By Tisa Jackson
Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Union Bank, N.A

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others? Do not say you will do it ‘someday,’ now is the time. Do not say ‘someone’ will do it, you are the one…”

These words echo a familiar theme for diversity professionals, because we enter this work with a commitment to doing everything we can to achieve equity for all people.

Achieving progress is more challenging in this global economic climate. Recent financial strains have resulted in some companies cutting or reducing their diversity and inclusion teams. But the economic downturn offers some surprising opportunities, and forward-thinking executives recognize new business potential in that their clients and customers are more diverse. The following recommendations can help you lead diversity and inclusion transformation.

Change your mindset. Diversity and inclusion is much more than a program; it is a cultural change process comprised of programs, processes, policies and initiatives tied to business. Focus on key processes instead of primarily focusing on managing hiring or training programs.

De-specialize your thinking. Diversity and inclusion has continued to expand beyond staffing and human resources. Depending on the industry and project, you may need to think like a marketer, buyer, public relations professional or business development representative in the course of a week. Savor the opportunity to make positive change and embrace the opportunity to de-specialize your thinking.

Challenge conventional wisdom. Evaluate your organization’s needs and act accordingly rather than following the crowd. For example, focus on providing sponsors instead of just mentors to high potential employees. A sponsor can assist in assigning visible projects. A mentor is also important in terms of providing advice and serving as a sounding board, but opening doors to sponsorship can be a viable strategy in engaging executives of all backgrounds in developing diverse talent.

When looking externally, toward customers, suppliers, vendors and candidates, choose partnership over sponsorship. If you merely sponsor an event, the community doesn’t really get to know you. A partner creates a relationship and is actively engaged in organizations as a board member or speaker. You need to be aware of their mission so they can help you with your mission.

Regardless of the economic environment, diversity and inclusion is an opportunity, not a problem. We are responsible for keeping the vision. We must continuously challenge ourselves to lead the expanding scope and needs of diversity and inclusion within the business community.

Tisa Jackson

Tisa Jackson

Tisa Jackson, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion for Union Bank, N.A., is founder of the Professional & Technical Diversity Network (PTDN) of greater Los Angeles, a diversity consortium comprised of companies committed to diversity and inclusion. Headquartered in San Francisco, UnionBanCal Corporation is a financial holding company with assets of $79.1 billion at December 31, 2010. Its primary subsidiary, Union Bank, N.A., is a full service commercial bank providing services to individuals, small businesses, middle-market companies, and major corporations. The bank operates 401 banking offices in California, Washington, Oregon and Texas, as well as two international offices.