Getting the Basics on Diversity Councils: Three Models

by Nelvia M Brady

As organizations examine how to include a culture of diversity, structure and internal reviews

will play a key role in guiding their efforts. Through diversity programs may vary in name, members and mission, there are three basic models – the executive-level leadership structure, the broad-based diversity advisory groups, and the employee-driven diversity advocacy or affinity groups. These groups, through different in mission and membership, often are referred to as “ Diversity Councils.” And as they determine which structure fits their culture, key questions must be answered.

Diversity leadership councils are often appointed by the CEO, assuring executive leadership that diversity programs and direction will clearly address the company’s business priorities. These groups, with a strategic mission, typically consist of representatives from the highest levels of the organization, such as senior management and organization officers. This method not only results in ownership of the diversity initiative at the highest levels, but also tells all employees that the organization has placed a high priority on diversity.

Broad-based diversity councils or advisory groups are formed with a more diverse representation of employees across the organizational structure. Typically, they are larger, and carefully designed to be inclusive of differences within the organization and representative of the diversity of the employee population. These groups are usually more tactical than the executive-level groups, and draw their activity and work from the mission and charge developed at the executive level.

Employee-drive diversity advisory groups are created to focus on affinity groups, networks and caucuses focused on women, men, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, gays, lesbians and employees with disabilities. While initially they may be organized at the grassroots, employee level, later they may be sanctioned and supported by management. Each group, though, focuses on its own issues and agenda.

As organizations consider which of these three structures fits the culture and supports the diversity mission, three key questions must be answered.

Is the diversity group accountable?

Any group formed to address the important issue of diversity within an organization must be accountable for its actions and mission. The purpose of the group and its mission, should be clear, realistic and public, with open and honest communications, periodic reporting on activities and accomplishments, and opportunities for feedback and input.

Is the diversity organization business-case oriented?

Diversity is about business, though it often can be an emotionally charged issue. Any structure formed to promote diversity should address those issues critical to business priorities. These groups should not be used as forums for addressing individual grievances or narrow, non-business related diversity matters.

Is the diversity organization committed and credible?

Members who serve on any type of diversity structure must be truly committed to the diversity effort. Others will observe these members, so they must do more than “talk the talk.” They must ‘walk the walk” and model the behavior of the true diversity champions. Provide diversity council members with information on diversity issues in general and the organization’s diversity program objectives specifically.

An organizational diversity initiative is a long-term issue- council members and organizational leadership need to commit the necessary time and resources to accomplish diversity objectives.

About the Author: Dr. Nelvia M. Brady is the Director of Ethnic Diversity at Trinity Christian College. The director, along with the Ethnic Diversity Committee, informs and guides the College towards diversity according to the principles set out in the Commitment to Campus Diversity. She works to promote an environment that advances the welfare of students from broad ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds, serves as a resource to ensure diversity in employment, and develops relationships with individuals and institutions that lead to a diverse network of contacts and relationships for the College. Brady, born and raised in Chicago, was vice president and executive search consultant at Carrington & Carrington, Ltd., placing African Americans, Hispanics, women, and other minorities in senior management and high-level positions at Fortune 500 companies. She also established recruitment strategies that focused on diversity