PUTTING DIVERSITY IN ACTION

By Josephine Victoria Yam, J.D., LLM.
2018 October 03

Sometime in mid-April, two young Black men met at a Philadelphia Starbucks coffee shop. When the store manager asked if they wanted to buy drinks, they declined saying they were waiting for a friend. A few minutes later, police arrived and handcuffed the two men. They were accused of trespassing and were escorted out of Starbucks. A video of their arrest went viral on Twitter. And intense public outcry against Starbucks broke out immediately.

Starbucks then announced the closure of 8,000 U.S. stores and 1,100 Canadian stores in May and June. The company said that it would be providing its 100,000 + employees with several hours of compulsory diversity training.

What a corporate nightmare! Can you imagine that it took just one employee to force a $22 billion company to shut down its operations to conduct diversity training for its employees.

Many large corporations already provide their employees with diversity training. After all, they know that diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a source of competitive advantage. According to McKinsey, companies with strong D&I cultures perform better than their competitors. They're better in attracting top talent. Better in customer understanding. Better in employee engagement and retention.

But is diversity training enough to change employee behaviour?

Unfortunately not. In the Harvard Business Review article, “Why Diversity Programs Fail”, the authors Dobbin and Kalev note:

“It shouldn’t be surprising that most diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity… It turns out that while people are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers. The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two”.

So what's an effective workplace D&I program that can change employee behaviour?

Enter CSR expert Alice Korngold's groundbreaking “2018 Nonprofit Board Leadership Study”, which she presented at the United Nations in New York this September.

Three reasons why nonprofit board service is an effective workplace D&I program:

1. Empathy

Nonprofit board service develops empathy in employees which creates a more inclusive workplace culture. The 2018 study reveals that 83% of employees serving on boards report a deeper understanding of the challenges facing people who live in different circumstances. When employees work together with diverse people towards a shared mission, they develop trust, understanding and empathy. They create new experiences and break down the stereotypes they’ve had in their minds. The great news is that they bring back this enhanced appreciation for diversity when they return to the office. They develop greater empathy and trust towards their diverse office colleagues. This increases employee engagement and creates a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

2. Creativity & Innovation

Nonprofit board service provides employees with experiential D&I learning crucial for innovation. According to the 2018 study, employees learn better through actual experience, rather than through passive traditional training. When employees serve on nonprofit boards, they are immersed in real-life situations and exposed to the real world of bias. Korngold explains that employees serving on boards:

 
Listen more carefully to different views
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Create more inclusive teams, and
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Make more inclusive hiring and promotion decisions.
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“Board experience not only opens minds; it also transforms behaviour,” Korngold notes. This open mindset becomes fertile ground for increased innovation. Remarks the McKinsey report, “Diverse and inclusive teams tend to be more creative and innovative than homogenous groups. [They] bring different experiences, perspectives, and approaches to bear on solving complex, non-routine problems.”

3. Experiential Leadership

Nonprofit board service provides employees with experiential leadership opportunities to move up the corporate ladder. In its “What’s Missing In Leadership Development” report, McKinsey also found that “[e]very successful leader tells stories of how he or she developed leadership capabilities by dealing with a real problem in a specific context.” In fact, the 2018 study showed overwhelming evidence that nonprofit board service provides employees with invaluable “on-the-job” leadership experience. Particularly, employees reported that they’ve developed skills in:

 
Board governance
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Networking
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Communication
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Strategic planning, and
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Decision making.
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For these reasons, Korngold recommends that companies provide their employees with nonprofit board matching program opportunities. This experiential D&I initiative will reap big dividends for companies because “top-team ethnic and cultural diversity is correlated with profitability”, remarks McKinsey.

By putting diversity in action through a nonprofit board matching program, your HR team can sleep soundly at night. They’ll have peace of mind knowing that a Starbucks-like nightmare is unlikely going to haunt them.

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