5 Things You Don’t Know About Diversity Councils: Advice From Rockwell Collins & Caterpillar

January 14, 2014 9:53 pm
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By Barbara Frankel

5 Things You Don't Know About Executive Diversity Councils

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If you want to start an Executive Diversity Council—or jumpstart one so you get maximum results—watch our recent Web Seminar on Executive Diversity Councils.

You’ll get best-practice tips from our corporate experts: Joy Fitzgerald, Director, Diversity Workforce & Effectiveness, Rockwell Collins (No. 34 in the DiversityInc Top 50), and Latasha Gillespie, Director, Global Diversity & Inclusion, Caterpillar (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies). There’s very solid advice here, including some information we learned for the first time!

To watch this Web Seminar in its entirety, go to BestPractices.DiversityInc.com/diversity-councils-web-seminar

If you don’t yet have an executive diversity council or are just starting one, read  BestPractices.DiversityInc.com/how-to-start-diversity-council

1. All Executive Diversity Councils Are Not Alike

Rockwell Collins reflects the “traditional” executive diversity council, with a proactive CEO leading the effort, the CEO’s direct reports on the council, and strong goal-setting and metrics. But the company has an untraditional next level of implementation: a Diversity Advisory Council made up of executive-resource group leaders.

“They are the arms, legs and ears for the Executive Diversity Council. They are very instrumental in coming back to the Office of Diversity and the executive diversity council with ideas on what role D&I can play in business strategies,” Joy says.

Caterpillar changed its executive council structure in 2009 to reflect business units headed by group presidents, as that better fit the organization and its business goals. The councils are literally organized around portfolios of business. “One of our group presidents launched a diversity council that had people who report to him held personally accountable for goals. He took the helm and drove it. That became a prototype for others and we replicated it across other lines of business,” Latasha says.

2. If Your Senior Leaders Aren’t Visible Supporters, Don’t Bother

More than half the CEOs on the DiversityInc Top 50 personally chair their executive diversity councils. But even if your council is chaired by a direct report to the CEO, what matters is that your senior executives are really involved and connect the council’s work directly to their business goals with metrics and accountability. And what counts just as much is that they let everyone in the company know what they’re doing and why.

A year ago, Rockwell Collins started a “Straight Talk” series in which members of its Executive Diversity Council—President and CEO Kelly Ortberg and his direct reports—have to visibly support the diversity initiatives supported by the council. That includes blogging, creating videos and running web-seminar meetings, plus supporting at least one diversity event each year. Most of the council members are also executive sponsors of resource groups, and they are urged to support and attend other resource groups. Their compensation is linked to their performance as diversity leaders.

3. Your Council Mission/Goals Must Be Directly Linked to Business Priorities

Caterpillar, which manufactures heavy machinery, stresses worker safety in everything it does. Latasha tells us that business leaders who score well in their performance goals for diversity and inclusion have five times fewer recordable injuries in their organizations. “We think of inclusion as emotional safety. Folks who are more inclusive have better safety records—hands down,” she says.

4. Engagement Is a Vital Measurement of Council Success

At Rockwell Collins, the Executive Diversity Council sets engagement and retention goals, including goals for underrepresented groups and Millennials. The company’s annual employee survey measures overall satisfaction, engagement, and diversity and inclusion. “The output of that survey is brought to the Executive Diversity Council and we have a unique opportunity to have a dialogue around what our people are saying,” Joy says. “The CEO and senior executives take this input very seriously and it really becomes part of our strategy.”

5. Councils That Meet in Secrecy Don’t Accomplish Anything

Remember the old adage: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, the same goes for your executive diversity council. If its workings are in secret, and are not communicated throughout your organization, it will not accomplish its goals.

At Caterpillar, the people who “carry the water,” the HR leads and the line managers for each division receive clear communications from the councils and must report back on a quarterly basis on their progress. “Who are you sending to talent development? Who are you promoting through your ranks? How did you do on the inclusion survey?” are all topics for reporting, Latasha says. “They are measured on their end-of-year results.”

“Our Executive Diversity Council leaders share their personal commitment to diversity and their stories with the entire organization. We want to leverage the insights they are earning,” Joy says.

Checklist: Executive Diversity Council Best Practices

  • Top Leadership Visibly Involved
  • Goals and Metrics Tied to Business Needs
  • Communicate Council Goals Throughout Organization
  • Bring In External Benchmarks
  • Tasks Next Level Down and Middle Management With Implementation
  • Links Success to KPIs and Compensation
Register for the 2014 DiversityInc Special Awards and Culturally Competent Healthcare events,
October 21 & 22 in New York City.
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