by Montserrat Cataldi


Companies that have more diverse teams have 19% higher revenue. Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. 67% of job seekers said a diverse workforce is important when considering job offers. Racially and ethnically diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35%.

However, there are only five black CEOs on the 2020 list of Fortune 500 companies. In fact, there are more CEOs who are named David than there are CEOs who are women. Moreover, minority applicants continue to delete reference from their race in their resumes and nearly half of LGBTQ Americans haven’t come out at work.

Why Aren’t Companies Taking Advantage of the Benefits of a Diverse & Inclusive Workforce?

Even though there are no definite answers, there are many issues that short-sighted leaders see when fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace. For starters, a diverse team can have a lot of conflicts due to culture differences and biases.

Yet, magic unfolds once the company creates a strong diversity climate in the workplace. A strong diversity climate is one that has considerable demographic diversity, which is integrated throughout the organization. A weak diversity climate, on the other hand, is one where employees look similar and the company doesn’t consistently promote diversity efforts.

To create a strong diversity climate at work, one must first understand that diversity is NOT the same as inclusion. Diversity does not ensure inclusion. Without inclusion, the benefits of diversity cannot be unleashed because minority workers will not feel encouraged to participate, which in turn, will hinder innovation and business growth.

As noted diversity advocate Vernā Myers puts it, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

A variety of strategies are detailed below to help leaders and organizations start their journey towards an inclusive work environment where ideas are free to flow and workers see each others’ differences as a strength rather than a setback.

Inclusive Leadership

A company with a strong diversity climate has evidence of support for diversity commitments at the top levels of the organization. Research indicates that diversity and inclusion initiatives are exponentially more effective when they are championed from the top of the organization. After all, employees are most likely to watch the actions (not just words) of those in leadership positions.

Leaders need to make sure that they are not unconsciously or subtly creating cultural norms that exclude people of different backgrounds. Employees who hesitate to open up are more likely to feel isolated, to leave their jobs, and spend a great deal of energy on concealing an aspect of their identity, leaving less energy for work. Thus, leaders need to make sure that they are creating an environment where workers feel that they can bring their whole selves to work.

An African American smiling and holding a flag of different colors to represent diversity and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion enables employees to bring their most authentic selves to work.

Company-Wide Policies

Culturally competent and inclusive companies have a written policy, mission, or vision statement which communicates the concepts of diversity into a meaningful operational definition. This allows an organization to monitor its progress toward developing a stronger diversity climate.

The statement cannot be simply an “add-on.” Instead, it must be stated in such as manner as to infuse the concepts throughout its operations, structures, and policies. Otherwise, such statements are only a cosmetic feature.

Strong and Compelling Action Plans

Develop a diversity action plan with clear objectives and timelines. Without an action plan, companies can lose sight of their goal and slow down progress.

Keep in mind that organizations need to continually work to ensure a strong diversity climate for their employees.

Oversight

Leaders are responsible for ensuring that an organization is following all ethical standards and that the culture is one where all workers feel included. Create an oversight team which is empowered to assess, develop, and monitor the organization’s development with respect to the diversity goals.

Gather Feedback and Grow From it

According to I/O At Work, effective feedback ensures a smooth flow of organizational goals from the leadership to employees, promotes trust, boosts creativity, and drives motivation (2020). A feedback-friendly culture is one that allows the benefits of feedback to enrich the entire workplace. 

Solicit feedback related to issues of race, culture, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. These may be useful in your movement toward a stronger diversity climate as such action sends a strong message to employees about the importance you place on identifying their needs and concerns. In addition, it helps you know whether what you are doing is having the intended consequences or not.

Hold Yourself Accountable for Progress Made

Build accountability into the system. People throughout the organization should be held responsible for achieving goals of diversity. Hold people responsible, otherwise your efforts can sometimes be overlooked.

Every single employee in the company should help foster an inclusive work environment by welcoming and encouraging different ideas, perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences.

Have a Clear Evaluation Criteria

What gets measured, gets done – its that simple.

Infuse diversity when hiring and promotion. At the same time, when performance reviews are conducted, ensure that one of the criteria being measured includes diversity and inclusion efforts.

Offer Mentorship

Recognize that mentoring and support networks are vital for success. In a research performed by Heidrick & Struggles, results showed that women and ethnic minority talent find formal mentoring programs valuable to their careers – indicating that formalizing the mentoring experience can be a key tool in helping this employee base accelerate their careers and achieve professional growth.

In the past, it was predominantly White males who enjoyed both formal and informal mentoring and support networks which either shut out people of color and women, or did little to provide them with such important help. “Women and ethnic minority professionals may place more value on mentoring because they tend to face more obstacles in progressing in their careers and are seeking advice and counsel that will help them accelerate their development and career progression,” said Mark Livingston, global managing partner of the Natural Resources sector and member of the CEO & Board practice at Heidrick & Struggles

Focus on the inclusiveness of your mentoring programs. Include everyone in this source of support. Companies who want to better unlock the potential of attracting, developing and retaining a diverse workforce should work to foster an environment that embraces mentorship as a part of the corporate culture.

Two women and two men each holding a big image of a lightbulb while smiling to demonstrate how diversity leads to greater creativity

Networking

Do not alienate minority employees. Encourage coalition building and networking among them. Being a culturally different individual in a primarily mono-cultural organization can deplete energy, alienate and discourage the minority worker. Clustering that allows for support and nourishment may ultimately lead to greater cross-cultural interactions in the long-term.

Offer affinity groups where like-minded people find a place where they can feel identified within the organization.

Offer Theoretical and Practical Training

Have a systematic and long-term commitment to educate the entire workforce concerning diversity issues. Diversity training should be an intimate part of the organization’s activities. This includes not only employees at the lower levels of employment, but also the entire workforce.  

Make sure that the diversity training you offer addresses systematic bias. It is important for people in your organization to understand how their blindspots and stereotypes take part in their decision making process, but no real change can happen until people understand the meaning of white privilege. Understanding what white privilege is and how it is conceptualized can be challenging. Education can be one of the greatest tools to deconstructing structural racism (Gassam, 2019).

Integrate with Society as a Whole

No organization exists apart from the wider community or society.  Community linkage is very important to aid in the recruitment, retention and promotion of socially marginalized group members.

Organizations should be viewed as both part of and a reflection of the wider community.

People from all backgrounds and experiences sitting and laughing in the floor, having a great time

An organization with a strong diversity climate is genuinely committed to diverse representation throughout the organization and at all levels. An open, supportive, and responsive environment are the norm as they purposefully include elements of diversity in their ongoing operations.

People are the greatest assets to your organizations.

When you support their identities, people enjoy working for you, which can result in an unmatchable competitive advantage for your organization.

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