Tips from the Pros: Creating Workplace Diversity

By Kallan Louis

Diversity in the workplace is more than just a matter of the morally right thing to do. It is an invaluable resource for business owners that can create a pipeline to top talent and ideas.

A study from the Harvard Business Review discovered that some of the most heavily relied upon methods to cultivate workplace diversity, including mandatory diversity training, are some of the least effective ways to transform companies into more inclusive environments. In fact, those methods can have a negative impact and cause animosity among employees.

“The reality is that a business is not nearly as strong as it could be if it does not include the input and perspective of folks from different backgrounds,” said Shalanna Pirtle, a partner at the law firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP, who practices employment law. “By ‘backgrounds,’ I mean socioeconomic status, national origin, gender, race, sexual orientation, work experience – all of the factors that make us who we are. That type of diversity is critical to coming up with new ideas and asking important questions.”

Pirtle wears multiple hats at Parker Poe, serving as the firm’s diversity and inclusion committee chair. She assists in carrying out the firm’s mission of building on initiatives to improve the diversity and inclusion of its employees, developing a pipeline for minority students interested in the legal profession and collaborating with clients and local organizations who share the firm’s commitment to giving everyone a voice at the table. Pirtle shared a few thoughts on how business owners can create a workplace diversity.

Intentionality: Pirtle’s overarching piece of advice is to be intentional and transparent about your diversity efforts: “Intentionality is more than just saying I want to have more voices at the table – it is taking steps to actually get those voices to the table. That is usually encompassed in the proverbial saying ‘put your money where your mouth is.”

Appointment of Leadership to Own Diversity Efforts: Pirtle suggested selecting one or two leaders who are energized about diversity and inclusion to own the responsibility on behalf of the business. From there, build a team. Pirtle said that’s how Parker Poe grew its diversity and inclusion committee over the last 15 years.

Recruitment in Targeted and Nontraditional Ways: Pirtle said business owners and employers need to think outside the box regarding recruiting. Her firm targets HBCUs, minority job fairs and alumni networks. She also suggested connecting with minority associations within your industry, advertising open positions through the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, the Latin American Chamber of Commerce and in minority-focused publications, and offering incentives to current staff members for helping to find new hires.

Development of Minority Talent Pipelines: Business owners can create a pipeline of minority professionals through student development and mentoring programs. For more than a decade, Parker Poe has hosted THRIVE, a program to help minority students navigate law school and successfully transition into legal careers.

Establish Employee Resource Groups and Activities: Establish groups in which employees who share demographics, such as gender and ethnicity, can meet, support each other and create programs. Offer entertaining opportunities for employees to learn and engage different groups of people.

While there is a financial commitment associated with some of these options, some cost only time and a willingness to invest. Pirtle believes that’s a small price to pay to ensure the overall cohesiveness of your team and long-term success of the business.