You’d have to be living under a rock to be unfamiliar with diversity and inclusion these days. After all, the terms make daily headlines. Just this week while on business travel, I picked up Delta’s Sky Magazine and was impressed by CEO Ed Bastian’s 2 pages about Delta’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion. When I picked up the USA Today, there was a front-page article about the Pentagon spend of $8M to treat 1500 transgender troops. I say all this to say, diversity and inclusion has arrived and is now integrated into our daily way of life. Yes, there’s still to do but the conversation and actions remain a priority as our world’s makeup continues to shift.
I attribute Diversity and Inclusion as a game changer for my career. Back in 2008, I was minding my business trudging along in the technical field. I was a Technical Project Manager managing complex SAP projects, the delivery of branded websites, and customer portals and more. Then Diversity and Inclusion came knocking. At first, I was asked to be a part of a focus group to discuss diversity and inclusion. When the company hired a Diversity and Inclusion Director, we began to see changes in the form of employee resource groups as a part of the strategy. I remained committed to my day job while keeping my eye on the progression of the groups. I attended a meeting here and there and then I decided to volunteer more of my time by being a part of the Black History Month Planning Team. And before you know it, I was heading up the African Heritage Employees Group. I did that for 4 years and boy did everything change in my career.
You see it opened my eyes up to the possibilities of making impactful cultural changes. I was consumed by driving cultural awareness and providing professional development opportunities. Before long, my love for diversity and inclusion eclipsed my passion for remaining in Information Technology. As a result of that experience, I shifted functions and worked in Human Resources supporting the Diversity and Inclusion team. I’m happy about that experience because it’s opened my eyes to doing work that I’m passionate about while changing lives.
Why do I share this story? I share it because I believe diversity and inclusion is an underutilized tool for bringing out career growth.
Some benefits to your career leveraging diversity & inclusion include:
- Exposure and access to senior leaders inside and outside of your organization
- Leadership experience
- Cultural competency
- Networking Opportunities
- Mentoring and Sponsorship Access
So, with all those benefits ripe for the taking, what holds people back?
- They aren’t sure where to start or what specific actions to take
- They aren’t aware of the benefits
- They don’t have the time/bandwidth and want to focus on their core job
- They don’t see a fit/place for them to engage
It’s not too late. In fact, this a great time to turn the tide and watch the changes that happen as a result of leveraging diversity and inclusion as a part of your career strategy. Let’s look at some options you can undertake to move your career forward.
Change Your Networking Strategy
The next time you consider who, what, where, when, and how you go about your networking, consider broadening your approach to leverage a diversity and inclusion lens. An example of this is seeking out diverse individuals/associations to connect with. Whether it be your personal sounding board or professional alliances, diversity and inclusion should be factored in for widening your reach for career growth. That action will allow you the opportunity to broaden your circle and build “off the beaten path” relationships that can drive unexpected career advancement. Consider leveraging meetup groups to find more diverse outlets to connect to. The key really is not just to surround yourself with additional diverse communities but to also engage and participate to foster inclusion.
Leverage Employee Resource Groups
Most companies have Resource Groups as part of their Diversity and Inclusion strategy. The groups are internal think tanks to offer ideas to learn about engaging with culture and communities, unearth potential marketing ideas, and more. They offer the opportunity to build and demonstrate leadership skills and in some cases get a seat at the table with senior leaders. It’s an underutilized opportunity for some mistakenly attribute opportunities to the diverse category where the offering is available. Don’t sleep on resource groups. Tweak your perspective and get involved as an employee. Attend meetings! Raise your hand for a role. Learn as much as you can from these groups. I guarantee you that you will see benefit from this association.
Gain Cultural Competency
I hope that we all know by now that education is an accelerator for career growth. Diversity and Inclusion education is an opportunity for gaining competitive advantage. I recommend that you take advantage of cultural awareness training provided. This will provide strengthen your toolkit as an influential leader. Outside of your organization, follow and build your acumen via diversity and inclusion thought leaders like Diversity Best Practices, Diversity Inc, Working Mother, Catalyst, and The Center for Talent Innovation. Guaranteed, there are additional options but the aforementioned is a good start. Whilst you don’t have to be an expert, broadening your perspective will allow you to amplify your innovation genes which no doubt will serve you well in whatever career path you choose.
Helpful implementation strategies for putting these options into practice include prioritization of the option that best resonates with you, making a plan, executing and tracking against that plan and ultimately measuring your success to highlight corrective actions. Be sure to also have fun on the journey. Know that these actions will indeed impact your career in some form or another.
Simone Morris is CEO of Simone Morris Enterprises LLC, a certified minority and women-owned business enterprise that provides consulting, training, coaching, and speaking services. Focal points for the company include diversity and inclusion and women’s empowerment. The company was founded in 2015 and is based in Norwalk, CT.