Ode to MLK's Dream: Update Your Diversity Policy

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on August 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Achieving true diversity in the workplace can be a tricky matter. Our jurisprudence on affirmative action is hanging in the balance of obscurity, yet we still have a way to go in attaining proportional representation of minorities in employment. What's an in-house counsel to do about a company's diversity policy?

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech during the March to Washington, here are five ways to legally promote diversity at your workplace and keep MLK's dream alive:

  1. Don't show de facto favoritism to race. The beauty of diversity is that it transcends the color of your skin. A vast array of employee characteristics contributes to workplace diversity. Make sure your policy includes other marginalized groups, including those have been discriminated against based on: age, disability, ethnicity, family or marital status, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, physical and mental ability, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, veteran status, and other characteristics that make employees unique.
  2. Provide diversity awareness training. All employees should be required to attend and complete annual diversity awareness training to enhance their knowledge about inclusion in the workplace. Educate employees on conduct that reflects inclusion during work, at work functions at or away from the office, and at all other company-sponsored and participative events.
  3. Embed the policy with other provisions. Your diversity policy should piggy-back on other sections of the employee handbook, such as training programs, a code of conduct and performance review programs.
  4. Have a diversity management plan. Take a cue from the Department of Justice and implement a Diversity Management Plan to foster effective diversity management throughout your company, sustain progress over time, and ensure accountability for results. Establish measurable objectives and assess them annually.
  5. Show numbers and be visible. Put your money where your mouth is. Disclose the policy (or a summary) on the company's website in a clearly marked corporate governance section. Don't forget to include a "values statement" on your website that explains your mission to encourage diversity. Also, be sure to disclose your objective and results in your company's annual report.

To celebrate MLK's dream, refine your diversity policy and take a moment to recognize the need to remove barriers to the recruitment, retention, and advancement of talented employees from historically excluded populations who are currently underrepresented.

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