Diversity Deep Freeze: How to Thaw Out the Frozen Middle

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As diversity continues to remain at the forefront of creating a better and more innovative workplace, many new and old companies ramp up demand for Inclusion leaders to implement an impactful talent strategy.  With recruitment, representation and retention metrics as their guideposts, they embark on a journey to effect change and accelerate inclusion across the enterprise.  Sharpened tools in hand, teams build solutions based on a framework that enlists top leadership support and a vibrant employee base at the other end of the career spectrum – each eager to be part of the solution.  A tops-down and bottoms-up approach to align leadership goals to the aspirations of the masses can signal visible and vocal investment in diversity.

Then, after well-intentioned plans have been operationalized, measures produce disappointing outcomes with nominal (if any) progress.  What happened?  Adoptions to sourcing and recruiting methods were developed, meaningful discussions about succession plans were had, investments were made – yet the needle remains in the same place from where it started.  

Enter the middle manager – those on the ‘line’.  A group of people leaders who tend to be the forgotten ones on some diversity journeys.  They tend to be seen as employees who will simply figure it out and fall in line with the broader plans, when they should be seen as multipliers of the solution — arguably as valuable as top leadership.  Why? Because these men and women directly lead a large portion of talent pipelines.  They also help display the leadership qualities and company values, firsthand, with those who aspire to be people leaders one day — setting the tone for future leaders.  If they do not embody the importance of diversity in their leadership style, then the company runs the risk that the next generation will do the same.

These managers also provide performance perspectives on who is ready for the next big thing — promotions, running key programs, leading visible projects, etc.  Their employee decisions will impact careers and, potentially, help (or hurt) how diverse pipelines are curated. Where else does it show up?  Well, in a company’s ability to retain diverse talent.  

Too often we hear or read about how employees leave managers, not companies.  This concept can have an even more pronounced effect on diverse populations who already feel they must outperform their non-diverse counterparts just to get to equal footing.  So what can be done to bolster this middle layer that often stagnates inclusion progress, creating a deep freeze in your diversity numbers? Companies must explore ways to thaw out this key constituency by better preparing them to manage, coach and lead inclusively.

So, ask yourself this question: How well has the enterprise prepared their managers to develop diverse and non-diverse employees with inclusive leadership capabilities?  The answer may help lead to charting your path to success in thawing out the frozen middle.

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