Advice for Crafting a Diversity Plan

March 19, 2015 5:59 pm

By Barbara Frankel

For organizations looking to boost diversity among their ranks, the best place to start is with a thought-out plan.

The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey has measured the impact of diversity-management plans on thousands of organizations in the last 14 years, so we’re providing metrics-based do’s and don’ts for three key diversity initiatives:

  • • appointing a head of diversity and inclusion,
  • • instituting mandatory diversity training,
  • • and creating a national advisory board.


1. Appointing a Director of Diversity and Inclusion

The decision to appoint a person as head of diversity is important—but if the person isn’t the best qualified for the job and doesn’t have access to top leadership, no progress toward an inclusive culture will occur.

In the early days of diversity and inclusion (and some organizations new to D&I still do this), companies often appointed someone who was “diverse” (a woman and/or a Black person) to head diversity without ensuring that the person wanted the job or was the best qualified. Today, DiversityInc Top 50 companies look at a variety of qualifying factors, including interest, varied background and business contributions.

Traditionally, chief diversity officers have come from HR backgrounds, but increasingly DiversityInc Top 50 companies such as Kaiser Permanente, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Toyota are choosing line executives to head their diversity offices. Other DiversityInc Top 50 companies such as Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and Prudential Financial have experienced attorneys heading their diversity initiatives.

The benefits of having someone who really understands the goals of the organization can’t be emphasized enough. That person has credibility within the organization and can link the diversity efforts directly to business (or organizational) goals, such as recruitment, retention and engagement, talent development, cultural-competence education, and community involvement.

The importance of direct involvement with senior leadership—whether it is a formal reporting structure or frequent access—also is critical. Companies where heads of diversity are involved in business decisions and are consulted when issues arise report far more long-term success in creating an inclusive culture (as measured by retention and engagement scores).

DiversityInc Top 50 – Chief Diversity Officers

  2008 2014
Have CDO 82% 100%
CDO Reports to CEO 16% 28%


2. Implementing mandatory diversity and education program

Diversity training can be very valuable if done correctly, but too many organizations buy cookie-cutter programs that are expensive and don’t have associated metrics to assess the value of the training. The best training is personal and shows a value to the organization.

Effective diversity training also includes—and often starts with—the leaders of the organization, most often white men.

The question of whether the training should be mandatory or not has been analyzed in the DiversityInc Top 50 for years. Most DiversityInc Top 50 companies make the training mandatory for managers only because they are the conduits to effective diversity management through an organization. More and more, that training deals with unconscious bias and stereotypes, not finger-pointing and blame. But again, training without goals—such as higher engagement and retention rates—is ineffective.

Annual Cost of Diversity Training
(U.S. figures from SHRM)

DI Top 50 $350
<1,000 Employees $922
1,000-10,000 Employees $761
>1,000 Employees $375


3. Appointing national advisory committee on diversity and inclusion

Only 5 percent of DiversityInc Top 50 companies have external councils to advise them, but these organizations have often helped during times of crisis. After its $156 million racial-bias lawsuit 15 year ago, The Coca-Cola Company was ordered to set up a board to monitor its activities, which helped turn the company’s diversity efforts around. In fact, the company voluntarily kept the board going longer because of its impact.

Other companies, such as Toyota, have on their own brought together advisory boards with experienced leaders from government, the private sector and the nonprofit world to advise them. And companies and industries in trouble, such as the tech industry these days, often will ask diversity leaders such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson to guide their efforts.

Here are some pretty simple caveats on doing this: Get the right people (experienced professionals who don’t have anything personally to gain) and listen to what they advise. Most importantly, tie all recommendations to goals that can be measured frequently.