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Gregg Ward: Teach your leaders why diversity is essential

Gregg Ward, founder and president of San Diego-based Orlando-Ward & Associates Inc., has been involved in diversity training for some 20 years. His firm uses live theatre in training programs for companies such as IHOP, where Orlando-Ward actors performed a skit set in a “pancake house” that explored the issues of diversity for IHOP franchisees. Often human resources executives or diversity officers will call on Ward, a heterosexual, white male, to come talk to their boss, usually another heterosexual, white male, about diversity. At the recent conference of the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers near Washington, D.C., Ward discussed the difficulty most white male chief executives and company presidents have in understanding the importance of diversity.

Why bring in a straight white guy to talk about diversity?

Two reasons. One is the head of HR and diversity is an insider. Very often with leaders, after a while they develop a way of listening to the insiders on their team. They tend to discount what an insider says, whereas an outsider—who is not tainted by the culture of the organization—has more credibility.

The second factor is this subconscious white privilege that I have and they have. I’m not subconscious about it, but many of them are. They are more predisposed to listen to me because I am a straight white guy.

What do you say to get through to them?

What’s important for anyone trying to broach a change or new idea to a leader is to state what is [happening] now. I give a snapshot of what’s going on in their organization, why I’ve been called in to address them and what’s at stake. I’m very direct, but pleasant and positive. Not all doom and gloom.

How can an HR executive or diversity officer, a woman or someone of color get through to their boss why it’s important to make a company’s culture inclusive?

They can start the conversation after they’ve done the research. Turnover is a one of the largest [factors] and a good metric to put in front of leadership. The basic rule of thumb is it costs two-and-a-half times a person’s salary to replace them. Multiply that out. If turnover is 100 percent, multiply the salary of employees who have left by two-and-a-half times, and that gives you the dollar amount turnover costs the company. It’s a way to put value on diversity. Then go to leadership and say we’re losing money because of the level of turnover. Diversity can create higher morale and lower turnover and save us money.

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