The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Diverse and inclusive workplaces have better business results than organizations with lower diversity. An influential 2015 study, titled Diversity Matters, by global management consultant group McKinsey and Company, found that diverse businesses outperform their less diverse industry counterparts.

According to the research, companies in the top quarter for racial and ethnic diversity, had a 35 percent greater chance of better financial returns than companies with lower diversity. Organizations with the greatest gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have better financial returns. And in the US, racial and ethnic diversity in the executive suite results in increased corporate earnings.

Yet, improvements in workforce diversity—most notably in the tech industry—are proving difficult for many companies and industries. To give change a push, California just passed a landmark law requiring at least one female member on the board of directors of publicly traded companies headquartered in the state. Depending on the size of the board, the requirement goes up to three female directors by 2022.

The Challenge of Workplace Diversity and Inclusion

Many organizations believe in the power of diversity and are open to inclusion, but diversity and inclusion don’t occur without a conscious effort and concrete steps. This can be a significant challenge to moving the needle on diversity. It takes an investment of thought, time and commitment to improve diversity, and many organizations in today’s fast-moving marketplace don’t believe they have those resources to spare.

Another roadblock is confusion about the meaning of diversity and inclusion. Let’s start by defining the two terms—which are frequently used in tandem—before we share tips for improving your company’s diversity and inclusion strategy.

What Is Diversity in the Workplace?

A diverse workplace is one characterized by employees with varied backgrounds and beliefs. Differences of gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and age are represented in a diverse workforce. Diversity doesn’t mean your company will have a workplace that ticks every box-—that is not the goal. However, a company that fosters a diverse workplace shouldn’t be homogenous. Truly diverse businesses will have employees from different backgrounds at any given time and express a clear commitment to remaining open to all.

What Is an Inclusive Workplace?

Diversity and inclusion are always paired up because neither is successful without the other. Vernā Myers, a leading inclusion strategist recently hired by Netflix, describes the difference between the two terms this way: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Diversity only thrives in companies that also commit to fostering an inclusive workplace. You can think of diversity as a collection of varied ingredients and inclusion as the recipe. Use only one or two ingredients and the results won’t be successful. But add a wide variety of ingredients that bring out the best in each other, and you have a combination that works.

The recipe for inclusion is making everyone feel welcome to contribute at work and valued for their contributions, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.

Diversity and Inclusion Best Practices

Involve Everyone. It’s important that diversity and inclusion is prioritized at every level of your organization. Diversity should be modeled in the C-suite with leaders from different backgrounds. This sends a clear message to the entire company that diversity is valued.

Sometimes, an organization’s leadership will meet with diversity specialists, engage in a discussion, nod their heads a lot and feel they’ve moved the needle on diversity. They haven’t. It’s important that the C-suite is invested in improving diversity and inclusion efforts. When they are fully engaged, they’re more likely to improve awareness in hiring managers, team leaders, and every employee—which is also necessary for success.

Encourage Authenticity. According to research by The Center for Talent innovation, minority employees expend a lot of energy changing themselves to conform to their workplaces. Their study found, 37 percent of African-American and Hispanic respondents, and 45 percent of Asian respondents said they compromised their authenticity at work to fit in with expectations. According to another study of STEM-field by the same group, acting ‘like a man’ was advantageous to gaining a leadership position, no matter your gender.

While everyone has to maintain professionalism at work, it’s important for companies to recognize that, historically, professionalism has been closely aligned with an educated white male. All of your employees, as well as job candidates, should know they can genuinely share themselves without negative repercussions on their careers. Consider organizing employee potluck lunches where people share dishes inspired by their cultural roots. Hold organization-wide inclusion workshops that draw attention to the unconscious biases that everyone holds to varying degrees.

Create an Inclusive Infrastructure. Establishing programs and routines that support inclusivity are critical. This can include reminding managers to seek input from everyone on a team or around the table at a meeting. For larger organizations, professional groups for women and minorities can offer much-needed support and mentoring.

It’s also helpful to create spaces where employees can share themselves more fully. For instance, dedicated rooms where new moms can pump breast milk in private let women know their careers are prioritized regardless of their family situation. Other ideas include creating spaces where people can meditate or Muslim employees can pray, and ensuring your holiday celebrations include all faith backgrounds.

Establish Diversity and Inclusion Goals. Without a roadmap for progress, your company won’t get very far. Discussions about your current diversity and inclusion strengths and shortfalls should result in a clear path forward. You won’t make the changes all at once, but set timelines for new inclusion programs.

Keep the Process Going. Once companies take a few steps to improve diversity and inclusion, it becomes easier to make progress and changes become visible quickly. Just remember that diversity won’t stick without long-term and conscious inclusion programs. With those in place, your organization will soon become an appealing workplace for talented people of all backgrounds, and benefit in the process.

Contact LINK today for help building a diverse and inclusive workforce.