toronto in July.

First, the assessment should determine if managers are competent enough to do the job or if they need more education on diversity, he said. Second, it should determine if there are sufficient resources dedicated to managing diversity.

Third, systems need to be assessed to ensure the organization has the infrastructure to support diversity management. And, lastly, the assessment must determine if a culture can be “created in a way that is conducive to making all this happen,” said Siu.

“(The assessment) is important if you want to move the organization from A to B,” he said. “It’s quite significant to get a sense of where the organization is and where you want to go.”

The organization can start planning its diversity management strategy once it has a “better sense of its hurdles and can identify the windows of opportunity,” said Siu.

From the beginning, the organization must establish diversity as a key factor in its corporate culture and make sure it is in line with organizational goals and objectives.

Training and education is a cornerstone of the strategy. Training should not only be offered to managers but all employees and it should move beyond general sensitivity training to occupation-specific education, said Siu.

“It’s the embedment of diversity in almost every kind of occupational group, be it sales and marketing, customer relations, IT, management — all sorts of training in diversity has to be specific to their occupation,” he said.

Education should be offered on an ongoing basis with many refresher courses, not just a “one-shot deal,” said Siu.

Making managers accountable for diversity is another important aspect of the strategy. In many organizations, managers don’t know what role they play in diversity and what deliverables they need to produce, said Siu.

“A lot of managers are saying, ‘I know how great diversity is but exactly what can I accomplish to prove that and align what I’m doing with the senior management agenda?’” he said. “It’s just not clear.”

The framework should be put in place for diversity to be a performance indicator for middle managers because, if that’s not there, managers just cannot get it done, said Siu.

“It has to be in writing so managers can follow a sound accountability framework and their performance in diversity can be measured, monitored and rewarded.”

Good employee communication is integral to effectively managing diversity at an organization, said Siu. Managers should be aware of an employee’s mindset, preferences, needs, work approaches and lifestyle, he said.

“You need to get to know the employee and, from there, you recognize different employees have different kinds of perspectives on things and priorities in life and work,” said Siu. “Upon knowing that, the manager will be able to customize some of the coaching and mentoring activities to meet those needs.”

Management should conduct one-on-one sessions with employees and ask them what they want to do, what they aspire to and what tools and training they need to achieve that, he said.

Employees, especially those from diverse backgrounds, are frequently requesting more face-time with management. While it may be difficult, managers should try to schedule frequent discussions with their employees that last more than 30 seconds to go over their performance, said Siu.

“Employees need feedback in terms of how they perform. They want a sense their performance is in line with the manager’s (expectations),” he said. “Providing feedback, encouragement and some suggestions on how to change will help the employee feel part of the organization and feel a bit better.”

Managing diversity properly is very beneficial to an organization. It will yield a variety of people with different perspectives and allow the firm to be more innovative, creative and competitive, said Siu.

It will also have a positive effect on an organization’s reputation and help attract top talent.

“People hear about it, talk about it and it just increases the profile and PR for their organization,” said Siu. “At the same time, the organization will fulfill some of its corporate social responsibility and have a good community relationship by hiring people that are reflective of the community.”

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SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.

Training for emotional comfort widens perspectives (Strategic Capability)

By Karen Gorsline

Diversity, affirmative action and employment equity all relate to bias in the workplace and are hardly new concepts. Yet, organizations are struggling with how to factor diversity into their culture and strategies for success. Since the definition of diversity and approaches to it are situational, it’s important to think about bias and its impacts.

Definition: Bias has taken on a negative connotation. Webster’s definitions include “a highly personal and unreasoned distortion of judgment” or “a systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others.” Every day, each of us acts on our biases to make decisions. Bias becomes counteractive when one’s mind is closed to the possibility of other perceptions of the world or it has an adverse impact, either intended or unintended. Bias, in and of itself, is not right or wrong — it just exists.

Normal: Consistent with our own personal biases, we think of ourselves as normal. Others who are not like us are different. Of course, the reverse is true — it all depends on perspective and perspective is a very personal thing.

Training for emotional comfort: Most of us are comfortable with things we know and understand. Organizations tend to look at more rational forms of education. They ignore the importance of providing context for employees to allow them to see the world through the eyes of others, appreciate what normal is for others and understand how some situations are hurtful or present unintended barriers. Training for emotional comfort means broadening perspectives and addressing questions such as: “Would I feel differently about an ethnic group if I had the opportunity to experience their culture and traditions in a pleasurable, engaging way?” and “Would my perspective be different if I spent even a short time in a wheelchair?”

Situational approach: Whether affirmative action, employment equity, diversity or other approaches are appropriate depends on the situation. One obvious factor is legislative requirements but another is the severity of the issue. Some aspects, such as changing attitudes, take time and sophistication to address. Others are systemic and may require a jolt to the system. For example, would women’s soccer be as evolved in the United States today without legislative intervention that required federally funded organizations to demonstrate some gender equality in funding athletic programs? Would Barack Obama be president if he still had to ride at the back of the bus? Sometimes, a firm, gentle hand is needed but, other times, a jolt is required.

Policies and practices: Some policies and practices may have unintended adverse impacts and need to be constantly monitored. For example:

•Is Canadian experience really needed? Why? What would be the learning curve for a candidate who may exceed the other qualifications but is missing Canadian experience? How would this compare to someone who has Canadian experience but less overall experience?

