The Undeniable Connection Between Dignity, Respect and Talent Management
You wouldn’t know it by the well publicized problems companies seem to be having, but creating a diverse and inclusive culture has indisputable value. Myriad research shows that having a diverse workforce, where everyone feels valued, respected, and treated with dignity will not only increase your productivity and bottom line; it will help you recruit from a larger, global pool, retain top talent and improve your brand’s reputation.
Naturally, leaders want to create a genuinely diverse and inclusive culture where dignity, and respect are the rule and not the exception. So, why doesn’t every organization embody this type of culture yet? Because it takes hard work, dedication, and commitment, and if you’re not hardwired that way from the beginning, it doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s not easy being “the first one”
Years ago, while working as a grain trader for a Fortune 500 company, I received a call from the administrative assistant to our division’s president. She told me that I was selected to help create and serve on the company’s first Diversity Team. I asked her what that meant exactly? She wasn’t sure, but she said, “They want you because you’re the only one we’ve got.” I asked, “Only what?” She quickly responded, “Only female.” I thought to myself, “Trader?” and off I went to discover diversity.
It turned out, the company’s CEO genuinely wanted to create a Diversity Team, he was authentic and a visionary. He brought in leading experts in the diversity field; we called it, “multiculturalism.” The experts flew in once a month for meetings for a year or two. Together, our team of “only one’s” brought awareness and insight on how to exercise all the best bits of being a diverse organization.
The diversity experts were terrific, brilliant, and enlightening; I learned a ton. Our team worked hard to develop an essential and cohesive diversity plan. Finally, after months of hard work, we were asked to present our ideas to the CEO and his direct reports, the division presidents.
Leadership support for D&I initiatives is critical
As our group of “only ones” entered the room, I found the dichotomy striking. At one end was a very long, simple table, consisting of a series of folding tables butted next to each other, covered with a flimsy white tablecloth. There sat the division heads, every one an older, white gentleman in nearly matching dark suits, white shirts, and dull ties.
It’s funny, but I looked down and noticed that all the men’s socks were too short; there was a gap between the top of their socks and their pants. It’s a weird and superficial thing to notice, but it was memorable. This pale scene was juxtaposed against our team’s table, small, two-gendered, and multi-colored.
Creating a culture of dignity and respect takes time, hard work, and persistence. In retrospect, that project taught us as much about resilience, empathetic leadership, and authenticity as it did about diversity.
We began our presentation, but as we talked, I could see the executives fiddle, looking around the room, growing restless. At best, they were distracted, at worst, positively mad to be there.
The CEO picked up on the vibe and intervened, but it didn’t go as well as we had hoped. It was apparent the executives felt forced to embrace our plan. It was crucial to have buy-in from the top, which we had, but we would have to work hard to garner buy-in throughout the leadership ranks. However, we were all-in, so we persevered.
Shaking up the status quo requires commitment
I vividly recall one diversity meeting in particular. One of the experts, a woman, asked to speak with me privately. She told me that I should be VP by now, but I wasn’t. When I asked what her thoughts were on why, she gazed at me with a puzzled look and said matter-of-factly, “You’ve hit a glass ceiling here.” That was the first time I heard that term, but I understood immediately. The term is passé now, but it still results in the same headache today that it did then.
Despite our collective, lingering challenges, my diversity team slowly made some overall progress. We began to feel more respected as the top executives, reluctantly, realized the value of our plan. They eventually understood that it was not just “the right thing to do,” it could help the company overall. Their engagement trickled in, then flowed throughout the organization.
I’m very grateful for the experience; it broadened my views in many ways. Creating a culture of dignity and respect takes time, hard work, and persistence. In retrospect, that project taught us as much about resilience, empathetic leadership, and authenticity as it did about diversity.
The value is in the data
Fortunately, today 94% of all employers recognize the importance of creating a culture based on dignity, an enormous increase of 70% in the last three years. But 1 in 3 employers says a barrier to creating a culture of dignity is a lack of diversity. There’s still work to do, and here’s why it’s worth the effort.
You can increase your bottom line: If you implement a successful D&I initiative, you’ll see the benefits in the bottom line. According to Harvard Business Review, a more diverse workforce equaled 19% higher revenues, and McKinsey’s research reported that every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diverse senior-level teams accounted for a .8% increase in overall earnings.
You can encourage more engaged, productive employees: Organizations that promote dignity and respect will reap other benefits including more successful D&I initiatives, and happier, healthier, more productive employees. When you treat employees with dignity and respect, they respond with trust, engagement, and a willingness to go above and beyond, and they want to stay put. Retention is vital; it is incredibly costly to recruit and employ top talent. Organizations that embody cultures of dignity can even leverage their top talent to help recruit others to join them.
Your brand will improve in the marketplace: The word will get out. The global pandemic has leveled the geographical barriers to recruiting a more diverse workforce. Technology, more flexible work schedules, and working from home have opened the doors to a vastly talented, diverse global workforce who want to work for organizations with a strong reputation and culture. Strive to become an organization whose brand reflects a commitment to treat every employee, regardless of color, creed, or position with respect and dignity — your brand will shine.
It’s a worthwhile journey
Creating a culture of dignity and respect begins with you. As organizational leaders, you need to model the behaviors for the workforce, set the course, and gain buy-in throughout the company. Living a culture of dignity and respect influences your ability to succeed in all aspects of your organization.
I worked with a team a few years ago that wanted to attract global clients. They were enthusiastic but unsuccessful because they lacked cultural competence and would unintentionally offend the very cultures they wanted to attract. As we dug into the problem, we learned the team didn’t just need more cultural awareness; their soft skills, particularly around communication, were lacking, and their confidence was understandably low.
We began work on their emotional intelligence and empathy, confidence building, the importance of dignity and respect, and cultural competence. It took some time, but the team was successful. One-by-one, new recruits joined, and as the program’s brand improved and grew, so did their recruiting efforts. Today, it’s a successful, global program with a stellar reputation.
Respect, diversity, and good talent management are paramount for any organization’s success. Lead authentically, and inspire others to join you in creating a culture that promotes fairness, equality, and equity for all. But be prepared for set-backs. It’s not a linear journey, but it’s one well worth taking.