"Things to Consider for Your Corporate D&I Training & Mentoring Program"

by Alix Montes, Senior Account Executive, Wunderman

Conversations about diversity and inclusion are starting to reach their tipping point from a CSR initiative for public image to a real business objective. However, agencies have a long way to go when it comes to creating pathways to leadership for underrepresented employee groups. A common response to these challenges is the hiring of a chief diversity officer, unconscious bias training, and producing annual diversity reports. While these are good measures, agencies, brands, and media companies can take it a step further by making real investments in the success of their diverse talent. 

Designing an effective leadership development program for diverse employees is challenging, but not impossible. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind.

Start with Why
Many corporate leadership development initiatives are add-ons that focus on optics. Effective programs focus on outcomes. Before kicking off any initiative, map out the desired outcomes. What is the goal of leadership development program? To groom future leaders of color, improve retention rates of diverse talent, or build bridges between senior leadership and staff? All of these are important goals that contribute to improving diversity and inclusion, but one program might not able to achieve all of them. To get to why, identify the specific problem your organization is facing. Is data showing a noticeable ceiling that employees of color not able to breach or did someone in leadership notice that there are no people of color in line to lead once their time to move on has come? Answering these questions will provide a north star for your training program.

Organizational Buy-In
Aside from being good for business, improving diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do. It is well-known that systematic barriers and historical legacies put people of color at a disadvantage. However, owning this publicly and addressing it can lead to conflict. Being right is not always enough to win an argument. Change cannot happen in the absence of learning. It is important to ensure that the rest of the organization values diversity, especially leadership. Agencies should continuously take active steps to educate their staff about how diversity affects all parts of the agency and not just the black kids who sit at the same table for lunch. Some great examples include Wieden+Kennedy’s “Embrace Your Difference” initiative which encouraged employees to bring their full selves to work and embrace the things that made them stand out. Another example is Havas Chicago’s “jobstacle course” to show employees the silent experiences their black colleagues experienced at work. This is not to say that agencies should wait until all of their employees understand the need for diversity before making investments that will feed the leadership pipeline, but they need to actively reinforce and work to create a culture that will welcome and nurture diverse leadership. 

Open Doors & Create Opportunities 
Studies and anecdotal evidence have demonstrated that the ability to perform on high visibility projects that have a direct effect on the bottom line is essential to catching the eye of senior leadership, getting sponsors, and entering consideration for leadership roles. It’s also important to keep in mind that people of color are not in your organization to help statistics—they want to go to bat in a big way and make valuable contributions. Marrying these two insights is a key component of leadership development program. Google’s D&I initiative does an excellent job of this. While Google may not have a specific leadership development program for employees of color, Google crowdsources its D&I efforts across the organization. Employees at all levels with different functions can contribute to diversity in a way that is authentic to them and their skillset. In one instance, Googler, Adriana Jara, a Costa Rica native who has served in several capacities used her unique insights into Latin American culture to affect product improvements for Latin American consumers. 

For example, Americans who shop online, speed of delivery is a top priority. However, she notes that Latin American consumers are accustomed to waiting for things, so they prioritize price comparisons over speed of delivery. She also spotted an opportunity for Google in Latin America: social media. Social media as an industry is closer to maturity in the US than it is in Latin America. 

Leadership development programs at agencies should give employees an opportunity to develop their skills and tap into their unique insights. Agencies can do this by facilitating opportunities for employees and senior leadership to collaborate on high visibility projects such as big accounts, whitepapers, or new business.

Make Use of Employee Resource Groups 
While many agencies don’t have employee resources groups, they’re common across other parts of the Fortune 500. Employee resource groups are safe spaces where employees with similar experiences—LGBT, LatinX, Black, or women—can gather to share experiences and build community. These are important for retention as they help employees build community by fostering relationships with people who understand their story. They also allow the organization to tailor initiatives to the needs of each groups. The challenges women may face differ from what black or LatinX employees experience. Employee resource groups also empower employees to take an active role in shaping how the organization tackles challenges related to D&I

Fund External Opportunities
Internal investments in talent are important, at the same time agencies should realize where internal resources may fall short. In these instances, agencies encourage employees to take advantage of external learning opportunities. These opportunities should not be limited to conferences about diversity, they should include opportunities for employees to improve their performance at the core role. Workshops, and even educational programs at universities are valuable learning opportunities that no only improve career opportunities, they have a direct benefit to the agency.

Agencies and employees all have different needs and no two programs will be alike. However, following these guidelines will provide a strong foundation for your organization’s leadership development program. 

More information:
Diversity In Action

Last Updated: July 2017