Felicia Johnson is the founder and managing director of The Gatson Group, a Diversity and Inclusion consulting firm. For over 10 years she has been creating and enhancing Diversity and Inclusion programs for global organizations. In the latest edition of our ‘Five minutes with…’ series, we talk to Felicia about the growing focus on, and challenges of Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.
What inspired you to want to work in Diversity and Inclusion?
My inspiration to formally work in the field of Diversity and Inclusion stems from having a servant's heart and a belief that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. I do think that Diversity and Inclusion are something we have all ‘worked in’ all our lives, albeit intentionally or unintentionally, as well as knowingly or unknowingly.
Diversity refers to the full range of human differences and similarities, for example, think back to being in grade school or high school. We all had friends or acquaintances that were different, right? Those that looked like us and those that didn’t…those that lived in our neighborhood and those that didn’t, those with the big personality or those without, or maybe those that received top grades and those that didn’t. All these individuals comprised a variety of characteristics that made them who they are. That is what we refer to as diversity.
Inclusion refers to the process of valuing and leveraging differences and similarities. So again, think about how you engaged that teammate on your sports team that you might normally not have interacted with, or how you may have been placed on a science project team with a group of fellow students that you normally would not have spent time with.
The same applies in the workplace. The workplace is full of individuals that don’t look the same or think the same. I for one think that is a wonderful thing! The best solutions to challenges are often found among varying thoughts, ideas, and perspectives.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to organizations you work with regards to Diversity and Inclusion?
One of the challenges I see involves increasing workplace generational shifts. The Department of Labor/WSJ.com reports (see image source) that by 2025, 99.3% of the US workforce will comprise of Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z.
Now let’s think about that, each person in an organization brings their own unique background; be it geographical origin, faith preference, life experiences or work experiences, for example as a result of each of those unique characteristics and experiences, a person’s views and perspectives are formed. In order to benefit from those differences in the workplace, an organization needs to ensure its culture is one which is welcoming and engaging.
One other challenge I see is a misguided approach to Diversity and Inclusion. For example, sending everyone through mandatory diversity training and thinking all of the problems will be solved. Now don’t get me wrong, Diversity and Inclusion training certainly has its place, however, the changing face and dynamics of the workplace is mandating a new approach. What is needed is a fundamental and clear understanding of the WHY, as well as the WHAT, around diversity management in your organization. Without it, you will end up doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result. And, the last time I checked, I believe that was the definition of insanity.
How has the feeling about and focus on creating inclusive and diverse environments changed over the last 10 years?
With an increased focus on the changing population demographics, employers have also had to shift focus to the changing face of the workplace. Employees don’t leave their ethnicity, faith, gender, personalities, etc. at home when they come to work and therefore, some organizations are finding themselves faced with a challenge of ensuring their culture is not only welcoming but also that they are cultivating an environment that appreciates and leverages these differences.
How do you think the COVID-19 situation has impacted the ability of organizations to improve their Diveristy and Inclusion practices and hiring?
The COVID-19 epidemic has had a big impact on recruiting and interviewing; we have all had to brush up on our video conferencing skills! Interviews that would have normally taken place in person are now being conducted online and this has opened up opportunities for talent management to leverage consistency, increase the number of candidates being screened, as well as engage additional team members.
Another affected area has been employee engagement; it is oftentimes challenging to create and maintain engagement of employees while in the office, so it certainly creates bigger challenges when employees are working remotely. I recently penned a LinkedIn article entitled, ‘Executing Diversity and Inclusion strategies when working remote’, where I shared three tips for keeping employees engaged.
- continuing Diversity and Inclusion dialogue
- utilizing the power of employee resource groups
- maximizing electronic and video communication platforms
Also, don’t forget to recognize great work! If you were in the office, you might have hosted a Friday coffee or mid-week lunch to celebrate milestones. I encourage you to do the same, simply take it digital! Hosting digital birthday celebrations or work anniversary announcements are just two examples of how you can show your appreciation to your greatest asset, your employees! Recognizing and rewarding great work goes a long way!
Lastly, another area suffering from the impact is workplace culture. This is no time to reduce Diversity and Inclusion efforts. If anything, it’s time to increase them. With enhanced attention on the front line and essential employees, organizations can increase communications to employees that reinforce their appreciation. These communications should be frequent and come directly from organizational leadership. Whether a video or email messaging, these communications can provide comfort and reassurance to employees that although they may be working remotely, they remain a vital and integral part of the organization.
What is your approach when helping a company create or enhance their Diversity and Inclusion initiatives?
Asking the right questions is key. It’s important to speak with people throughout the value chain and conduct a comprehensive needs assessment. Once that assessment is complete, I then create a blueprint that identifies where the organization is on the diversity continuum and with that information, begin to build strategies and approaches that complement and align with the organization’s business objectives. One of the keys to a successful Diversity and Inclusion strategy is to ensure alignment with where the organization is going so that when the organization succeeds, so does your Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.
For more information on anything discussed in this article or on HR leadership please contact Brian Watson, Partner in the Human Resources practice at Berwick Partners. Brian recruits HR positions at Berwick Partners, advising clients on the best talent in the market.