Reprinted from Tulsa World
with permission of original author
By Staff Reports
Published: 8/26/2010  2:27 AM
Last Modified: 8/26/2010  6:12 AM

Last fall, the Tulsa Area Human Resources Association held its first annual “Return on Inclusion” business summit. That TAHRA gathering of business leaders and professionals highlighted the significance of diversity and inclusion generally and, more critically, focused on how to make diversity and inclusion in the workplace a sustainable reality.

Last spring, the Tulsa Metro Chamber recast its Minority Business Council with a diverse coalition of volunteers led by Shane Fernandez, an architect and Tulsa Metro Chamber board member. Fostering diversity and inclusion within the chamber itself and among its member organizations is at the heart of that group’s mission.

Both TAHRA and the Tulsa Metro Chamber realize that if Tulsa is to move to the next level – to stay competitive now and in the future – both attitudes and behaviors around diversity and inclusion must change. That change begins with reflection on two key questions: (1) What do we mean by “diversity and inclusion”? ; and (2) Why should we embrace those particular values?

“Diversity,” the myriad ways we differ from one another, and “inclusion,” the willing acknowledgement and acceptance of those differences, go hand-in-hand.

Diversity and inclusion – respecting the dignity and valuing the worth of each and every individual – are business essentials and moral musts. Profound demographic shifts and increasing globalization make a compelling business case for diversity and inclusion. Age-old religious and philosophical traditions
cement the moral foundation.

Research suggests there is a competitive edge to be gained from managing and leading diversity and inclusion. Figuring out how to make the “people pieces” in an organization work together builds stronger, healthier businesses.

How, then, might organizations leverage the diversity within their ranks and foster inclusion in ways that elevate all stakeholders?

At the institutional level, championing diversity and inclusion requires: (1) defining “diversity” broadly; (2) conducting an audit; (3) cultivating awareness; (4) crafting a strategic plan; (5) formulating a communications strategy; (6) building a sense of ownership; and (7) securing top-level commitment.

The payoff for investments in diversity and inclusion may be significant. Reported returns have included:
Sharpened competitive advantage in a global economy;
Broadened creativity and innovation;
Expanded perspectives;
Improved products and services;
Reduced turnover (and hence, lower training costs);
Enlarged markets;
Lowered health care costs (as a result of a more supportive, nurturing workplace);
Heightened employee self-image;
Decreased risk of employment litigation;
Enhanced community standing.
In the business world, diversity and inclusion initiatives are no longer exceptional or exotic. These efforts have become the norm in prominent companies such as American Airlines, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Williams Cos. Inc. They are at the core of an enterprise’s ability to thrive. What is more, diversity and inclusion efforts present an opportunity to align “doing things right” and “doing the right things” – business essentials and moral musts.

Properly conceived, diversity and inclusion lead inexorably to the realization of a shared humanity. We are not lonely, isolated islands adrift on a vast sea of life, whether in our professional or private lives. Rather, we are connected to and interdependent with others, all of whom deserve our respect and fair treatment. In the end, our commonalities with those who share this web of connections trump whatever differences may exist.

Hannibal B. Johnson is an author, attorney and consultant specializing in diversity and inclusion, human relations, leadership, and nonprofit management and governance. The Harvard Law School graduate teaches at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, and has taught at the University of Tulsa College of Law.