I had just completed speaking at a conference and was walking off the stage. A small break in the conference followed my talk and I walked into a small group of attendees waiting to ask a few more questions. A young woman broke from the group and asked if she could talk with me briefly. I knew from the look on her face that it was not going to be a brief encounter. She had a look on her face that could only be described as desperation, as if I was her last line of hope. I listened empathetically as she spoke. She introduced herself and quietly asked her question. “Thank you for your talk, Ms. Warren. You’ve been able to work with leaders to drive change within your organization, but I find myself in a situation where I want to do more, but I don’t have the abilities that you do and I’m not at the level that you are to be able to drive change. What can I do?”
It’s a statement that I have heard frequently throughout my career as a diversity and inclusion leader. It’s not uncommon for individuals to feel powerless in the wake of trying to make a difference. They might feel encumbered by an out-of-touch manager, or uninspired by the company’s leaders or worse yet, the environment in which they work is one that does not empower its employees. Together these factors cause a barrier which can be challenging for employees as it pertains to diversity and inclusion, but it is not something that cannot be overcome.
I think it is important for people to know that diversity, equity, and inclusion is not something that is going away. It’s not a “crisis” that you can simply keep your head down and wait for it to go away. It is a part of who we are as individuals and its growing importance is highlighted in a few ways.
There are several global trends as it pertains to diversity and inclusion that will be impacting all organizations in the future. First, the workforce of the future is going to be increasingly more diverse globally, from all dimensions of diversity. Secondly, economic inclusion will continue to grow in importance. Companies will need to understand the role they play in ensuring their products and services and external partnerships are contributing to closing the gap of inequity which exists across the globe due to political, economic, and social conditions. Thirdly, Corporate Social Activism will increase as a competitive advantage for companies. Years ago, conversations about such topics as religion and politics were not spoken openly in the workplace. Social responsibility has moved beyond the Corporate Responsibility organizations within companies. It has moved into the ledger sheets and annual reports as a bottom-line consideration given the impact a company’s reputation and brand has to their shareholder value.
These trends are shaping the future of diversity and inclusion within companies that have large impact on their employees. These trends have amplified the importance of diversity and inclusion. They have an impact on employees throughout the organization who believe they can just shut their eyes and wish for the discomfort of discussions of diversity and inclusion to just “go away”.
Leadership capabilities that may have made one successful in the past, may not be all that is required to be successful in the future. During this time of employee “awakening”, leadership skills have evolved to not just understanding your organization’s financial performance, but in understanding the people who are driving that performance and understanding them in a much deeper way than in the past.
The workforce and workplace of the future is going to be different and less traditional than we have seen in the past. As stated earlier, the workforce will be much more in tune with their needs, both personally and professionally and will be more vocal in seeking empowerment, engagement as well as equity and their career aspirations. The workplace will also be more dynamic and fluid.
"The workforce and workplace of the future is going to be different and less traditional than we have seen in the past"
For these reasons diversity, equity and inclusion and the role that each of us plays, is vitally important. Over my years working for global corporations, many feel they don’t have a role to play in driving diversity and inclusion across the company, but everyone has a role to play because we all want to see a more inclusive culture across our companies. We can contribute to that, no matter where we may sit in the organization. Whether we be a senior leader, a middle manager or an employee who doesn’t manage people, all of us are important and are critical to any strategy for driving a diverse and inclusive culture.
Embodying the role of a diversity and inclusion ambassador is a critical component of the work of those who are passionate about diversity and inclusion and who want to play a role in changing the environment, culture, and the organization.
Becoming an ambassador for diversity and inclusion involves knowing yourself, your blind spots, your challenges, and passions. It involves understanding what your skills and capabilities are and how that aligns to what is required for the role of ambassador. Lastly, it involves putting your personal strategic plan in place to help guide you along your journey. If you can do this, then you will be well on your way to becoming a successful diversity and inclusion ambassador.