by Marie Y. Philippe, PhD

Corporate Vice President, Culture and Organization Effectiveness
The Lifetime Healthcare Companines

At times, in the workplace, there is the belief that champions of diversity and inclusion (D&I) are somewhat limited to particular marginalized groups or confined within the walls of the operation. Nothing is further from the truth. One of the most powerful yet often underutilized weapons in the fight against inequality is our allies—not minority group or LGBT community members, including sometimes even those outside of our organization.

Who are these allies and how do I get them engaged? There is some homework required. However, with due diligence, creativity and willingness to explore new territories, you will find them. For those who have taken this road, positive outcomes have exceeded their expectations.

In your workplace, many from the dominant Euroethnic groups understand the value of differences. Many more have experienced the benefits of having perspectives different from their own. Many are willing and able to speak up to educate those from their own group about the unspoken privilege they enjoy. There is almost instant credibility rather than a process involved in getting the point across from someone “different.”

Whether the heterosexual Caucasian ally is a senior leader or not, there is power in having someone from our own cultural background telling us how they see and value differences. It takes time to uncover such allies because they are often not so visible. Allies can be quiet influencers or may have impressive functional titles which carry built-in followers. Do not underestimate, however, the natural leaders and influencers who can grow to become great champions, if cultivated.

What about the board members? How are you integrating diversity in your board room? If you say “let’s not go there,” then it is time to find an ally to shake it a bit in that board room. Although it is a challenging task, finding an energized, dedicated and consistent champion on the board of directors may have the greatest payoff.

“Champions can also be groomed from the external world and can offer significant and effective support.”

One of the first steps in that direction is the analysis of the board composition. From there, bring forth the data to engage your CEO in a realistic, 21st-century, business-relevant conversation about board diversity. At this juncture, you build your own strategic path. Should you offer to share with the board how the D&I initiative is progressing? Or should you prepare a report for the finance committee about lost opportunities due to a lack of diversity in your markets, suppliers, leadership, etc.? Or should you use the annual report as a conversation starter with someone on the board if you have that level of interaction? You need to think about how you should proceed. Having a board member champion diversity yields high dividends, even if he or she is not from a minority group.

Champions can also be groomed from the external world and can offer significant and effective support. The CEOs of community based organizations, local clergy, local university educators and students who have had a great internship experience can create networks of champions for your D&I initiative.

The relationships you build for community engagement are no different in their process than those you build internally. To identify and groom allies, it is critical to connect as human beings, as different human beings with mutual respect. Champions of diversity must be from a diversity of champions. That is one of the best secrets for success. Go find some allies.

Marie Y. Philippe, Ph.D.

Marie Y. Philippe, Ph.D.

Corporate Vice President, Culture and Organizational Effectiveness
The Lifetime Healthcare Companies

Well known for her leadership contribution in corporate culture transformation through strategic diversity initiatives and organizational change management. She can be reached at [email protected].