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In today’s shifting employment landscape, creating a diverse work environment is at the top of most employers’ minds, and with good reason. In no uncertain terms, a diverse workforce—be it through racial, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability and disability variances and beyond—is an asset for any organization. Diversity positively impacts a business’ culture, practices, customer service, creativity, market reach, and even profit margin. It is arguably the responsibility of today’s modern business to ensure their workforce is diverse and inclusive. After all, business and commercial enterprises have long been vanguards in promoting cultural change.
Beyond that, however, an inclusive and diverse workforce must make good business sense. A PR Week article revealed that only six percent of consumers are interested in businesses operating under old, previously established methods. From the Fenty beauty line, which has been praised for both creating beauty and fashion goods that accommodate a broader-than-most range of skin tones and the company’s inclusivity in its product campaigns, to Wegmans Food Markets, which offers mobile technology that helps blind or low-vision customers shop independently, for-profit business is known leader for social change. (Wegman’s, unsurprisingly, was named Market Force Information’s annual survey Best Grocery Store in 2018.)
This is great for big business, but maybe you’re wondering how your workforce could make strides to become more inclusive in order to sustain its diversity? (The short answer: Thoughtful planning and employee buy-in.) How does diversity impact a business? (The very short answer: Positively, and in many ways!) And when is the “right” time for a business to shift its focus to creating a more diverse workforce? (The very very short answer: Today!) Read on to understand how creating an inclusive work environment is key to retaining a uniquely diverse workforce, providing top-notch customer service, and creating a stronger culture of active learning.
The terms diversity and inclusion get tossed around quite a bit nowadays, but understanding how the two ideas work together is key to building a sustainably healthy workforce. According to HR technology solutions leader ADP, “Diversity is the “what”; inclusion is the “how.” Diversity focuses on the makeup of your workforce — demographics such as gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, veteran status, just to name a few, and inclusion is a measure of culture that enables diversity to thrive.” In short, the key to maintaining a truly diverse workforce is adopting and sustaining a truly inclusive mindset, which allows you and your team to embrace the widest possible range of perspectives so everyone’s contributions and ideas are valued. In this way, employees can truly feel they are heard and will strive to do their best work.
Diversity has been a big corporate buzzword for many years, but the vast amount of rubber stamped diversity programs are set-up to fail. The reason being? A lack of employee engagement and buy-in from the start. Spending thousands of dollars on diversity educators, experts and consultants will surely be a waste of hard won funds if teams are not as excited about growing equity and inclusion as part of a mission and vision set forth early on by their employer. In short, inclusion should be baked right into the organizations’—both for-profit and non-profit—culture.
Importantly, employees at ALL levels, especially those in mid-level management positions, should be as excited about building an inclusive workforce as early career employees and executive-level leaders, boards and/or investors. Structured diversity initiatives that do not take a holistic approach to inclusive culture, but instead opt to offer structured (often rote) trainings that are aimed at reducing bias on the job or in hiring processes, or worse, preempt law suits by policing poorly calculated thoughts and actions, are unlikely to be successful, according to the Harvard Business Review.
Creating employee buy-in for inclusive work practices that encourage employees to share their thoughts and ideas openly and bring their “whole self” to work promise sustainable improvements to both office culture and productivity. “Research has also shown that inviting non-managers to diversity and inclusion workshops can help organizations better identify points of conflict and possible resolutions,” according to some experts. Creating opportunities for employees to take part in inclusion and diversity efforts could include, is but is absolutely not limited to:
Also called Employee Resource Groups, these communities are composed of employees of similar backgrounds, interests, ethnicities, interests, demographic factors and more. Affinity groups include, but are absolutely not limited, to female executives, people with similar religious or spiritual affiliations, LGBTQ identifying individuals or allies, and even parents and caregivers. Members of affinity groups gather together to discuss commonalities in the workplace, build collegial relationships, and even discuss issues of discrimination, where necessary. Research has shown that affinity groups improve employee retention, reducing the cost of employee turnover significantly.
DEI committees and task forces are typically composed of those employees most passionately interested in building a more inclusive workplace from the center of the organization on out. Typically members of these committees opt-in, and are composed of a diverse group of colleagues hailing from a wide swathe of departments and seniority levels. These committees should include non-managers. Experts believe DEI committees should agree to a shared understanding of goals, boundaries, desirable outcomes and more. They should also have the ear of leadership teams, having ample time to report out on their research, findings, suggestions for improvement, and suggested plans of action to the chief decision makers at your organization.
Of course, committees and task forces like this, especially those composed predominantly by people of color and other diverse sub-groups, should not be unduly burdened with executing diversity initiatives alone, and should not be charged with solving every, single diversity-related problem at your organization. Remember: DEI committee members are part of helping to identify issues and solutions. They are not the entire solution alone.
Creating a diverse workforce starts with ensuring there are diverse members on your C-Level team. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that among Fortune 500 CEOs only 24 are women (less than five percent of the total), only three are black, and only three are openly gay or lesbian.
What can we learn from this? If you are in the start-up phase of building your team, consider a deep, inclusive search for diverse candidates that could really lead from experience of all kinds, especially those outside of the white, heterosexual, male perspective. If you cannot shift your leadership team, and/or are already past the C-Suite building phase of your hiring, encourage transparency from the top-down. “White heterosexual males, who tend to dominate the leadership ranks, are significantly more likely than employees in diverse groups to say that the day-to-day experience and major decisions are free of bias.” BCG found that when leaders do not understand the regular bias employees face, they are unable to appropriately identify effective solutions.
So, can a more diverse workforce improve your organization? The answer is obviously: yes! When you encourage inclusion at work, you’ll see:
Employees with a wider breadth of experience will bring in new perspectives, new opportunities, and new solutions! People with different backgrounds see a problem in different ways. Encouraging your employees to bring their whole selves to work will lead to better idea sharing and more thoughtful conversation. Employees will be less afraid to speak up, and more likely to share what they once feared were “unpopular ideas” that could save your company money and time in the long run!
A 2017 study found a strong correlation between increased inclusion and improved decision making that resulted in better business performance. Diverse teams of decision makers outperformed individual decision makers 87 percent of the time.
Research from the McKinsey & Company found that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. “Companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns.”
Today, the demand for a diverse workplace is obvious, but the benefits of sustaining one are just as important. Organizations must focus less on diversity demographics, and more on building inclusive practices that embrace different perspectives in order to retain employees with a wide and varied range of experiences. Inclusive workplaces are those that will advance and innovate in the future; bringing together different groups of people with a like minded vision for learning from one another, challenging traditions and norms of the past, and growing through the open sharing of ideas, feedback, and conversation.