The headlines keep flashing through your mind – “Greater Diversity Drives Greater Innovation,” “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Bolsters the Bottom Line,” “Inclusive Companies Have the Edge in Attracting Top-Notch Talent.” These results are compelling; however, you are also keenly aware that poorly designed and haphazardly implemented diversity equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs can backfire and create backlash. As you ponder how to best position your organization for the future, you wonder how to capture the substantial benefits of DE&I while minimizing resistance and resentment.

A DE&I strategy rooted in incentives and rewards is one way to achieve this outcome.  Rewards and positive reinforcement are powerful tools for changing attitudes and behaviors.  A plan focused on offering rewards instead of demanding compliance builds on these particular aspects of human nature. Here’s one way to build this type of initiative.

Begin with establishing foundational incentives, which could include:

• Voluntary but meaningfully rewarded DE&I training Employees and team members are much more likely to view DE&I education as constructive and valuable when they are allowed to opt in and to earn meaningful rewards for doing so. Rewards can take numerous forms such as extra pay, gift cards, comp time and/or special recognition, and can be designed to meet any budget.

• Incorporating DE&I goals into criteria for advancement Include DE&I progress in benchmarks for promotions, pay raises, and choice assignments. Institutionalizing these criteria helps ensure that individuals who move into leadership positions are mindful of the importance of DE&I. Plus, these criteria make voluntary DE&I training even more attractive and helps reduce the likelihood that large numbers of employees will opt out. Those interested in growing with your company will see that the route to greater responsibility and influence lies in understanding and effectively implementing DE&I.

Notably, these criteria should consist of diversity, equity, and inclusion components. Diversity benchmarks could be appropriate metrics regarding the variety of personnel involved in work group participation and formation, team assignments, and hiring. Equity criteria could assess progress in improving access to the opportunities under an individual’s purview. Inclusion goals can focus on creating safe spaces and environments, and could be assessed by 360-degree reviews, subordinate and team satisfaction, and time spent mentoring and sponsoring members of underserved groups.

Next, ensure that the program has broad reach, both throughout the company and over time:

• Include all levels and positions, from top management to summer interns Engaging employees at all levels and in all jobs is empowering, and signals that no one is too junior or too senior to make an impact. Employees will see how they can each personally contribute to organizational DE&I, and will be more likely to assume responsibility for doing so.

•  Provide a continuous flow of DE&I initiatives Regular DE&I education and events are more likely to have a lasting influence on company culture than a once-a-year workshop, or an occasional, compulsory online course. Multiple opportunities provide positive reinforcement that leads to durable gains by helping employees avoid falling back into old habits and attitudes.

Finally, provide necessary resources and support:    

• Position DE&I leaders and staff as internal experts and consultants Although DE&I leaders will undoubtedly launch exciting organization-wide initiatives, a key part of their role is to assist colleagues in achieving greater DE&I competence and enabling them to meet the criteria for advancement. Accordingly, DE&I staff need to be equipped with the data, resources, and authority to be effective.

• Populate the organization with persons experienced in diverse environments The presence of leaders, peers and subordinates who exhibit the ability to make a variety of persons from a variety of backgrounds feel safe and included is an important yet informal form of support. As they model equitable, inclusive team leading, committee participation or division-level advancement from day-to-day, others can observe and learn from them.

As a leader in educating diverse populations, the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) is an excellent source of these skillful role models. Employers regularly extol the ability of Nazarian College graduates to work effectively in teams and with diverse groups as well as their superb business training.

The Nazarian College ranks among the top 5% of business schools by virtue of its AACSB accreditation, and was recently named a “Best College for Business Majors” by Money Magazine and once again recognized by the Princeton Review as a “Best Business School – Best On-Campus MBA Program.” With over 7,000 students, the College offers one of the 10 largest undergraduate business programs in the nation and top-ranked graduate business programs. As part of CSUN, which is a certified Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander serving University, the Nazarian College student body boasts ethnicities, races, and nationalities from around the world as well as members of all socio-economic strata.

A curriculum steeped in collaboration and teamwork ensures that Nazarian College graduates at both the undergraduate and Master’s levels are experienced in working with persons from diverse backgrounds to achieve demanding, time-sensitive goals. This active, team-based learning also occurs outside the classroom via engagement with practitioners, and hands-on experiences through consulting projects, internships, competitions, international excursions, and incubator/accelerator programs.  This pragmatic yet rigorous approach gives Nazarian College students both the theoretical know-what and the practical know-how to maximize the effectiveness of your DE&I initiatives.

The Nazarian College, and its students, faculty, staff, and alumni stand ready to partner with you to help you capture lasting gains from diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through our expertise in training and developing diverse individuals and teams, we aim to partner with Los Angeles businesses in leveraging the vast assortment of people, cultures and ideas in
the larger metropolitan area and make Los Angeles a leader in effective diversity equity
and inclusion.

Lois M. Shelton, Ph.D. is a professor with David Nazarian School of Business and Economics at CSUN. 


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