Just as HR/benefits professionals have evolved over the last 20 years from personnel to HR to strategic partner, diversity and inclusion also has experienced an evolution over the last two decades.

At last week’s SHRM Diversity and Inclusion conference in Washington, D.C., Doug Harris, CEO of the Kaleidoscope Group, tracked diversity’s evolution for attendees and offered four steps for how employers could take their 21st century efforts toward greater employee inclusion to the next level.

Decades ago, as “workplace representation changed … they came out with affirmative action, but it didn’t say how you had to treat [employees],” Harris recounted. “So, then came along diversity management to help people move up and develop."

As employers worked to this end, Harris began working onsite with employees. “When I first [started] going into workplaces,” he recalled, “people would say, ‘Uh oh, who messed up and told a bad joke?’”

However, he said those bad jokes can be a powerful platform for creating change. “You ever been somewhere and someone tells a bad joke and we think we're innocent because we didn't say anything?  But what have we done? We've condoned it,” he said. “When you take a stand you can be skillful; you don't have to beat anyone upside the head.”

To help employers demonstrate such skillfulness, Harris went through four steps to implementing a diversity program:

1. Get the basics. "Understand what diversity and inclusion is, and why it's important. You have to understand the impact of D&I to all audiences."

2. Develop yourself, "so you're more aware and competent."

3. Coach others.

4. Sustain the effort. "Normally when D&I starts people are excited, but then you have to keep that excitement going."

In a quick poll of attendees at the session, Harris found 46% had just begun diversity programming, 33% were already underway and 16% had just started exploring programs. Harris asked the audience to think about what a strategic business partner is for diversity and inclusion. Responses included teaching managers how to treat different people in the recruiting process and thinking about how diversity affects the bottom line of a benefits package.

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