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Citywide Pride: Talk focuses on diversity and inclusion [9 July, 2009]

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There exists today a panoply of services and staff training resources to aid companies in ensuring that their workplaces achieve mandated diversity requirements.  But do these help or hinder a corporation, and how does the notion of diversity relate to the bottom line of profits?

As part of the Citywide Pride series, CNA Insurance and High Potential Inc.  \hosted a lunch discussion, “Taking Diversity and Inclusion to the Next Level” where moderators Larry Kuhn and James Foster spoke about diversity issues in the workplace.  Kuhn and Foster focused on a recent survey they conducted among corporations like Prudential and Ernst and Young and from which they extrapolated ways of incorporating diversity and inclusion.

In surveying corporations, Kuhn and Foster found that many respondents felt that diversity had become a human resources issue, expressed by comments that it was “largely driven by compliance.” They addressed the need to consider inclusion in conjunction with diversity.  According to them, this is necessary in order to ensure that corporations benefit from a culture of diversity, as opposed to one where employers feel that it’s no more than a fulfilling a mandate.  With regard to the issue of LGBT inclusion, they noted that most CEOs don’t go beyond the use of inclusive language.  Or, as one respondent put it, “I just want the CEO to say the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.  But Human Resources asked, ‘Isn’t GLBT enough?’”

Three speakers spoke about how they had reframed diversity by making it integral to their workplaces.  Robbin Burr (formerly of the Center on Halsted, and now a diversity relationship manager at Prudential), spoke about increasing diversity through programs which ask employees to create financial literacy by going into neighborhoods.  LaShana Jackson, a senior manager of diversity inclusion at AON corporation spoke about using the word “talent” rather than “diversity,” as a way to combat what she called the “diversity fatigue” that has set in on corporations.  According to Jackson, a key strategy is to retain a diverse pool of candidates by mentoring them and helping them develop their career skills.

With regard to the bottom line of profits, Kuhn and Foster said that that diversity could be profitable as well, with a recent study indicating that women and minorities brought in 300 million dollars in 2001.  But, according to them, this kind of recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion can only come about with support from company leaders and a “fully engaged” employee base.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 9 July, 2009

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