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Don't make these four mistakes when it comes to diversity

By Published on .

God-is Rivera
God-is Rivera

God-is Rivera just wanted to get her agency talking about issues of inclusion and diversity. But what ensued was a much broader ongoing effort and even a new job title as VML's director of inclusion and cultural resonance.

Rivera, who took on the title in August 2017, will be speaking at the Ad Age Survival Summit in Chicago next month on "Why diversity isn't just an HR problem."

She spoke with us about several ways companies should stop thinking about improving diversity and inclusion.

Stop thinking there's one single action that can fix diversity/inclusion in the workplace.

Let's use Starbucks as an example: The chain said Tuesday it planned to close 8,000 company-owned stores in the U.S. for one afternoon to educate employees about racial bias. That's reflective of many companies do when they see something negative happen; they choose to react with something like unconscious bias training.

There's nothing wrong with that, but Rivera says to remember that isn't where efforts should end.

"There's no single solution … There is no, 'If we just do this thing, then we'll check the box, we're good,'" Rivera says. "Sometimes people will throw money at a conference, and that's great — but that cannot be your solution to all these things that are living, breathing things."

Stop using one-off language to talk about efforts to be more inclusive.

VML doesn't even like to use the word "initiative" because the word "commitment" connotes that it is much more than just a one-off, Rivera says. "It's a commitment every day to continually be self-aware."

"Words are very powerful," she says. So don't use language that suggests a company isn't dedicated to trying to improve on a continual basis. That can be "disappointing rhetoric" for groups that have been negatively impacted.

Don't let numbers be the whole story.

Many companies are trying to course-correct a lack of representation by setting hiring quotas for diversity. But those might actually undermine the goal, Rivera says.

Instead, focus on removing barriers for creating a diverse workplace, and become more aware of implicit biases. When companies say, "We got 5 percent LGBT people hired, and there we go," says Rivera, "it's almost like undoing its purpose."

"There are no equal parts," Rivera adds. "It's really about being committed to removing stereotypes and biases -- really building a culture" and having a "melting pot of perspectives and cultures."

If, for example, a company has a quota of hiring 30 percent black women and stops when it reaches that number, it risks overlooking people who might be a great fit the company. "Maybe your company will thrive at 60 percent black women," she says. Don't pat yourself on the back unless you have really accomplished becoming more diverse. Your efforts should go deeper than just the numbers.

Stop putting inclusion and diversity in the corner.

Inclusion and diversity shouldn't just be a thought when you're hiring or simply an HR issue. It should be something that is threaded throughout the company so it's reflected its work and its culture. When it comes to pitch teams and even creative work itself, it's crucial to have a variety of perspectives.

"You have to stop thinking about inclusion and diversity as this … thing over there," Rivera says. "It has to be something completely threaded through your business."

Want to hear more? Sign up for Ad Age's Survival Summit May 2. Tickets can be bought here.

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