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Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion

The Business Case for Building a Community That Appreciates and Promotes Diversity and Inclusion

By Kelly N. Burrello, Senior Consultant, DTG

Mauricio Velásquez, MBA, President, CEO

What comes to mind when you think of the ideal community? In these challenging economic times these kinds of questions can add tremendous value to the stakeholders asking them.  Does your ideal community embrace innovation, encourage talent, and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit that produces new businesses, new products and services?  Is it important for the ideal community to enhance the quality of life of its citizens?

What resources and initiatives could be implemented to attract and retain the innovation and creativity brought to communities by entrepreneurs, college graduates, and corporate entities. How can our community plan support economic development and growth?  

As community leaders begin to design a plan to achieve its ideal community, consider taking some cues and lessons learned from corporate entities reaping the rewards of business success by simply investing time and resources in creating comprehensive diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives.  As a result, these organizations enjoy an ever-increasing customer base, a large share of their markets, and they maintain work environments with happy employees.

We have known for some time.  Research conducted on factors that contribute to overall success of corporate entities has confirmed:  Organizations that welcome and embrace diversity have more customers, a larger share of their markets, greater profitability, and high morale among its workforce because diversity allows for the flexibility of ideas, an appreciation of work styles, skill levels, and individual cultural beliefs  (Society for Human Resources Management, Dec 2006, Commission on Racial Equality, United Kingdom, 2007, Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam, January, 2007).  Moreover, companies employing a diverse workforce greatly contribute to decreasing negative attitudes and behaviors among racial, ethnic and cultural groups because diversity—in practice—allows groups to explore more points of views.  Dominant groups are thus, more likely to yield to the needs of subordinate groups.  

Making the Business Case for Diversity

Corporate entities begin making their business case for diversity for many reasons.  Among the main issues that prompt corporations to develop a business case for diversity is: 1) a desire to increase the diversity of its workforce, 2) to enter into new markets, or 3) to regain the confidence of diverse employees or customers they have lost due to its lack of awareness of the needs of these groups.  

Let us start with the “ground breakers.” One of the most publicized cases about a company that turned negative publicity, lost profits, and lost customer and employee confidence into a success story is Denny’s.  In the late eighties and early nineties Denny’s Corporation admitted its lack of sensitivity to the needs of its diverse customers after several incidences where  people of color reported being mistreated while attempting to dine at its restaurants.  Denny’s paid out several millions of dollars in lawsuits before finally admitting that a problem existed.  The corporate leaders declared, “If we want to stay in business we must immediately find a way to be more sensitive to the needs of our diverse customer base.”  Thus, Denny’s business case for diversity was born.     

Coca-Cola, Mitsubishi, Texaco, and Home Depot made their business case for diversity following their loss of millions of dollars resulting from allegations of insensitive and discriminatory business practices towards minority (including women, age, and disabled) employees and customers.

Companies like IBM, and Wal-Mart may have suffered some negative press around insensitivity over the years, but their steps in making a corporate business case for diversity resulted mainly from their desire to grab a larger share of markets and ensure a repeat customer base.  

Once a business case for diversity and inclusion is made, corporate entities put their efforts into high gear to ensure goals are achieved.  Community organizers seeking to implement successful diversity initiatives can easily use the processes that have made corporate diversity and inclusion initiatives successful.  The following elements are success factors used by corporate entities.  
  • The CEO and Leadership Team Must Accept Diversity as Their Personal Responsibility

In other words the CEO doesn’t just approve the program he/she actually gets involved with making the initiative a success

  • Assess Needs and Formulate a Specific Diversity and Inclusion Plan

Ask your employee and customers what needs aren’t being met, and find out the organizations strengths and weaknesses to sustain a diversity initiative.

  • Define “What’s in It for Me?”

Ensure that all employees know what they can expect and how they will benefit from the diversity initiative.

  • No Blame—Shared Responsibility

Let it go!  It’s a hard effort for most, but don’t continue to blame certain groups for past social wrongs. Knocking someone over the head about how bad they are/were will never get their full buy in.

  • Set Clear Expectations and a System of Accountability

What will be the role of managers, supervisors, employee groups, and work teams?  Be clear and realistic about what is expected from everyone and hold them accountable.

  • Create Measures to Assess Progress

Track progress by reassessing met or unmet needs of employees and customers.  Reevaluate programs that were implemented as a result of the diversity initiative to see if they actually made a difference in changing attitudes or increasing business success.

  • Create a Broad-Ranging Initiative

Conduct awareness training, develop new recruitment strategies to attract diverse groups, engage in community outreach to develop new markets.

  • Provide Sufficient Resources and an Appropriate Infrastructure

Build an infrastructure—to have the organizational practices, personnel,

and budget necessary to achieve diversity goals.

  • Don’t go it alone.  Seek Assistance from experts

Consulting firms specializing in diversity programs and initiatives can guide an organization through the process.  Consultants have knowledge of best practices, and can provide assessments, training, and advice on program development.

Ground Breaking Cities that Have Made the Business Case for Diversity

Michigan’s Cool Cities Initiative
In June 2003, the State of Michigan created a business case for diversity to revitalize communities, build community spirit, and most importantly, to retain its "knowledge workers" who were leaving Michigan in alarming numbers.  A year later Michigan adopted the “Cool Cities” initiative lead by Governor Jennifer M. Granholm's who gained the participation of 130 cities and communities who have made a pledge to take create programs, resources and services available to provide new ways for people of different backgrounds, races, ages, sexual orientation and religions to easily connect and feel they can bring their talent and innovation to communities that welcome their diverse perspectives.
See:  www.

The “Birmingham Pledge”
In November 1997, inspired by the historic events in Birmingham during the civil rights movement, Birmingham attorney James E. Rotch composed a statement - - a personal commitment, to recognize the importance of every individual, regardless of race or color. This commitment became The Birmingham Pledge, a grassroots movement initiated and promoted by the Community Affairs Committee of Operation New Birmingham to eliminate prejudice in Birmingham and throughout the world.
This Pledge is our way to share with the world our community's commitment to eliminate prejudice in the lives of all people. It is a personal, daily commitment to remove prejudice from our own lives, as well as the lives of others, and to treat all people with respect.   See:

Congratulations!  Your community is ready to take active steps to make every resident feel a valued part of the community.  The road will be bumpy at times, so keep in mind that everyone must be included in the dialogue, willing to take on active roles, and be accountable for their actions.  In addition, the initiative must include careful planning, success measurements, and most importantly, patience to ensure the programs can take root.

Mauricio Velásquez, MBA, is President, CEO and Founder of the Diversity Training Group.

Kelly Burrello is a Senior Consultant with the Diversity Training Group of Herndon, VA.

DTG is an internationally recognized, minority-owned diversity strategy, training, and consulting boutique specializing in the design and implementation of diversity initiatives for city’s and municipalities, private corporations, universities, government agencies and non-profit organizations.  

City municipalities DTG has successfully worked with include:  The City of Alexandria, VA, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, KY, City of Manassas, VA and will be assisting the City of Los Angeles subway system (Metrolink) with its diversity initiatives.

The Diversity Training Group, Inc.
692 Pine Street, Herndon, VA 20170
Tel. 703.478.9191 / Fax 703.709.0591 / Web