Diversity to Inclusion: 9 Steps You Can Take to Unlock Your Company’s Competitive Edge (Pt. 1)

Jul 18 · 8 min read
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Diversity in the workplace is often described as a double-edged sword: it may pose a risk for conflict or give organizations an incredible competitive edge. The key to unlocking that competitive edge? Inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are more than just a box to check to boost a company’s social brand; it’s good business, for any business. Diverse teams are more creative, productive, and innovative, and are better at problem-solving and decision-making because of the variety of perspectives and experiences represented. By including individuals from diverse and intersectional backgrounds, companies can better understand their market, mitigate unconscious bias, and enhance marketing efforts, helping them win in an increasingly diverse, global, and socially conscious marketplace. And here’s the icing on the cake — D&I also enables companies to:

  • Attract the best talent;
  • Improve employee satisfaction and retention rates;
  • Boost and improve leadership effectiveness; and
  • Have more organizational flexibility.

With all that said, it’s no surprise that diverse companies are 35% more likely to financially outperform the market — if properly managed through a culture of inclusion. Moral of the story? Companies that want to succeed in the future of work will need to make D&I a business priority or they will get left behind.

Last year, I launched Deloitte’s Refugee Workplace Integration program with the Tent Partnership for Refugees to research how employers could nurture the talents of minorities in the workplace, specifically focusing on refugee and immigrant populations. We found that top-performing companies focused on inclusion as a core company value, rather than diversity as a number. After all, successful workplace inclusion is more than just a hiring decision; it’s a commitment to fostering a culture that unlocks the full potential of each individual in a team.

Top-performing companies focused on inclusion as a core company value, rather than diversity as a number. After all, successful workplace inclusion is more than just a hiring decision.

We compiled dozens of leading D&I practices across six key parts of the talent lifecycle that benefit not only refugee and immigrant employees, but employees of all types of backgrounds. Here are some of the lessons we found in three of those key areas.

Note: Diversity is intersectional. In addition to gender, diversity encompasses race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic class, life experiences, ideology, personality, and other key characteristics. This means that many people have overlapping identities that don’t just tick one box!

Areas Every Inclusive Business Should Invest In

Learning and growth

Minority representation is disproportionately found in entry-level roles, and in order to be truly inclusive, it’s important for companies to have diverse representation up and down the chain of command. Developing and adapting learning and development programs to support minorities in growing with the business can both drive positive business outcomes and give employees a sense of purpose at work.

It’s important for companies to have diverse representation up and down the chain of command.

One company we interviewed, a European food manufacturer, recognized that many of their lineworkers had not gone to high school or college, which limited their ability to grow within the organization despite their strong leadership qualities. To change that, leaders at the company set up informal math classes and other basic skills training to give them the critical skills they needed to both improve their productivity and advance in the workplace.

In another case, a U.S.-based tech company launched coding courses and job shadowing programs that enabled employees to temporarily take on new roles, learn new skills, and gain exposure to different career paths so they could decide where they wanted to grow next.

Check out these initiatives to support learning and growth in the workplace.

1. Skill development and certifications

In addition to making initial and skills training accessible for all employees, additional programs such two-way cultural training, ongoing learning and development, and certification opportunities can give minority populations the confidence they need to put themselves forward for stretch opportunities. A key point that will make these initiatives stand out is including these courses in the workweek schedule, rather than expecting additional hours outside of work, which may be burdensome for employees with external responsibilities.

2. Exposure to growth opportunities

Underemployment is especially common in immigrant populations, since a number of conditions may lead even high-skilled employees to take lower-skilled roles. These roles do have value, such as opportunities for language development and professional advancement, but only when employers are committed to supporting and personalizing the development of those employees beyond that ‘starting point’. Skill assessments, conducted early and often, can help employers personalize growth paths for their employees. Showcasing growth stories of other employees, establishing formal mentorship programs, and offering leadership introductions can further advance growth opportunities for minority groups.

3. Leadership opportunities

As individuals progress in their careers, they can offer meaningful guidance to new employees that join the team. By empowering employees from minority populations to mentor or train new employees, those employees are able to develop new skills, showcase their leadership potential, and gain an increased sense of purpose in their work. Additionally, by creating spaces for them to provide meaningful feedback on areas of improvement for the company and giving them the resources to create change, employers can bring out the entrepreneurial qualities that will showcase and expand employees’ skills, engage them more meaningfully by giving them a stake in the game, and help the business grow and succeed.

