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There may still be a role for Diversity Councils and minority networks. I say, ‘may still be’ because there is an increasing (though often unspoken) sense in many businesses that they are little more than side-shows, disconnected from the main business. And they may be. But that doesn’t mean that isn’t a point to them.

In recent years, the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) agenda has split up into three distinct elements, often run by different teams.

  • 1.There is the classic Diversity agenda, with its focus on ensuring that organizations meet their legal requirements not to discriminate against minorities. This is all about compliance and avoiding reputational risk and typically involves policing people processes such as recruitment and reward, plus training leaders to avoid bias.
  • 2.There is the classic Inclusion agenda, with its focus on creating networks which aid the inclusion and acceptance of minorities. This is where D&I Councils come in - groups that organize networks and activities aimed specifically at minority groups (women’s mentoring networks are a good example of this kind of activity).
  • 3.And finally, there is the new, emerging face of D&I: the emphasis on diversity of talent. This tries to package D&I within a broader agenda of driving performance and innovation through ensuring you have a diverse group of employees with a diverse set of skills.

There is evidence that this latter, diversity of talent approach, is working, too, making D&I feel more relevant and attractive for performance-focused businesses. An easier sell to time-starved leaders. But one of the consequences of the growing success of this approach is that the classic Inclusion activity of D&I councils and minority networks can in comparison appear to be a bit parochial and are increasingly being criticized on two fronts. First, their business benefit is often not as obvious and direct as the diversity of talent approach. And second, as the activities they involve primarily involve minorities, their impact on the majority is often inherently less, limiting their capacity to have an impact on the broader organizational culture and behavior.

A new study, though, serves as a timely reminder that even if these criticisms are well-placed, traditional Inclusion activates may still have a point and purpose. Because the study found that a different approach to tackling Diversity and Inclusion may be required for majority and minority members, rather than a single approach for all.

So while diversity of talent is an agenda that resonates with the majority, Diversity Councils and networks focus on providing something for the minorities. They may not be as immediately relevant or persuasive for the majority as talking about diversity of talent. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a role to play in helping boost the attraction and retention of minority talent.

The lesson here then is that when we think about D&I strategy, we would do well to think about it not as a single, unified agenda, but as something that has distinct elements – part for the majority business culture, and part for the minorities within it.