If You Want to Improve Business, You Need to Promote Diversity and Inclusion
Inclusion and fairness in the workplace is not simply the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. ~ Alexis Herman
Diversity in the workplace means that an organization employs a diverse team of people reflective of the society in which it exists and operates. However, subconsciously we define diversity by a few social categories, such as gender, race, etc. Diversity refers to the traits and characteristics that make people unique while inclusion refers to the behaviors and social norms that ensure people feel welcome.
In business, you do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems. In an increasingly connected global economy, diversity and inclusion have never been more critical in the battle for market dominance. Likewise, in government, diversity in the workplace guarantees organizational goal attainment and desired strategic outcomes. We can see diversity and inclusion promoted at the national level.
you do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems ~ James Clear
On December 19, 2011, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13595 on women, peace, and security. The EO promotes initiatives and activities that empower and enlist women and girls to achieve international peace and security. This effort galvanized support and recognized the greater need for diversity to promote national security.
Societal expectations of equality and fairness are woven into impassioned discussions spanning from the boardroom to the break room and beyond. Organizational leaders recognize the critical need to embrace the core tenets of diversity and inclusion to achieve financial goals. These goals are the actual competitive edge necessary to thrive in the global marketplace. At its core, any organization is simply a collection of people working in cooperation with a common goal in mind. Their skills are the HOW, and the ideas they share are the WHAT.
Leaders and managers fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion recognize that creative freedom runs deep into the culture’s roots. Maintaining the momentum of success exposes the “spillover effect” that diversity and inclusion have on consumers, clients, and customers. So, we see that diversity and inclusion is a cyclical process with a continuous feedback loop. Customers, consumers, and clients alike expect products and services born from untarnished excellence. Excellence can be achieved with a workplace culture steeped in unwavering respect, transparent intentions, and unbridled freedom of creative processes.
How true is it that organizational leaders are the most appropriate source for ingraining diversity and inclusion into workplace culture? Where do we begin with a topic that arguably has millions of touchpoints?
With the employees, of course, without whom organizations wouldn’t exist. Poor retention, high absenteeism, and high turnover is a bellwether for an insufficient Diversity and Inclusion program.
And, what employees see is what customers, consumers, and clients get.
In August 2020, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Racial Equity. The 13 member commission was initially tasked with defining what diversity means. Much of the research upon which this commission is relying illustrates a deeply troubling trend of unconscious bias and blind spots within organizations. One such source included a recent SHRM survey that asked respondents about racism in the workplace. The study found that 7% of white workers felt that there was racism in the workplace, while the response rate of black workers was 35% felt that there was racism in the workplace.
Patricia Jameson, MA, CDE, SHRM-SCP, Director, Overseas Diversity, and Equity Programs at the University of Maryland Global Campus Europe, echoes this sentiment in her observation of disparate workplace perspectives. “Diversity is viewed as an opportunity or a threat depending on the lens a person is looking through.” Jameson further notes that employees can frequently get stuck in their comfort zone, “including the same ideas, the same way of working and the people we feel comfortable with.”
Diversity in the workplace addresses our blind spots. This is a key factor in understanding the pivotal shift that needs to take place in the workplace. When we talk about a culture shift in organizations, what we are actually saying is that it is a grassroots effort. It is a call to action for executives, managers, and first-line supervisors to define diversity and inclusion, create inclusion councils, and measure success. Likewise, employees must fundamentally understand that their success is co-dependent upon leading with a perspective of diversity and inclusion more so than technical skills. How do organizations tell the story of their diversity and inclusion journey that is holistically balanced?
So What Does it Mean?
According to a recent report from the Harvard Business Review (HBR), organizations are incorporating diversity and inclusion efforts into core business objectives with data-driven, empirical support. Measurement of diversity data at established, time-based intervals provides critical data that tells a “story” of impact on the organization. This offers a more controlled approach to the interpretation of data, even with the influence of environmental factors on unconscious bias and overall workplace perspectives. The workplace complaints are frequently viewed as derogatory and negative, instead of opportunities for organizational feedback and growth. Patricia Jameson acknowledges that a shift away from a threat perspective is necessary for organizations to fully access to talent pool within the workforce.
The HBR report suggests that the utilization of a neutral third-party for the intake of complaints helps to neutralize unconscious bias and instead act as a support mechanism for employees. Accounting for additional variables such as biased technology and historically small sample sizes of minorities within employee populations further supports a means of empirically sound data collection and fact-based storytelling. Awareness of biases, perspectives, and a clear need for reliable diversity and inclusion data, may reveal how organizations can harness the incredible potential of creative talent within their employee populations.
So How Do We Get There?
Diversity and inclusion is not an aspirational goal; it is an achievable goal. Organizations must create a symbiotic relationship between employees and leadership in the hiring process. A part of that process is the regular review of company diversity and inclusion policies. Diversity and inclusion are critical components of every recruitment and retention strategy. In fact, diversity and inclusion begin with a thought in boundless form, actioned by an idea, and realized by embracing a shared understanding. It is a call to action for executives, organizational leaders, and hiring officials to be mindful of their biases and take responsibility for their personal communications. Likewise, it’s the recognition that every individual can play a role in fostering an environment of diversity and inclusion.
The value proposition is in the priceless perspective of organizational leaders and managers. The call to action creates a workplace where key activities lead with respect, with the organizational mission in mind.
Workplace conversations– leaders and employees must be committed to the cultural integration of diversity and inclusion. Communication should be transparent, clear, and without bias.
Personal responsibility– every employee is responsible for fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion. That means leading by example and remaining mindful that every conversation is an opportunity to reinforce the individual’s creative freedom and respect. Avoid exclusionary language and behaviors.
Measure, measure, and measure again– leaders must invest in the measurement of diversity data at regular intervals and ensure that those gathering data, as well as the technology, are without bias.
Councils– organizations must create Inclusion Councils as a neutral entity tasked with overseeing a diverse workforce. These councils must have executive sponsorship.
Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers ~ Josh Bersin