Racial Diversity Initiatives in Professional Service Firms: What Factors Differentiate Successful from Unsuccessful Initiatives?

by Modupe Akinola & David A. Thomas

Overview — What organizational factors are needed for racial diversity initiatives to succeed? While diversity continues to grow in importance in organizations, very little research has focused on the processes that underlie diversity management. Modupe Akinola and David A. Thomas propose a study intended to explore management initiatives that focus on racial diversity in professional service firms. Given that such firms rely on the high level of skills, expertise, and diverse perspectives offered by their professional staff, these firms may be ideal laboratories for examining diversity initiatives. Key concepts include:

  • The success of diversity initiatives in professional service firms is driven by five criteria: a well articulated and widely bought-into diversity strategy, leadership support, an engaged employee base, innovative approaches to recruiting and retaining minorities, and management practices that are integrated and aligned with the initiative.
  • Firms that achieve sustained success in their diversity initiatives should show evidence of more of these success criteria relative to their peers in the same industries.
  • Organizations with a strong understanding of the factors that influence the success of diversity initiatives may begin to better recruit and retain minorities. Such insights may even extend to organizational practices unrelated to diversity.

Author Abstract

Diversity continues to be a key focus for organizations, driven by globalization and our understanding of the benefits associated with a diverse workforce. While it is critical for managers and researchers to understand the processes and outcomes associated with diversity, much work remains to be done in this important area of scholarship. This paper proposes a qualitative research project that will examine the racial diversity initiatives of eight professional service firms in an effort to identify the organizational elements that are critical to the success of diversity initiatives and differentiate successful from less successful initiatives. A conceptual framework is proposed that highlights the process through which diversity initiatives become successful and offers insight into how organizations can more effectively recruit and retain a diverse workforce.

Paper Information