Pi’ilani’s P’s for Diversity and Inclusion

When I joined my company fifteen years ago to work in a group called “Corporate Diversity,” I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My definition of “diversity” was limited to race and gender. Like most people, I focused on protected classes; I saw this new position as an opportunity to give voice to the underdog. Since I joined the workforce in the mid 90’s, there were very few role models for me to emulate. Where were the Gen X Asian-Pacific American single mothers of biracial children with disabilities that were running companies and calling the shots? Diversity was a concept I connected with immediately and was one of the only ways I thought I could make an impact and leave a legacy.

The word “inclusion” hit me as very fresh and exciting, an opportunity to bring straight white men over 40 into the work and really meant the effort was for everyone. After all, I quickly learned that culture change is not about taking anything away from one group to give to another, it isn’t a “fight the power” theory, it is about creating space for all individuals to fully contribute and thrive. And corporate culture change must be focused on the bottom line, working towards keeping a competitive advantage in these uncertain economic times.

So I write this as an attempt to support my fellow Diversity and Inclusion Champions and share some lessons learned. I suggest that you keep five things in mind, dubbed: “Pi’ilani’s Ps”. These are tips, guidelines; a compass to help direct your work

P1 = Positioning

Who are your greatest advocates for culture change? Who do you need to “woo” early on in the process? If you have a key thought leader in your executive team, pull on their knowledge, experience and reputation to Position your effort. Diversity and Inclusion must be integrated into the business objectives across your organization. Ask yourself, “How does Diversity and Inclusion help us sell cars?” It must be an integrated part of the business strategy. Diversity and inclusion is not “one-off” or a “nice thing to do,” it is about achieving business objectives through people’s inclusive actions.

Be cautioned, Diversity and Inclusion is not about the picking items off a list, “If I give education, establish employee resource groups, celebrate cultural awareness months, create mentoring programs and change my performance management system, we will have an inclusive environment that leverages diversity.” Do not liken corporate culture change to ordering three items from a fast food restaurant to build your own meal. You must have stakeholders across the organization that embrace and communicate the business case for change. Real change occurs when this work is tied to the core of your company’s business. Behaviors, systems and processes must support an inclusive environment and the business case for making these changes must be communicated. And communicated. And communicated again. Employees will assume the initiative has passed if they don’t hear about it more than once every six months. If you think you have communicated the business case for Diversity and Inclusion, I assure you that you have only just begun.

P2 = Passion

As a Champion, you may find your belief and Passion will carry you through the most challenging days. Keep your eye on the vision that positive change will create a windfall of activity. Associates will be free to break the bonds of “corporate think.” Creativity will surface. Communication will be clear, concise, direct and supportive at the same time. Teams will become higher performing, working together to achieve company objectives. Remember this, because you will run into many roadblocks and challenges.

One needs passion to create change, passion for what is possible, passion about seeing results and passion for the prospect of creating lasting change. If a person becomes involved with Diversity and Inclusion for monetary rewards or recognition from others, it is doubtful that he or she will be successful. This work is about service to the company and to others.  The ultimate goal is higher performance, which only comes about when people are feeling valued, supported and respected for their individuality.

Po’okela (Excellence) Ahuwale ka po’okela i kau hana ia ha’i
“It is through the way you serve others that your greatness will be felt.” 

P3 = Patience 

My mom asked me to describe what I do for a living. I answered, I bang my head against the wall of resistance to create change. At times, the wall of resistance actually cracks, which gives me a moment to rest and inspires me to continue. 

Patience is about realizing that change happens when one convinces their constituents to slow down to adjust behaviors so they can speed up the way they do business. That is not an easy feat in a sales environment. Allow yourself to see the signs of change, acknowledge the necessary work you put in and celebrate the victories, no matter how small. Don’t be your toughest critic and minimize your accomplishments, this work takes time, this work takes dedication and this work takes patience. Keep that in perspective when someone tells you that you haven’t been successful.

Because change is slow and sometimes painful, an internal practitioner must spend a great deal of time explaining and re-explaining why change is necessary. Communication is key and one can never over-communicate these three things 1) why change is necessary 2) what progress is being made and 3) the successes to date. When change is occurring slowly, it is easy to overlook the small wins along the way. These celebrations will keep an internal practitioner sustained and provide case studies to prove that Diversity and Inclusion has impact. Whatever metrics one uses for success, movement on a large scale takes years.

Have Ho’omanawanui (patience) – patience with change, patience with your leaders, patience with your fellow Champions/associates/team members and most of all, patience with yourself.

P4 = Partnership

Partnership is a critical step in positioning an organization for change. Who are your key stakeholders? Change does not happen in a vacuum, change does not happen because the D&I Department says we have to change and change does not happen through even the best laid plans. Change begins at a local level, through people working together.

Keep your eye on all three levels: organization/system, department/division, and individual. Which partners do you need at each level to influence change? What key executive must “have your back”? Which thought leaders within each division will take the baton and direct, lead and support the change? Spread the change by encouraging ownership and accountability in each business unit.

Partnership is about being deliberate and strategic about who you align yourself with to create change. A company is better off having a small core department that reaches out and creates ambassadors – Diversity and Inclusion Champions, advocates, partners – who can be the arms and legs and customize the work to each division. One size does not fit all in diversity and inclusion. The Diversity and Inclusion strategy must be over-arching for the company and flexible for each business unit as well.

P5 = Pay-off

What gets measured, gets done. We have heard it time and time again. What is the burning platform for your organization to change? How will Diversity and Inclusion help sell more cars? Or move more parts?  Or bring more customers back to the service department? Or better serve my customers? How will Diversity and Inclusion help retain top talent, saving dollars and time? Answer the WIIFM for your audience and your audience will be more likely to come around and support this change.

Pay-off is the key to impacting the middle manager. These are the supervisors and managers who are called upon to implement the big projects, the same supervisors and managers who are striving to become the next executive in the corner office. These individuals are integral to your success as a Champion. A large challenge is the balance between leading strategy through design and recommendations and allowing business units to own and operationalize their own change work. These Ps may help you convince your stakeholders and larger organization that they are accountable and responsible for creating lasting change.

After over 15 years of work, our company is at various stages of growth and progress. Some groups live the change, others dance around the level of commitment necessary and some hold their breaths, waiting for Diversity and Inclusion to fizzle out, like many business initiatives relating to culture change. I often wonder how long it takes for people to understand that this work is not a flavor of the month, my company a is truly committed to higher performance through Diversity and Inclusion. We have been recognized for our Diversity and Inclusion work by external organizations such as DiversityInc., Black Enterprise, Hispanic Magazine, Billion Dollar Roundtable, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and others. This recognition forces us to continue to raise the bar on Diversity and Inclusion and to strive for continuous improvement.

Finally, a few other “Ps” that come to mind are: People. Culture change is all about people, customers, associates, executive and you. Remember supporting your company’s culture change effort is about creating a space where all associates can thrive and find a healthy and supportive work environment for their mind, body and spirit. Happy people lead to another P, Profit, which we are all working towards today. For you, don’t forget to set aside time to Play and take care of yourself.

Creating change is often a lonely place. Always remember that the objective is to find a win-win-win pay-off: the company, the associates and You – all benefit from Diversity and Inclusion.

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