From College to Career What I Have Learned About Diversity and Inclusion

The second installment in a three-part series (2 of 3) on Lessons of Diversity & Inclusion.

Last time out I shared lessons I have learned about diversity from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. My next two posts cover a period of time from college to career. Specifically, professional experiences which have taken place during my time as a Diversity Recruiter.

For the past 15 years, I have recruited military officers for several top MBA schools, including MIT Sloan, Georgetown McDonough, UCLA Anderson and Duke Fuqua. I have served under-represented student populations who because of race, gender and economic standing fall under what many bschools consider to be a diversity umbrella.

The military is considered to represent a diverse student population because, on a broader scale, it is largest diversity employer in the world. The military doesn’t judge. Irrespective of class, race, socio-economic status or orientation, it accepts all types of individual candidates who are interested in serving our country.

We all know the U.S. military is an institution in the true meaning of that word. However, because of subjective opinions and bad information most people outside the services greatly underestimate its importance. Personal biases and politics aside, if you consider real benefits and direct applications to our economy, our military is vital.

By way of example, beginning with landmark studies in the 50s-60s, the military helped to create the model of leadership still widely used in business today. The military also played crucial roles in the discovery and early development of the internet. Both GPS technology and mobile telephony also originated in the services. These are but a few areas where the military helped create tremendous economic wealth, opportunity and success of entire industries.

It should then come as no surprise to you that most of the leaders I recruit perform at a very high level. Some of which rival, and often surpass, their civilian counter parts. That’s why schools such as Cornell, Vanderbilt and the University of Florida pay me to recruit military students for their schools.

I have experienced much in my role as a Diversity Recruiter. Two lessons on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) stand out to me:

1) While both D&I hold substantial value on several levels, I have learned that diversity does not automatically mean inclusion. They are connected and also separate. Diversity occurs throughout at the beginning, middle and end of every cycle. It is subjective in that it takes on different meaning for every organization.  Diversity also happens at more of a program level (see also Lesson #2 below) and is easier to demonstrate. Inclusion should be the ultimate end goal and many organizations believe it has the most payoff in real terms. However, it is challenging, layered and complex. Steps such as conscious decisions and ongoing efforts to integrate must happen before inclusion can take hold. Therefore, integration is a precursor that leads to lower levels of inclusion. It takes time and ongoing, create-a-culture effort before full inclusion can establish itself.  So, if diversity is cultivated it will eventually lead to inclusion. The main takeaway is that diversity and inclusion are worthwhile. Both can be valuable and are factors which contribute to success in innovation, job satisfaction and productivity.

2) The people and organizations who make a substantial and lasting difference take action on D&I. Rather than advertise, or give it lip service, they earn reputations as sponsors of D&I. This happens, because they act in the form of concrete initiatives which are backed by commitment to ongoing investment. The best organizations go one step further to preserve D&I programs. Rather than be dependent upon, and subject to, a budget they move past initiatives by growing and making their programs self supportive. This allows any D&I program to become a legacy and take on a life of its own.

Please read part one and also join me in part three on Diversity & Inclusion.

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