According to an article published by the Harvard Business Review, most corporate diversity programs fail. So in an era, where more and more companies are focused on diversity and inclusion, what are we getting wrong? The problem is that while we can focus on bringing in more women and minority talent, if we don’t have programs in place to support them, they will continue to have challenges in succeeding. According to the article published, we need to improve the diversity training and have more mentorship programs in place. I would argue that our changes need to go even broader and more tactical.

There is a fundamental difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor will help coach, support, encourage, and provide ideas, whereas a sponsor is somebody that will actually go to bat for you. They will bring you in on the key meetings and make sure you have a seat at the table. They will out themselves on the line for you. You can have 100 mentors, but you only need one sponsor. Who is talking about you in the rooms you are not in? Companies need sponsorship programs for their diversity programs and need to grade their executives on how good of sponsors they are so that we can actually measure how well you are doing creating an inclusive culture. If you are not doing this well, you are not helping the company grow and succeed in the new workforce.

I was fortunate to have a woman boss-lady as a manager at my last company. She made sure that not only was I included in key meetings but that I was speaking to my work and delivering my recommendations. A lot of managers will include you but speak for you – we are not giving our future leaders a voice this way. She also had my back no matter what, which is a key difference between a good and bad manager. We have all had those managers that manage up and not down. Find a manager that will go to bat for you and have your back no matter what.

We also need to consider the needs of our diverse workforce. As a working mom, I have about 1,000 things every day on my to-do list. Starting at 6 AM, I am making breakfast, packing lunches, getting my kids ready for school and off to the bus. I am making sure they have rides to and from their afternoon activities, getting their homework done, and making dinner. I am also the social planner for our family to make sure we are connecting with friends and family on a regular basis. On top of this, I am running a company and spending quality time with my husband and kids. How am I doing this? I have the benefit of having a flexible work environment. I am able to start working at 7:15 AM when my kids get off on the bus and can work at night and on the weekends when I need to. I am not “clocking in” to a 9-5 where the culture is focused on hours spent rather than productivity. Maybe it’s time to get rid of our “butts in seat” culture and start to implement more flexible work environments where we can keep our women talent in the workforce and grow them into leader. This is also the case for many men that are the primary caretakers for the children by the way.

A lot of companies are also leaning on companies like Ceresa and Women@Austin to help foster and develop their women and minority leaders with the tools, training, and support they need to succeed. RetaiMeNot has gone as far as hiring a director of diversity and inclusion to lead the charge and other companies are on this same path.

So sponsorship programs, leadership development, and more flexible work environments might be a good start for something that is more tactical and embedded in the culture of our companies. I can’t wait until the day when there are more women and minorities at the table where decisions are being made!

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