Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives are more relevant now than ever. As we become more connected across markets and have greater access to each other at work through globalization in all its forms, companies must engage a range of diverse talent to maintain their competitiveness. Organizations with diverse workforces are more innovative, adaptive, and ultimately successful. D&I isn’t just a matter of hiring practices either: It is no longer enough to simply bring a diverse group of individuals to the table. The question at this point is one of experience and engagement. How do organizations leverage the talents of a diverse workforce, keep them engaged, and foster a culture which allows all voices to be heard?
Successfully creating a culture of inclusion demands long-term effort. Not only does inclusion require ongoing attention, it should be a comprehensive strategy across the entire organization. From the top down and across departments, D&I initiatives have a lot of ground to cover.
Training Across All Levels
Managers and leadership may play certain roles in the process or need specific training, but with effective D&I there are some efforts that employees at all levels should participate in. These are primarily facilitated by the HR department and tend to be ongoing to maintain a positive D&I culture which continues to adapt and grow with the times.
Training to mitigate unconscious bias based on gender, race, physical ability, age, orientation, etc. is paramount to the success of an inclusive culture. We all have biases built up over time that we may be unaware of. At work this becomes an issue which can build walls between colleagues and restrict the free flow of collaboration. The entire organization needs to be trained to start identifying bias and unraveling it. This sets the stage for a culture that the workforce itself maintains, though it requires some initial effort.
Having standards of how people communicate in an organization is also important to an inclusive culture. Disallowing prejudiced remarks is a given, but the best practice is for employees to be trained on positive communication as well. Along with unconscious bias training, employees should be trained on constructive communication techniques. An example is learning how to call out biased comments in a productive way, and making it a company norm that calling out bias is not an attack, but helpful. Training can also include ways to engage co-workers with different communication styles in meetings or how to use collaboration tools so that everyone has a level playing field.
Feedback systems are another organization-wide tool to foster inclusion. Building in D&I to performance evaluations can remind employees on a regular basis of its value. HR professionals can also incorporate inclusion into their feedback gathering by including questions on employee surveys about it, or having an annual survey entirely dedicated to the topic. Real-time feedback systems are another tool to monitor and evaluate the conversation around inclusion. They are particularly transparent, because people are reacting in the moment rather than thinking back on their experience.
Culture shifts in an organization can be slow and intimidating. Much of the implementation work will fall to managers, who help their team adapt and grow, but also are tasked with being decisive agents of change. They hold a key role in shaping the employee experience. It is often said that, “people quit bosses, not companies,” which speaks to the responsibility managers hold in their hands when it comes to culture.
Managers should stand staunch in their advocacy of inclusion, because they are responsible for its front-line performance. Having visible, explicit company values to refer to can provide much needed support. Managers at Apple, for example, can refer to one of the organizational value statements which says, “The most innovative company must also be the most diverse.” These values can’t simply exist in a handbook though, they must be lived experiences that are present in the workplace culture. If the company values aren’t already displayed prominently and part of workplace awareness, a comprehensive D&I initiative could be an entry point to get those values polished up and activated.
Development is a key area to activate and embed a positive D&I culture in the workplace. As managers grow their leadership skills, one aspect of their evaluations can be their ability to include a variety of voices and draw out underrepresented viewpoints without being pandering. These are nuanced skills, and when managers view them as part of their essential core development they are more likely to work hard at them.
Concurrent initiatives from HR are another way managers can have support in their culture change efforts. When employees see a movement towards D&I from multiple sources, it drives home the point that inclusion truly matters at their organization and managers are in alignment with that priority.
Leaders in an organization are responsible for setting the tone when it comes to D&I initiatives. First and foremost, they can expect the best results if they model the culture they are trying to grow. They should communicate with their reports why D&I is to be taken seriously, what the value is, and what efforts they are personally undertaking to support an inclusive culture. Managers, as we’ve seen above, can find themselves in a stressful position when it comes to these efforts, so leaders must serve as a model and sounding board when the going gets rough. Their involvement is necessary to generate an inclusive culture.
Part of setting the tone for D&I initiatives is adapting them to local markets. Trying to make sure female employees in Europe have leadership opportunities, for example, may look a lot different than providing access for employees in Southeast Asia with physical challenges. Deutsche Bank is one organization directly addressing such a challenge: They are working with nonprofits in India specifically to help train workers with disabilities as those challenges are prevalent in the local talent pool. Leaders would do well to be aware of the demographics of the organization across their workforce and monitor how targeted D&I initiatives are to their unique issues.
Finally, leaders should promote those under them fairly and ensure that underrepresented individuals have every chance to succeed. Decision making roles, development opportunities, and so on should be evenly distributed. This is a highly visible, meaningful way leadership can show real dedication to inclusion.