03/05/2012 02:15 pm ET Updated May 05, 2012

Master Steps for the Dance of Diversity

Diversity is inviting everyone to the party. Inclusion is getting everyone to dance. I heard this adage from a retail executive discussing the difference between thinking diversity is important and integrating diversity into the very fabric of a corporation.

My organization has been advocating for diversity in every aspect of the workplace for decades. Most recently the New York Urban League added celebrating diversity to advocating for it in the broadest sense. Every February we honor corporations that have leading business practices in diversity and inclusion. These corporations are selected through a competitive process where a corporate panel evaluates candidates based on their hiring, supplier relations, leadership and corporate citizenry. In nine years we have honored corporations from finance to law to insurance. Although the corporations' core businesses have varied, they shared some common best practices that made them true champions. These best practices were underscored in conversations I had with 2012 Champions of Diversity winner Don Lowery, Senior Vice-President, Government and Public Affairs, Nielsen, and Anthony Carter, Vice President, Global Diversity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, Johnson & Johnson, a 2011 Champion of Diversity winner. Excerpts of those conversations provide some steps for guiding a diversity effort.

Step One - You can't dance without a lead. Carter shared that effective 21st century leaders understand that the acquisition and advancement of talent will lead to stronger corporations and better results. Diversity is no longer just politically correct -- it is a business imperative. If corporations fail to recognize the importance of diversity they will lose the talent acquisition race. Lowery added that an effective CEO translates the impact of diversity to the bottom line. He encouraged CEOs to communicate to employees that having a workforce that reflects the customers being served or solicited is more likely to lead to better responses to the needs and desires of those customers.

Step Two - Everyone has to learn the steps. Effective diversity efforts have clear goals and measureable outcomes. These goals and outcomes form the critical success steps that are necessary for success. Lowery encouraged corporations to ensure that all employees are encouraged to think about how they can promote diversity in all of their activities, from working on specific projects to hiring of outside vendors and consultants. Managers and employees should be sensitized to the company's goal of promoting diversity. Diversity efforts should not be left only to the professionals in human resources, but must become part of the entire corporate culture.

Step Three - Select a song everyone will dance to. Getting people motivated around diversity requires clear goals and objectives, a clear understanding of how diversity helps improve business results as well as recognition and compensation for success. Lowery urges corporations to tie performance evaluation of senior managers -- including bonus or other compensation -- to meeting diversity targets. These targets should be developed after the collection and sharing of data on the company's current diversity picture and employee views on diversity. Employers should also survey their employees to get their views on what role diversity should play in the workforce and their perceptions on the effectiveness or lack thereof of diversity programs. This can be extremely helpful in designing diversity programs that best fit the individual company.

Step Four
- Smooth dance routine requires practice, commitment and hard work -- Johnson & Johnson's Global Office of Diversity & Inclusion helps develop strategies to achieve the global diversity vision including mentoring, affinity groups, and training. The corporation established Johnson & Johnson Diversity University. Diversity University is an online resource designed to help employees understand and value differences and the benefits of working collaboratively to meet business goals. With programs like Crossing the Finish Line and Ascend, Carter adds that these advancement opportunities are available to employees at all levels of the organization.

In an increasingly global economy a full commitment to diversity is a prerequisite, so turn on the music.

Arva Rice is the President & CEO of the New York Urban League. The New York Urban League hosts The Champions of Diversity Awards Breakfast each year to salute companies that embrace diversity to its fullest potential. The New York Urban League hopes that by paying tribute to the accomplishments of our annual honorees we can raise the diversity bar not only in the for profit sector but not-for-profit organizations as well.