Maximizing Diversity Council Effectiveness

by Doug Harris, Managing Director and Leader, The Kaleidoscope Group, LLC

This article outlines the various phases of The Diversity Journey - revealing how diversity

councils can create a diversity plan that has value, integrity, and sustainability for your organization.

Everywhere we look we are encouraged to embrace diversity. Our hearts are in the right place, but how can we be more proactive with our efforts in the workplace? Implementing a diversity council is an excellent way to demonstrate acceptance and support of every member of your organization, but it calls for careful planning.

A well-organized, strategic diversity council can play a major role in the success of an organization's diversity initiative. On the other hand, if the council is misdirected, its efforts will be in vain and cause frustration for the council as well as those expecting meaningful outcomes from the council.

There are three questions we want to answer in this column: Why form a council? What makes a council effective? What pitfalls must you avoid?

Why form a council?

When organizations sincerely commit to addressing diversity as a value-added initiative, diversity councils often become an integral component of the process. Enlightened leaders realize that to effectively address issues of diversity, they need to understand and be consistently in tune with the viewpoints of everyone in the organization. The diversity council serves as an advisory body to help senior leadership understand the complexities and nuances associated with diversity success. Although senior leaders often make decisions based on the lens through which they see the world, that lens is often skewed due to a lack of diverse representation. A diversity council can serve as the leaders' eyes and ears to help all the organization's diverse stakeholders experience the value of diversity. An effective council is also a visible sign to the organization that senior leadership is sincere about its commitment to diversity success. The council can serve to suggest actions pertaining to diversity success, gain insights from the members of the organization on their perceptions of the diversity effort, and monitor progress of the diversity initiative. The council will frequently sponsor events that help to celebrate diversity and further educate the organization on the importance of diversity to the success of the organization.

What makes a diversity council effective?

The diversity council must be intimately linked to both the overall diversity initiative and to the overall organizational business strategy. They also must work well as a team and value the diverse perspectives represented in their membership. To ensure the diversity council is appropriately formed and guided, the following principles must be adhered to:

  • Senior leadership must support the process
  • Clear delineation of roles and responsibilities
  • Thorough selection process to ensure the appropriate mix of skills
  • Representative membership
  • Effective teamwork skills
  • Appropriate infrastructure
  • Focus on trends and long-term change, not individual issues
  • Diversity must be linked to other organizational initiatives
  • Ongoing communication to and from council

Adherence to these principles greatly enhances the likelihood of a meaningful, successful diversity council.

What pitfalls should the diversity council avoid?

The diversity council is not the sole owner of the process. All organizational stakeholders must play a role in diversity success. Senior leadership, managers, human resources, employees and all others designated to impact the organizational culture should have identified roles in the diversity journey. The members of the council must openly and honestly represent their viewpoints; however, they should keep the organizational agenda as top priority while serving on the diversity council.

To avoid pitfalls impacting diversity success, the council must realize their role is not to:

  • Advocate for personal concerns related to issues of inclusion
  • Implement activities and programs independently
  • Substitute for the critical role leadership plays in the diversity/inclusion process
  • Act as the sole owner of the diversity process
  • Act as a "complaint body"
  • Make policy

To help avoid possible pitfalls, council membership should be rotated every 12 to 18 months to ensure that fresh viewpoints and ideas continue to flow as part of the council efforts.

The impacts of an effective diversity council can pay long-term dividends to the success of a diversity journey. The aforementioned principles will help ensure that success.

About the author: Doug Harris is the Managing Director and Leader of The Kaleidoscope Group with more than 25 years of diversity experience. Doug has 12 years of experience in the field of diversity consulting. As one of two principal owners of The Kaleidoscope Group, Doug has assisted numerous organizations to effectively address their diversity needs. By working closely with each client, Doug helps them to create a custom strategy that establishes a benchmark and an action plan that addresses their specific cultural change needs. He has extensive experience in working with senior executives to champion diversity and develop commitment and enthusiasm among all employee groups.