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From the Top: Executive Sessions Offer Leaders A New Look at Their Firms

DiversityInc.com, August, 2001

By Linda Bean
© 2003 DiversityInc.com (reproduced with permission)


Diversity strategies and corporate business objectives must be fully aligned for success. Putting the two together only works if the symbiosis is directed by top management.

PRISM International, based in Sanford, Fla., recently conducted a survey, which found 99 percent of the diversity managers who responded said their diversity programs haven't yet been strategically integrated, said Linda Stokes, PRISM's president and chief executive officer.

"That clearly tells me that they need a way to help their corporations align diversity with the business - to see diversity through a business lens," Stokes said.

To that end, PRISM offers executive sessions - business meetings with top corporate executives designed to explain and explore how good diversity practices can help a company "accomplish its corporate goals," Stokes said.

"This is a business meeting. It is absolutely, fundamentally a business meeting," she said. "We talk about diversity as a corporate strategy."

For too long, Stokes said, corporations have contained their diversity practices in "silos" that stand separate from the company's business objectives. But failing to integrate diversity with "the business of the business" has bottom-line consequences, she added.

For example, companies' company's inability to retain talented women and people of color "is costing them dollars, both in salaries and knowledge that is walking right out the door," Stokes said.

Prior to the executive session, PRISM consultants meet with corporate diversity directors or members of the corporate diversity council to identify business challenges, Stokes said.

At the same time, PRISM does an external assessment- "benchmarking data for best-in-class diversity practices utilizing organizations within their industry and outside of their industry," Stokes said.

That information allows executives to draw comparisons between their companies and their competition.

Stokes said executive sessions are particularly useful "when a company is contemplating initiating a diversity process or to assist in integrating diversity into the business strategy."

"This offers executives an opportunity to discuss the impact of diversity on their businesses and incorporating diversity as part of their strategic plan," she said. "It also allows them to review their progress so far against other companies, including their competitors, from a workplace and marketplace perspective."

Often, executive sessions are called at the request of a company's diversity council or leadership team. That group may have already made some progress, "but they are asking 'What steps do we need to take from a strategic perspective?' " Stokes said.

PRISM provides both strategic and tactical direction for integrating diversity into the business.

Strategies include the corporate planning process, accountability and measurement and continuous improvement.

"Executives always ask how can you track and measure your progress against your plan," Stokes said. "One of the tactics we provide to answer that strategic question is the PRISM Diversity Scorecard."

The scorecard allows executives to look at their key performance indicators, set specific goals and measure their progress, both at a corporate level and at the level of individual business units.

"At the end of this day, this is a business issue," Stokes said. "It is tracked, measured and people are held accountable for results."


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