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April 6, 2011Among the highlights from last week’s Catalyst Awards Conference was the standing-room only session, “Connections That Count: Using Social Media for Diversity and Inclusion,” featuring Catalyst’s Emily Troiano and Mike Otterman, plus social media and D&I experts Joe Gerstandt and Jessica Faye Carter. As Emily and Mike explain in this guest post, tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs start conversations and spark action—and their impact on diversity and inclusion initiatives can be profound.

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When companies use social media to connect with customers, profits can soar. When harnessed by popular uprisings, regimes can crumble. And when used to reach out to diverse communities, social tools can foster and enhance diversity in organizations.

While the terminology around social media may be confusing, or even overwhelming, keep in mind that it’s all about people, connections, and relationships—not technology.

For example, starting a public blog written by a diverse team of employees who focus on their company roles can show potential applicants and customers that you value D&I as an organization. An internal enterprise-wide “microblog”—powered by Yammer, for instance—is a great way to communicate D&I messages from senior leaders to the rest of the organization. Employee resource groups could also use this tool to let others in the organization know about activities and ideas worth sharing.

LinkedIn features thousands of groups related to women and people of diverse backgrounds. These groups can contain a rich pool of talent—and should not be overlooked in recruiting efforts. You can tap into them directly by placing job postings within the groups or by joining them and discussing opportunities with members.

Companies using social media for recruiting, however, need to make sure that D&I doesn’t stop at the door. If an organization presents itself as inclusive and diverse via social media, it needs to make sure the culture actually is inclusive. New employees can be unsettled—and jump ship—if there is a blatant disconnect between how a company portrays itself online and the reality of the workplace.

We believe that social media access is true measurement of an inclusive culture. With the proliferation of mobile internet, it’s increasingly pointless to block access from company computers. And if a company blocks Facebook or Twitter, what does it say about its culture and its trust in its employees?

Are you tapping the power of social media to foster an inclusive workplace? Jessica Faye Carter and Joe Gerstandt are trailblazers exploring the intersection of social media and D&I. Check out some of their work here and here. Get engaged, get connected, and see you out there!

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Emily Troiano manages Catalyst’s Information Center and fills numerous library roles, including responding to research requests on a variety of topics from member organizations, Catalyst staff, members of the media, and outside researchers. Ms. Troiano also works on standardizing virtual work at Catalyst, is heavily involved in managing and developing content for Catalyst’s intranet and external website, has authored a tool on workplace trends, and has served on the Catalyst Award Evaluation Committee.

Michael Otterman is a social media content writer for Catalyst and is the author of two non-fiction books, Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage and American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. He is a graduate of Boston University (BS, Journalism, 2003), University of Sydney (MA, Peace and Conflict Studies, 2006), and was Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sydney, from 2006 to 2009.