After 20 years of Diversity Management, the list of standard, must-have programmes has become longer and longer, while the search for best practices – in the true sense of the word – has become tough. For one part, we should be glad about this development as it illustrates that D&I is now much more common than it was one or two decades ago. This in itself creates a situation where the majority of organisations follows similar – or at least comparable – approaches. Also, the expectations from management have developed over time. While in the beginning, a few farsighted supporters enabled pioneering initiatives they nowadays request solid programmes that cover a few key areas. Common foci include recruitment, development and retention – the HR agenda – and some support-type of approaches like mentoring, networks or events. D&I, today, is one out of several dozens of topics top executives have an eye on and we were tempted to thank ‘quota politics’ for putting Diversity – or more frankly only Gender – on their agenda. Now we discover that the current paradigm is limiting the development – and the quality – of D&I programmes.
While executives have learned about the broader business case for Diversity Management, their first and foremost objective is to satisfy external expectations – from politics or supervisory boards or candidates or or or… This results in a focus on those initiatives that directly relate to the (perceived) expectations. Unfortunately, this results in a limitation of the scope of most programmes which can be best described as ‘solid’ while we see very few programmes that strictly focus on business-related objectives. Equally sad is the fact that we do not see many programmes that aim at actual changes of the existing situation, specifically including the corporate and the leadership culture. In total, the strong external expectations result in limiting internal efforts to providing solid programmes and structures. What is needed, though, is an agenda with two priorities: Value-added and progress. In order to rigorously focus on adding value, programmes need to combine positive attitudes and pro-active inclusion to generate tangible benefits. In order to achieve measurable and sustained progress, you need to do many things differently than in the past: changing processes & structures, incentives & direction and of course, leadership & culture. This paradigm shift will at the same time allow us to create new, truly innovative practices. It is up to us to provide executives with the right kind of information for them to broaden the scope and raise expectations to the next level.