Ahead of the curve
Beverly Edgehill is chief executive of The Partnership Inc., a nonprofit that trains and mentors minority professionals for leadership roles and consults with companies on how to cultivate and manage diverse workforces. Edgehill recently spoke with Globe correspondent Ann Carrns about how companies can successfully create a diverse workforce.
Has the definition of diversity broadened?
It is still gender, race, ethnic background, as well as sexual orientation and now, generational. That’s a new dimension of diversity. There are now four generations in the workplace at once. There are new kinds of creative tension around how work gets done, how one communicates, what one values.
Did the goal of a diverse workforce take a back seat during the downturn?
No one said, “We’re losing money, so diversity isn’t important.’’ Our observation is that there continued to be a philosophical commitment to diversity.
How are companies approaching the issue of workforce diversity?
The organizations with whom we work recognize that getting diversity in the door is no longer sufficient. They have to connect their diversity effort with what we call talent management. That is, the whole process of making sure the talent you have in the organization is engaged, that they feel like their contributions are valued, and that they are contributing to the organization’s performance.
What are companies doing to retain diverse personnel? Any innovative efforts you can highlight?
We’re working with an organization, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, which has done a terrific job zeroing in on these issues. They came to The Partnership in direct response to their own survey that showed their African-American population had low levels of engagement. They gave the employees the OK to formalize a resource group. Out of this grew a leadership-development program, which provided mentoring and set leadership and development goals for the employees. Then they leveraged talent from this group to participate in a large, organizationwide initiative. It was real work — important to the company’s core business goals — not “make-work.’’ They wanted to provide the group the opportunity to be visible to the senior team and develop leadership skills. That sends a message that we value your participation. And the employee feels affirmed and more committed to the organization.
Do companies that succeed at creating diverse workforces have anything in common?
Some common links include their ability to connect diversity work with talent management. It also matters if the senior executive has demonstrated a commitment to diversity, by holding managers accountable for the diversity vision they’ve communicated.