4. Communication and feedback

Feedback can come in many forms: 360 performance reviews, check-ins between performance review cycles, or informal peer-to-peer feedback in a team. By encouraging frequent feedback and open communication, teams and companies can reinforce a safe space to speak up, ask questions, and offer new and “out-there” ideas. For example, during my time at Deloitte, we were encouraged to check-in with our managers every two weeks to give and receive feedback and adjust course in our projects as needed.

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Employee and team readiness

Successful D&I programs meet minorities where they are — which means preparing the full team with resources to create an inclusive environment. The same European food manufacturer mentioned earlier also realized that many of their employees had been at the company for over 20 years, during which there hadn’t been any significant change in their hiring and inclusion practices. They created D&I trainings for their staff, including education on the benefits of a more diverse workforce, trainings on cultural differences, and preparation for managers on improving collaboration in a multicultural team.

Successful D&I programs meet minorities where they are.

These leading practices can help prepare and engage your team to become champions of inclusion.

5. Structuring the team

Diverse teams are crucial to a company’s success in an increasingly fast-changing and unpredictable work. By structuring a balanced and multicultural team and creating productive friction, companies can foster more cross-cultural interactions, increase employee engagement, and unlock many of the performance benefits of a diverse and inclusive team. When building multicultural teams, these placements should be made based on business need, optimizing for where employees can add the most value.

6. Building understanding

Every individual has a unique life story — and with that comes a variety of positive and challenging circumstances they may have experienced. Celebrating your employee’s unique differences is a great way to build empathy and cohesion within a team, and further educating employees on the backgrounds and experiences of various minority groups can help enhance that cohesion. D&I trainings and clear expectations from leaders on what they expect from their managers and colleagues can improve cultural awareness from non-minority employees. It can also help them understand the different backgrounds, communication styles, and strengths of their colleagues, and mitigate unproductive friction.

Community-building

One of the managers we interviewed had a practice of taking his team out for a monthly lunch, each time exploring a different cuisine and increasing cultural awareness and storytelling as their workplace grew more diverse. Simple, meaningful gestures like this help build a sense of safety, belonging, and community within organizations, as well as more empathy, understanding, and engagement in day-to-day interactions amongst all employees — minorities and non-minorities alike.

Try these easy steps today to build cohesion and community in the workplace.

7. One-on-one buddy programs

One-on-one buddy programs are an incredibly impactful and easy way to build connection, community, and support. When I was starting off my career at Deloitte, I was assigned a peer buddy — an analyst in my group who had been at the firm for 6–18 months and could be a friend, confidant, and mentor for me through any questions I had. For minority populations who may not have the same level of cultural acclimation or comfort as others, it’s important to have a buddy to lean on — someone who has gone through many of the experiences they will soon go through and who can help them navigate company culture, introduce them to others in their fields of interest, and give them advice during challenges projects.

8. Organizational communities

Professional, identity-based, and informal social communities present opportunities for employees to have a “home” outside of their teams, as well as to give feedback to leadership on improvements for their community. At Deloitte, I had joined a women’s mentorship pod that met every month to talk about life, work, and how we could support one another to lean-in more on leadership opportunities.

9. Platforms for storytelling

Regular team events, such as shared lunches or dinners, local and cultural holidays, and birthday celebrations, are a great way to build connections, but one additional tweak brings the connection to a deeper level: creating platforms for storytelling and vulnerability. Whether at those events or through newsletters, retreats, or family-inclusive programming, these stories encourage open conversations that can go beyond small-talk or work-talk.

What’s next?

Diversity is a tremendously rewarding business investment, for all members of an organization, and when coupled with inclusion, presents a huge competitive advantage. These nine initiatives are a great starting point for unlocking the full impact of inclusion, and since organizations will have varying levels of D&I maturity, each organization can refine and/or develop initiatives based on their changing organizational and workforce needs. From a CEO to an HR leader, manager, or entry-level employee, every employee plays an important role in first understanding the changing needs of their diverse workforce, and then instigating, implementing, and improving inclusion initiatives.


I’d love to hear from you: What initiatives has your organization recently implemented to support a culture of inclusion? Where might some of the initiatives above fit within your organization’s talent lifecycle?

Get notified when the next part of this series is released here. Also posted on Linkedin and The Way We Lead blog. Adapted from Deloitte report ‘A New Home at Work: An employer’s guidebook to fostering inclusion for refugee employees’.


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Dalia Katan

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Dalia is a first-generation American and innovation strategist who is championing conversation on diversity, inclusion, and business performance.

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