Five Simple Truths About Diversity and Inclusion

Remember Leslie Miley?

In the fall of 2015, he created ripples of raised eyebrows across the tech world (and beyond) when he blogged about his decision to leave Twitter, the social media giant. His reason?

Their poor response to diversity issues — specifically those revolving around its hiring practices and the low representation of black and Hispanic workers in its workforce.

Miley’s revelation rang loud and wide, and it raised some tough questions for everyone within earshot. How bad did an experience have to be in order to justify quitting a job that most in your field would do anything to have?

Fast forward to early 2016, when I found myself presenting on the topic of building more inclusive workplaces to a packed room of lesbian technologists at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. So much has improved in the aftermath of Miley’s blog and the ensuing media scrutiny — including the appointment of Jeff Siminoff, the company’s new diversity lead.

Losing good people is not only expensive, but it can also be demoralizing and have far-reaching consequences, both internally and externally. But Miley’s story reveals that the high-profile departure of diverse talent can be the much-needed catalyst for positive systemic change — and that can only be a good thing, right?

But this scenario also raises the question: How do we avoid missed opportunities in our workplaces now, today — and before things get to that point?

In my work as a diversity and inclusion expert, I find that a great place to start is with an in-depth assessment of the current state of your organization. You’re also going to need a firm commitment from the top.

But before you, or anyone in your organization, begin to embrace diversity and build a more inclusive culture, here are a few realities to keep top of mind:

  1. Change is hard

Fear of the unknown makes implementing and maintaining any new strategy demanding for managers and employees alike. Concerns about backlash or resistance can lead to paralysis and no progress. But there are powerful tools to make these conversations more productive and more enjoyable — without anyone shaming or blaming or pointing the finger.

Also, it’s important to remember that those with greater privilege have a unique opportunity to lead from a place of allyship — to stand for and drive outcomes that many lack the positional power or social capital to lead. From the factory floor to the executive suite, all have a role to play in inclusion efforts.

  1. Most of a company’s untapped diversity and inclusion knowledge lives in middle and entry levels

Corporate America suffers from a leaky workforce pipeline. If women and people of color do not see themselves represented in the senior leadership team, if they see themselves repeatedly passed over for opportunities, if they perceive that they have to work twice as hard to get on the decision makers’ radar screens, they will eventually either disengage from their work or begin to look elsewhere.

That’s why it’s critical to construct a system that guides and cultivates talent from the entry level, creating channels of communication through which every group has a voice and everyone benefits by listening.

Those in the middle and below in organizations also carry an outsized amount of wisdom about the external world — about customers, partners, and incoming talent — because they are closer to the ground and further away from the so-called ivory tower. These are your cultural informants, inside and outside the organization. Don’t leave this critical knowledge on the table.

  1. Equality is good for people and for business

We now have access to a myriad of statistics, demonstrated return on investment, and anecdotal feedback about the bottom-line impact of diversity, as well as the role that the perception of equal opportunity plays in building successful enterprises, of all shapes and sizes.

Reality and perception are equally important for success. I share more insights on this in my new book: Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will To Change.

  1. Workplace diversity and inclusion mean respecting all people’s inherent differences equally.

The golden rule, treating others as you would like to be treated, is out. Instead, the platinum rule is in: Treat others as they would like to be treated.

That means learning to ask what that entails, because the answer will be different for different members of your organization. People need to understand that others’ experiences are different but just as valid as their own, before they can really learn how to treat their colleagues in the way that they prefer to be treated.

We will need to become expert at understanding our lenses, and then seeing the world, and the workplace, through the lenses of others, to create real change.

  1. Unconscious biases and unexamined cultural values and standards affect everything.

And by “everything”, I mean everything from hiring requirements to work environments to how some continue to believe that the workplace is a meritocracy (quick tip: it’s not).

Providing the same starting line for employees doesn’t mean that everyone actually starts from the same place. It’s essential to understand how employees get to the starting line in the first place — the hurdles that they face in the career race which might be invisible to you — in order to create truly equal opportunities in the workplace.

The key to managing and leading through change is to understand the need for it — where the pain point is, the why for change — and then to rally your change drivers and tools to tackle the how.

As people who feel inspired to be catalysts for any kind of change, we must continue to look through multiple lenses at the challenge — from the individual all the way to executive leadership — and understand what might enlist them as partners in the effort.

In this way, we can speed change by educating ourselves and others about the negative effects of bias.

Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker and diversity and inclusion expert. Informed by more than a decade consulting to Fortune 500 companies, her new book entitled Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will To Change. (Advantage Media Group, November Fall 2016) creates a compelling case for leadership to embrace the opportunity that diversity represents, for their own growth and for the success of their organizations, while simultaneously empowering advocates at all levels to find their voice and be a driving force in creating more enlightened organizations that resonate in a fast-changing world.