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News & Press: FOCUS

Inclusion and Diversity: Starting the Journey

Wednesday, August 1, 2018  
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I was flattered when the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce asked me to write the kick-off article for FOCUS's Diversity and Inclusion section. Then the marketer in me wasted some time trying to craft a catchy title and opening sentence (and I might have even thought about SEO) when I could hear the voice of my good friend and diversity guru Tedi Parsons telling me to “keep it real.” So here it goes.

Despite the strong business case, many organizations struggle to kick-off the inclusion and diversity programs they long to implement. Why? Personally, I believe there are four reasons. First, it takes commitment from top management. Second, it takes some financial and human resources. Third, it takes time and few of us have any extra minutes in the day. Finally, there are an overwhelming number of resources available to help organizations advance their inclusion and diversity goals including consultants, training programs, books, articles, newsletters and associations.

The sheer volume of information can be overwhelming and, for some, may trigger an analysis paralysis until they can identify the perfect plan. In the words of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, “Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success is heavy.” Don’t let procrastination and the oft-related quest for perfection stop you from achieving progress on your organization’s inclusion and diversity journey.

What follows are some practical top-of-mind pointers to remember when starting or re-starting your organization’s inclusion and diversity path.

  • Recognize that despite our best efforts, we all have implicit bias – be mindful of that in all your inclusion and diversity-related activities.
  • Inclusion and diversity is a team sport. While top leadership support is essential to be effective, a program must include employees from all areas of the organization.
  • Seek outside input. As mentioned above, there are many expert sources of information. Remember that not every idea will be right for your business today and don’t overlook local resources – many Lansing professionals are happy to share their experiences such as Ashlee Willis of Lansing Mosaic and Tedi Parsons of LEAP.
  • There is no perfect plan and this is a journey. Your plan will evolve as your business grows and your employee ranks grow and change, too. Start by considering where your organization is today, your culture and where you want to be two or three years later.
  • There is no perfect time to start. Assemble your first committee, identify some initial needs/goals, determine actions that support the needs and start!
  • It’s likely you or one of your committee members will make a mistake. Apologize, learn from the incident and keep moving forward on the journey.
  • Debrief after all endeavors – whatever the outcomes, there are always lessons to be learned.
  • Celebrate and document successes. (It’s amazing how short the memory can be on successes and how long it can be on failures!)

So what does inclusion and diversity look like at Foster Swift?

The origins of our diversity initiatives go back over 50 years when former Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Lawrence B. Lindemer, then a shareholder with Foster Swift, started a committee to increase the hiring and retention of minorities.

Today, with the encouragement of our Executive Committee, Foster Swift’s Diversity Committee is made up of 12 employees including attorneys, administrators and support staff. The Committee meets monthly and is focused on cultivating an inclusive environment where individuals of diverse race, color, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, nationality, age, height, weight, disability, and marital and parental status may succeed professionally and personally.

The committee supports the firm’s recruiting efforts. It also identifies and coordinates diversity education programming and organizes firm participation in community events supporting underserved groups.

Is this hard work? Yes. Does it take time? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. You will be pleasantly surprised by the positive impact even small actions can make.

Kim Hafley is the Director of Marketing and Recruitment at Foster Swift.

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