•Does computer screening of resumés and applications encourage “credentialism” and lazy recruiting? Does the job really require a project management certification or other designation? Are we overlooking great candidates with equivalent or better experience who may not have the designation because of their age, previous work jurisdiction, finances or family responsibilities?

•Do decisions related to “grow your own” and hiring externally have an unintended adverse impact? Some organizations start with new employees who have no related work experience and train them on how the company does business. Depending on the recruitment practices and source of new candidates, this may enhance or hinder the development of a diverse workforce.

•When not critical to business success or job safety, do strong corporate cultures tolerate variance from their norms? What impact does strict adherence to corporate norms have on acceptance of diversity within the employee group, such as clothing, speech and body piercings?

While great progress has been made in the area of equality and diversity, the fact organizations are still talking about the topic signals two things — there is still more to do and organizations are interested in working to improve.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. She has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at

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Ideal organizational culture about sharing, learning, respecting (Leadership in Action)

By Trish Maguire

In his book HR Manager’s Guide to Managing Diversity and Employment Equity, Bobby Siu provides a practical how-to guide for practitioners looking for a road map to manage their diversity and employment equity agenda. Workplace diversity is more complex than managing the diverse needs of employees — there are a number of other characteristics and emotional issues leaders struggle with.

Many leaders would agree that for an organization to grow and prosper, it needs to constantly change to meet new challenges.

Unfortunately, the link between workforce diversity and financial success is not always apparent but, rest assured, it is impacting competitive advantage for many organizations. The challenge for leaders is in leveraging workforce diversity without requiring new and costly resources.

The irrefutable bottom line is employers need to attract, retain and promote a full spectrum of people to be successful and sustain a competitive advantage.

In Leadership is an Art, Max De Pree offers a more holistic and inclusive philosophy with respect to diversity: “The simple act of recognizing diversity in corporate life helps us to connect the great variety of gifts that people bring to the work and service of the corporation. The art of leadership lies in polishing, liberating and enabling those gifts.”

As an HR leader, perhaps De Pree’s philosophy can serve to energize leaders to think about how an inclusive work culture may best fit an organization. An ideal work culture encourages everyone to:

•share knowledge

•learn from each other

•respect each other’s differences

•enhance performance

•reach full potential

•achieve corporate objectives.

An underlying challenge for leaders is recognizing that people’s cultural talents, differences, beliefs and values together with “unwritten rules” are already built into an organization’s culture.

Before initiating diversity strategies, systems, policies, education and practices to change these norms, it’s essential leaders not only heighten their awareness but be willing to accept these norms exist.

A win-win proposition can be found in building an inclusive culture where everyone understands how their behaviour influences the environment and performance of co-workers, where communication is open and a fully utilized, high-performing, diverse workforce drives business results.

There are two key questions leaders need to ask themselves. First, how clear are we on the definition of workplace diversity for our organization? Second, what do we want and expect from a diverse workforce?

Encouraging workforce diversity is more than the right thing to do — it’s an investment in the most valuable resource for every organization — people.

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on leadership in action and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions, focused on developing customized talent management strategies for small entrepreneurial businesses. She can be reached at

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Get past complexity to gain mutual benefits (Organizational Effectiveness)

By Dave Crisp

A couple of weeks before attending the recent SCNetwork presentation by diversity expert Bobby Siu, I took issue with someone in an online HR discussion when he complained those promoting engagement don’t mention the importance of diversity enough. I replied we can’t continually cite every one of dozens of ingredients as if each is the most important.

A few days later, I read some interesting findings cited by Plexus Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, about work by Roz Picard on emotion technology, and an article on the NewScientist site called “Specs That See Right Through You,” showing we correctly recognize only about 54 per cent of the possible 10,000 human facial expressions. They’re building machines that can recognize 64 per cent, which is still pretty low, but that’s nearly twice as good as the 33-per-cent success rate typical of face-to-face hiring.

A few days later on the site, a blogger insisted he could train people to recognize body language so well they would be able to read people like a book. Though he admits people should check their findings with the individual they’re evaluating and not take them as fact, he more or less says they can be accurate with his training.

How does all this relate to diversity management and organizational effectiveness? We vastly underestimate how complex it is to relate to others. It’s easy to fully believe our judgments about people from their expressions, behaviour and body language. When we meet people who are different from us, our antennae are on alert. We just feel something is out of whack.

To engage people effectively, we have to respect and value their differences, even though our every natural instinct may be screaming, “This won’t work.” Can we trust them when we don’t understand them? Wouldn’t it just be easier to hire someone we feel good about without effort, just this time? We have to somehow get past this complexity to gain the mutual benefits.

And we can get past it. Not by learning every cultural difference in approach, expression and style, but by coming to realize those very differences contribute more value because they cause us to think more broadly, ask sometimes uncomfortable questions and look at the world through someone else’s eyes. Or, as French novelist Marcel Proust put it: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

As innovation and engagement have become the top strategic drivers of value and results in organizations, according to heaps of research, we need to nurture a work environment that develops them. Fundamentally, that means respecting, caring about and engaging every single individual just as we recognize every single one of us is different.

Dave Crisp is a commentator on organizational effectiveness for SCNetwork. He has a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co., where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit

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