When many employees hear their company is engaging in a “diversity initiative,” they prepare themselves—often, not so enthusiastically—for a workshop on cultural awareness or a sensitivity-training session. Indeed, for many years, an emphasis on diversity meant a commitment to celebrating under-represented cultures (i.e. Black History Month), and possibly a heightened awareness among the Human Resources department to consider diversity and inclusiveness when developing hiring and promotion practices and protocols.
But too often, diversity and inclusiveness efforts have been considered something extra, an add-on that companies do out of a sense of corporate social responsibility. As a result, these efforts sometimes strike employees as something they have to do—on top of everything else they already have to do.
And the more diversity initiatives are framed as cultural appreciation efforts, the more they feel like a field trip to the “Museum of Cultural Sensitivity.” Maybe visitors see something there that makes them think differently about some things, and maybe after they leave the museum, they remember something they learned. Maybe they even buy something at the gift shop. But at the end of the day, they go home.
This kind of diversity initiative is seen, by management and employees alike, as something nice, but not something essential to the business. Which means that in tough economic times, like other things that are seen as nice but not essential, diversity initiatives become cost-cutting casualties.
“Unfortunately, diversity efforts by many are still viewed as social programs or initiatives with little return on investment,” said Joe Coe, director of diversity at Boyd Gaming, in an interview with In Business in 2010. “Diversity initiatives have not been immunized from the recession.”
This is the old model of diversity.