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Approach diversity with head, heart and wallet

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

by P. Gregory Garrison

Organizations typically approach diversity from three perspectives: with their heads, with their hearts or with their wallets. When you see a diversity effort that failed, or just didn’t deliver the intended results, it’s usually because that organization approached the effort from just one of those mindsets.

The “head” perspective is all about the intellect—looking at diversity academically and understanding the theory, but lacking a practical plan for implementation. I’m pretty sure that if we all laid our organizations’ diversity statements side by side, we’d have a hard time distinguishing our own from the bunch. That’s the theoretical. That’s the head.

The “heart” perspective is about viewing diversity in terms of what’s right and what’s wrong: the moral questions. It evokes a sense of righteousness. It’s good to have that barometer; in fact, many would argue it’s absolutely essential. But having the heart view as your sole business lens is often not enough, and it’s definitely not sustainable.

The third perspective is the “wallet.” At the end of the day, “Show me the money!” This one resonates with some organizations because it helps them tie their diversity efforts directly to the bottom line. This gets your attention when you lose an important account because your team wasn’t diverse enough, or when you failed to attract the best talent, or couldn’t retain them, because they didn’t think your organization “got it” in terms of diversity.

While each of these views has its merits, successful organizations—successful leaders—must approach diversity using all three lenses. And looking through these lenses, leaders must act upon what they see and—maybe even more important—anticipate what is to come. It’s here that we can begin to shape the future. Let me provide a few examples.

Successful leaders anticipate that their minority executives may feel isolated and disconnected.

Don’t wait to hear about it. Anticipate that your minority staff may not feel completely at ease in your organization.

Here’s what else you can anticipate: You have clients in your portfolio who may not support your diversity agenda. For example, you might want to listen more skeptically if you hear negative feedback about some of your rising minority professionals. I’m not saying apply a special standard; I’m saying apply a special degree of awareness and due diligence.

Think about attracting talent. Think about productivity. Think about turnover of high-performing professionals.

Anticipate that you may need to take a long, hard look at your corporate culture. Create a workplace where all employees feel included and can clearly see their own path to the top.

Focus on sustaining a culture that offers opportunities to climb the ladder to success—in a community with the cultural dexterity it takes to work across differences. Be passionate about maintaining an inclusive environment and helping a diverse staff achieve in it.

I’ll leave you with one final thought, and then a challenge. The thought is this: As you focus on the immediate challenges in today’s environment, anticipate that some will believe that people and diversity efforts should be pushed to the back burner. As leaders, it is our job to say, “No. I will not let that happen.”

Now here’s the challenge: We must see the whole picture and take the long view. We must look through all three lenses—head, heart and wallet. Standing our ground and leading the way is the right thing to do for our people, and the best thing to do for our organizations. Bad times don’t last. Good people do.

Ask yourself: What will you be doing in your organization to help anticipate and shape the future? How are you going to lead? And how are you going to make a difference?

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Author: P. Gregory Garrison is a vice chairman for clients and markets at PricewaterhouseCoopers. This column is excerpted from his July 30 speech to the Ascend 2010 national convention.

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