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How to Deal with Managers Who Disregard Diversity

By Melissa J. Anderson

In many corporate contexts, there’s a big push for diversity and inclusion from the top – and yet diversity efforts still fall short. It seems the sticking point is often at the mid-management level. Hampered by operational demands, budgetary shortfalls, and tight schedules, managers are busy taking care of business – and the value of diversity doesn’t seem like an immediate need.

In fact, in a recent Forbes Insights study on senior leader’ views toward diversity, executives identified this level as the main barrier to D&I success. Forty-six percent of respondents identified a failure in middle management’s implementation as a reason why diversity initiatives go south.

In fact, the same amount blamed initiative failure on budgetary issues and even more than the percentage who distraction caused by the economic crisis (42%).

Yet, middle managers are on the front lines of the diversity and inclusion journey. Their buy-in is key to making it work. If they aren’t made to see why diversity is important, any initiative is likely to fail, or at least hit a snag.

Here are a few ways change agents can work to make middle managers understand why an inclusive culture is necessary for business success.

Communicate the business case(s) for diversity.

There is quite a bit of research out there showing that diverse teams perform better than homogenous ones. Some of it is rather academic, and some of it is practical. For example, in 2007, Catalyst published landmark research showing that companies with more women in the boardroom outperform those with homogenous boards. And just this week Newton, part of BNY Mellon Asset Management, published similar research confirming the results.

Another dimension of the business case for diversity is the global expansion of the corporate footprint. With firms operating all over the world, clients expect to see a range of individuals on the teams working for them. An all white, male team isn’t going to cut it, and many clients will ask questions if that’s what they are presented with.

Finally, the marketplace is changing as well – and if one group of individuals feels a company is discriminating against people like them, even when it comes to internal matters like employment or promotion, people in that group are likely to take their business elsewhere. For example, it is estimated that LGBT individuals control $835 billion in buying power. Would your company want to miss out on that market?

It would be wonderful if managers would recognize that they should engage in diversity initiatives simply because it’s the right thing to do. But unfortunately that’s not always the case. Attaching a business rationale to diversity work may nudge them in the right direction.

Show your personal commitment to diversity.

Diverse high performers looking to call attention to the issue on a personal level can highlight their own role within the company – and why they might leave a team if they didn’t feel welcome or included.

For example, Brande Stellings, J.D. told Catalyst last month:

“If you’re a high performer, I’d work from that angle—something along the lines of: ‘I love this company, and I want to make my career here, but when I look up I don’t see anyone who looks like me. Is there a place for someone like me here?’”

Another way to demonstrate a personal commitment to a broad range of diversity is to be an ally – attend a various diversity ERG meetings and events, stand behind diverse colleagues, and be vocal about the importance diversity on your team.

Be careful to be positive and proactive, though. As Meryle Mahrer Kaplan explained to Catalyst:

“Complaining is not likely the best strategy—unless you are in a position to be the messenger who cites meaningful data in a way that is helpful to the company, or if you have allies who will take you seriously and see your commitment to the organization in the process.”

Finally, if you’re on a team with a manager disregarding diversity initiatives or working to dismantle them, it may be worth going around. It’s clear that diversity and inclusion will play an important role in the growth of any company over the next decade – and if you like yours, diversity may be key to keeping it strong.

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