NEW ORLEANS — The CEO is all for it. The rest of the execs think it's great. But several middle managers just aren't on board with the company's plan to become more diverse and inclusive. It appears they just don't care.
This is a situation one attendee described at the American Bar Association's 13th Annual Labor and Employment Law Conference. The rest of the room appeared to relate to her struggle. Many employers are working hard to prioritize D&I — an effort often spearheaded by HR professionals. But what happens to a D&I revolution when middle managers shrug off implicit bias trainings, diverse hiring guidelines and inclusive management practices?
Those advocating for D&I efforts can employ a few tactics to help middle managers understand the importance of the new and evolving strategy or, if they can’t be convinced, derail any damage they may inflict on an organization’s progress, panelists at the conference told attendees.
It’s an effort worth making, University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law Professor of Law Laura R. McNeal said. Even as she conducted D&I trainings in areas of the U.S. where she said racism and sexism flourished, the promise of change motivated her: "If I can win enough hearts and minds, the momentum in those organizations starts to push."
Make the stakes clear
When confronting middle managers with lackadaisical attitudes toward D&I changes, it’s important to highlight how their personal success hinges on their ability to get with the program. "One of the things, if nothing else, that appeals to middle management is that their personal success is at stake if they are not willing to move in this direction," TIAA Senior Vice President, Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer Corie Pauling told attendees. "That seems to really resonate."
"Really, you have to figure out a way to appeal to the leader," she said. "What I have found in my role is that helping each manager understand their stake in D&I is what helps them see the necessity of making that investment."
If middle managers build teams that look identical to themselves or the select kinds of people they want to work with, that will slow their career, Pauling said. "The reality for every people leader today and going forward is they will not have the option of leading a team that’s homogenous," she said. "They will not have the choice of only picking people they are comfortable with." That means managers need "to get comfortable with difference."
Lead with data
Reluctant middle managers will have a harder time arguing with hard arguments based on numbers, so lead with data, Pauling said. "It becomes less of a value-based argument, even though that is important," she noted.
External analytics can be helpful here. Show middle management reports that reveal how D&I improves innovation and boosts the bottom line. If possible, find internal analytics that evidence how D&I or the lack thereof has impacted the workplace.
It may be tempting to focus on negative data that shows the importance of such strategies, she said, but she encouraged attendees to use analytics to celebrate D&I wins — no matter how small.
Design around the unwilling
Ultimately, HR pros and their fellow D&I advocates may lose this battle. "You may not win their hearts," Duane Morris Partner and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Joseph K. West told attendees. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done. "If you look at the policies, practices and procedures and make sure you scrub bias out of those," you can help eliminate the bias middle managers may be unwilling to address.
Organizations can require, for example, that information about age, race, gender, religion, national origin and ability be deleted from hiring materials such as resumes and applications, McNeal suggested.