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Diversity Program Effectiveness, Part 2: How to Make Diversity Work for You

CoAdvantage- In our previous post in this series, we looked at the real-world benefits of diversity programs – better financial performance, improved innovation, insulation from legal and regulatory action – but noted that many diversity initiatives not only fail, they often outright backfire.

Why? What’s happening with diversity initiatives that makes them so difficult to get right, and what can organizations do to ensure they reap the rewards of their well-intentioned pushes to diversify?

To start, the situation is more complicated than it might appear at first glance. Even when they fail, diversity initiatives aren’t all-or-nothing. Instead, when poorly done, they produce mixed results where the negative outcomes like reduced diversity in some areas cancel out positive outcomes in other areas.

For one thing, not all employees experience diversity programs the same way, and as a result, the specific sub-groups they’re intended to help can be unaffected or even harmed, while other groups are helped. This is a real challenge.

Business Insider reports on a study from MIT and Northwestern University published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that looked at two common approaches to diversity programs. One celebrates differences, the other stresses the essential equality of everyone in the workforce. Which approach worked depended entirely on the group experiencing it.

  • The first approach worked well in attracting and retaining minorities if the minority group was large (e.g., for a woman in an organization that’s at least 40% female).
  • But if the minority is in a small minority group (less than 5% of the workforce), the second approach worked better at reducing attrition.

One key factor in all of this: diversity training alone is not enough. A meta-analysis of many studies into this topic found that “the positive effects of diversity training were greater when training was complemented by other diversity initiatives.”

Taken together, this suggests that the most successful diversity initiatives will be calibrated to the organization’s specific workforce and paired with other activities to reinforce it. In other words, training alone won’t cut it. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) looked at the question of what kind of diversity initiatives various minority groups actually want and respond to. They found:

  • Female employees favored mentoring, role model, and flex work programs.
  • Racial and ethnic diversity depended on diverse recruiting and tactics like blind resume screening. Employee sponsorship programs also helped. 
  • LGBT employees favored organizations that participated in external LGBT-specific events like Pride that signal support for that community.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about CoAdvantage’s ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.

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