An opportunity to discuss strategies for tackling common challenges brought forty diversity and inclusion professionals together for the Midwest Transportation Workforce Center’s first D&I Virtual Roundtable discussion on June 8. When they registered, attendees were asked to share their challenges and questions. Among their responses, some strong themes emerged. Common challenges shared by the attendees included:
- Gaining buy-in and support from senior leadership
- Demonstrating and communicating the value of diversity and inclusion
- Evolving corporate culture to not only recruit people with a broad range of backgrounds and ethnicities but to also welcome these people and make them want to stay
The roundtable discussion was the first in a three-part series hosted by MTWC this summer. The MTWC is hosting this series to address a need among D&I professionals for a place to share ideas, learn from peers, and network with others with similar goals.
The roundtables are being facilitated by Tremaine Maebry, an attorney and advocate who currently manages the Office of Diversity and Civil Rights at a major transit organization. Maebry kicked off the discussion by explaining why he chose the topic of this first roundtable.
“In my conversations with colleagues and other advocates, our discussions often center around how do we get a seat at the table or how do we get buy in or support from our executive leadership team,” said Maebry. “I say that most of our senior leaders understand the importance that diversity plays in our organizations especially when it comes to the bottom line, retention, recruitment, and profit. What is unclear is the role that the D&I professional plays and how we fit in. It can be difficult for leadership to see us as strategic partners. It’s important for us to understand our roles and what we’ve done to create value. We need to do that before we ask for a seat at the table. We need to be able to articulate that especially to those in senior positions.”
Presenters, George Watts and Laurie Blazek of Top Line Talent, discussed strategies that D&I professionals can use to improve communication, especially with senior executives. Using some of the strategies outlined in their recent book, “Becoming a Strategic Leader,” Watts walked through ways that people can align their communication to the personality traits of the people with whom they are trying to communicate.
Watts asked the people in the roundtable to consider how they ranked various aspects of their personality. Then, they were asked to consider the top traits of their boss or other member of senior leadership at their organization. Given certain traits, Watts outlined the best communication styles that work to communicate with people with those traits.
To demonstrate, Watts asked for a volunteer. The volunteer shared that her top personality traits, as defined by Watts’ model, are a tendency toward extroversion and open-mindedness. On the other hand, a person she needs to communicate with at work has an almost opposite set of personality traits with a tendency toward conscientiousness and being emotionally stable.
“He is looking for you to present a metrically based argument and a process. You have a tendency to sell how diversity can make the workforce more creative and innovative and it can expand the talent pool. What he really wants to hear is how diversity can improve financial performance and result in decision making,” suggested Watts.
Overall, Watts talked about how D&I professionals can rebrand themselves to better communicate with senior leaders at their organizations and adjust their personal communication style so that their messages are more well received by their audience.
“To earn a seat at the table it’s important for you to understand your personality structure and then understand how your audience wants to receive that information and hear that information,” explained Watts.
In addition to communication style and personality traits, Watts proposed that D&I professionals think about their profession as a whole.
“What business are you really in?” asked Watts. “You have to define yourself as a talent management professional and diversity is one of the tools in your toolkit. You have to put diversity in the larger context and see it as part of the bigger picture.”
A recording of the roundtable discussion is available here.
Attendees at the roundtable included people from apprenticeship programs, community and technical colleges, consulting groups, industry, non-profits, primary and secondary schools, state departments of labor and transportation, transit agencies, transportation agencies, and universities.
While this discussion focused on communicating with top leadership, the next roundtable, on July 18, will focus on “Building Diversity and Inclusion from the Ground Up.” Bridgett Willey, Director of Allied Health Education and Career Pathways at UW Health, will speak about her experiences developing programs in education, training, outreach, and workforce development that cultivate diversity and inclusion.
Before the next roundtable, D&I professionals are encouraged to continue the conversation via the MTWC Community of Practice by joining the group on Google+ where there is a special section devoted to Workforce Inclusion and Diversity.
For more information or if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Maria Hart at firstname.lastname@example.org.