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There are a variety of strategies that organizations ought to be using to frame the actions and behaviors that will lead them to improved culture.

Lessons in Diversity, Inclusion & Bias (DIBs): Setting up diversity professionals for success

Leaders should focus on professional development and organizational structure to drive improved culture

2022 has arrived and with it a focus on the leadership of organizations and their responsibilities to be best prepared for the inevitable ups and downs of (broadly speaking) culture.  There are a variety of strategies that organizations ought to be using to frame the actions and behaviors that will lead them to improved culture.  Two areas that are often the strategic focus to drive improved culture are professional development and organizational structure. 

As we enter 2022, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned in both areas and what next year could look like.

Professional development

Most organizations have committed both time and resources to some version of professional development when it comes to culture improvement.  But to be plain — and obvious — all professional development is not created equal.  If your organization utilized internal or external resources to provide training for its team members and leaders, the following should have been part of the process and planning: 

  1. It is one step in a continuing process;
  2. The continuing process was made clear to the team members and leaders;
  3. The process focused on leader led initiatives; and
  4. The training took place at all levels from frontline team members to restaurant support centers to executive leadership.

In the recent past, a set of diversity programming was considered viable and even successful without having to make deep connections throughout the organization from leadership, to store managers, restaurant support centers and frontline team members.  In 2022, the focus for culture change and professional development must be connected to an inclusive leadership assessment that measures both the organization and its leadership.  Similarly, any training ought to be designed to drive, push, instigate and challenge the team members to hold one another accountable and most critically to must make visible the expectations executive leadership has of itself.  These expectations should include:

  1. A visible and vocal commitment to a healthy culture;
  2. A recognition that winning is continuing the ‘diversity journey’ not completing it;
  3. A commitment of resources across the organization; and
  4. An all-in perspective on organizational improvement, including structure.

Organizational structure

If an organization is truly committed change, you can see it in their focus on professional development and even more so as they shift the bones of the company, in other words the organizational structure both in terms of form and function.  Structural change can happen in a variety of ways, I’d like to focus on one today.  Over the past year the number of professionals who have earned a title that includes head of diversity have grown dramatically.  According to LinkedIn, the total number has doubled since 2015.  As is the case in many job titles across an industry, the titles can be quite different from organization to organization.  Directors of diversity rose by 75% while chief diversity officers settled at 68%.

Was your organization impacted by one of these hires, perhaps more than one?

As we learned over the past several years, these positions have the potential to dramatically impact the culture of inclusion at an organization.  We have also learned that they can be hamstrung and precluded from success before the ink is dry on the position description.  Three areas in particular can be the salvation or the gut punch:

  1. Reporting Structure;
  2. Budget; and
  3. Staffing.

But that was in the past.  In today’s Diversity 2.0 marketplace, let’s assume (a bit dangerous, but let’s give it a shot) that these three items have been dealt with in such a way that they advance the likelihood of success for the professional in leadership and their team.  What are the next three areas that are likely to suggest success — or not — moving forward?

  1. Previous experience of the leader;
  2. Diversity related professional experience; and
  3. Breadth and depth of a network of diversity professionals.

Folks who have been elevated to any of the three previously mentioned positions have come from a wide variety of professional experiences.  Whether they cut their teeth in HR, operations, logistics or restaurant management or as a frontline team member, the professional experiences of this group are wide and varied.  This can be a competitive advantage for the leader.  Their ability to understand how the industry works can provide them visibility to more successful strategies and an internal knowledge on the partnerships necessary for success. 

Some of these recently promoted folks have significant diversity related experience.  But we need to be plain: Not all diversity related experience is created equal.  There are those who did yeoman’s work leading ERGs, task forces and committees related to inclusion.  On the other hand, there are those whose professional responsibilities included the development of policy, practice and procedures, trainings and programming.  These are two different types of experience.  Depending on the challenge in front of the organization, one is likely a much better fit than the other to increase the likelihood of success. 

This third area relates to networking.  In all the ways networking has been powerful for folks outside of diversity, it is for those who are inside.  Shared ideas, challenges, successes, mistakes, and missteps accelerate and undergird the work of the most successful diversity professionals.  If a store, team, or restaurant support center wants to elevate the rigor of the interview and evaluation process, they would be well served to consider questions that query the nature and use of the individuals’ network.  How they have been or would be used to bolster ideas, strategies, and eventual success.

In sum, it is critical as we enter 2022 to look backward into 2021 and further, to identify the best practices of the time and pressure test them against the current and likely challenges of the future.  Tomorrow’s top organizations in the food industry as it relates to Diversity, Inclusion and Bias (DIBs) will be those whose leadership has taken ownership of the challenge and stand in front and lead.  Additionally, key structural changes — spearheaded by these leaders — will include senior level hiring, personnel and staffing assignments, and of course economic resources.  In an area as sticky and nettlesome as inclusion and culture we should be pressing the envelope for new ideas.  Yes, some of these new ideas will come from talented team members; however, in the Diversity 2.0 environment they must be owned and driven by senior leaders who stand in front and say “Follow me” while simultaneously feeling “The RIGHT Kind of Uncomfortable.”


James Pogue, PhD is a consultant in the areas of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. He’s the founder of JP Enterprises and believes that sharing the results of his research with leaders and decision makers is his way to be a catalyst for positive change.

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