Corporate Diversity Initiatives: Best Practices and Pitfalls

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on MGMThink.

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By Phyllis A. James, MGM

Now, more than ever, corporate America embraces diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a business imperative.

A business becomes stronger and more competitive when it leverages the talents of all of its employees – and their different backgrounds and cultures, different ideas and different viewpoints – to create better, more innovative ideas, strategies and methods in the delivery of exceptional products and guest services. It has been documented over and over now that inclusive, diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams in a variety of settings. The end goal is to foster inclusive, empowered work teams who are not only continuously high-performing, but also on the cutting-edge of innovative leadership in their respective disciplines. That is what gives companies a competitive advantage.

But there are some common pitfalls when it comes to companies’ efforts to implement D&I initiatives. Chief among them is the notion that a company can adopt a D&I initiative for a limited time period, and then be done with it because its workforce has magically become diverse in demographics.

This is a very short-sighted viewpoint; diversity in numbers and profiles does not automatically translate into inclusion – which is the key point of the strategic business value that diversity can bring to an organization. Frankly, our country was born of inequality and lack of inclusion. Although much progress has been made in this area, much work is yet to be done in fully embracing the fundamental human equality of all citizens in our nation, and equal employment opportunity for all employees in our companies.

Other common pitfalls companies should avoid include:

  • Approaching a D&I initiative as a “feel-good social program.” A D&I initiative should be treated like a true business initiative. It must have a well-articulated mission statement, holistic strategy, documented business plans with concrete goals, adequate resource and business infrastructure investment, D&I cultural and competency education, continuous communication for all workforce levels and metrics, along with the good business case behind it. The companies that have approached a diversity initiative as though it’s just another social program have not done well with it.
  • Becoming complacent. It is very easy for companies to become complacent and to think because they have a little bit of success, they’re done. Diversity and inclusion has to be a fundamental part of the way companies do business. It leads to innovative thought and practices, which give businesses a leg up in the market. Practicing inclusive thinking in everything you do leads you to the next best idea. For most companies this does not happen without continuous and well-practiced efforts.
  • Being cheap. Some companies think they can throw a little bit of money at a D&I program and it will be enough for genuine, sustainable success. A D&I initiative is not like writing a check to your favorite charity, where it’s a one-time cost. It is a serious, long-term and expensive endeavor. Humans have spent centuries excluding others in life and work. It’s going to take time, significant investment and long-term commitment to right the imbalances that exist in our society.
Phyllis A. James, executive vice president and chief diversity officer of MGM Resorts International.
Phyllis A. James, executive vice president and chief diversity officer of MGM Resorts International.

A D&I initiative is only successful when an organization’s leadership continuously advocates and models these core values; institutionalizes these core values throughout the culture, work environment and operations of the company; invests adequate business resources to achieve excellence in implementing best D&I practices; and maintains the company’s long-term commitment to these values as a vital part of enhancing and sustaining the ultimate business value of the organization.

Hopefully, we will, at some point in the future, reach a state in American society where we no longer need formal D&I initiatives to overcome historical legacies of inequity. That time is not now. On the other hand, let us be reminded that the commitment to continuous innovation that inclusive thinking fosters should never cease. Let’s all play our part in making our companies better workplaces and our communities better places to live by living the lessons of inclusion.

Image credits: 1) Pexels 2) Courtesy of MGM Resorts International

Phyllis A. James is Executive Vice President, Special Counsel for Litigation and Chief Diversity Officer for MGM Resorts International. In this capacity she is responsible for management and supervision of Company litigation, including the coordination of outside litigation counsel. Ms. James is Chief Diversity Officer with responsibility for oversight of MGM Resorts’ Corporate Social Responsibility initiative, including the Company’s diversity and inclusion, philanthropy and volunteerism programs and Diversity and Community Engagement Department. She also serves as a board member of, and special advisor and counselor to MGM Grand Detroit, LLC. Ms. James joined MGM Resorts in March 2002 as Senior Vice President and Senior Counsel.

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