by Steven Schulman

Senior Vice President, Human Resources
AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company

It can be argued that having a diversity and inclusion functional area itself can pose a challenge to creating an inclusive culture. While a diversity office is essential to building a foundation where differences are not only acknowledged, but embraced, perception can be that it is simply the responsibility of that team alone to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. If a diversity office is seen as a separate business area, it may take a company’s employees longer to embrace their own responsibility for creating an inclusive environment—not because they don’t believe in it, but because they believe it is already being addressed.

To overcome this myth, the diversity office must be viewed as a partner, rather than the sole driver of a company’s culture of acceptance and inclusion. It should be the foundation upon which an inclusive culture is built, by the support and strength of senior management, human resources, and employees.

“I’m not suggesting that organizations do not need a diversity office—quite the opposite.

For maximum impact on a company’s success, diversity and inclusion must be embedded into all areas of the business to transform these ideals into core business principles. Senior management commitment is critical. But commitment is not just something that senior executives can talk about—they must demonstrate it by their own engagement and personal accountability. They must set measurable goals for themselves and their teams, and be accountable for achieving them.

Human Resources (HR) must provide an infrastructure that allows diversity and inclusion to thrive as an integral part of the organization. To start, companies must have an employee base that represents the communities they serve. HR must ensure that there is a diverse population of talent joining the company; that there are development opportunities for all employees at all levels; and that there is a pipeline of talented individuals of all backgrounds primed for leadership roles.

But even with the support of a diversity office, senior management, and HR, a company will not successfully build an inclusive culture. Employees must drive the creation of a workplace that embraces the uniqueness of everyone and the benefits this brings to them individually and to the company.

Employees, through their pride in what makes them distinct, will naturally create a culture where people feel valued for their differences. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are invaluable in helping employees mobilize around similar passions and channel their energy into efforts that support business objectives, engagement, and professional development. ERGs can help build confidence; foster respect for diversity; and promote new ideas from all employees through active support of diversity initiatives.

I’m not suggesting that organizations do not need a diversity office—quite the opposite. The office is needed to raise awareness, and provide guidance and support, while facilitating understanding of, and appreciation for, differences. But a diversity office alone cannot be expected to weave diversity and inclusion into the fabric of an organization; that can only happen with the drive, commitment, and accountability of an organization’s people—senior management, human resources, and employees.