Leadership

Beyond Diversity: Creating an Inclusive Workplace

By Nicole BeckermanDecember 22, 2016

The next generation of professionals working their way up the ranks are demanding more of employers when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Millennials are the most diverse generation in history: 59% identify as Caucasian, and 27% have immigrant backgrounds.  As of 2015, working millennials number over 53.5 million, which makes them the largest generation in the workforce, and within 10 years they will make up 75% of the active workforce. There is a given expectation by them to see equal representation and opportunity at work, but that barely scratches the surface of how millennials see diversity evolving. Though most organizations vocally promote diversity in hiring practices, as millennials become more prominent companies are feeling the push to activate a diverse workforce in new, meaningful ways.

Diversity vs. Inclusion

To date, many organizations have prioritized representation and fair treatment of minorities, primarily for reasons of equality, morality, and legal compliance. Actions have been centered on breaking down barriers to entry for marginalized groups and integrating them into company culture with respect and tolerance. Certain marginalized groups have received formal legal protection, organizations have issued staunch statements in support of diversity, and recruiting pages on websites have been updated to show a commitment to non-discrimination. Companies are now sometimes reaching a stage where diversity feels like another regulatory box to be checked at the hiring stage. The effort has been substantial to get there, and the struggle for simple hiring diversity is still extremely relevant, yet innovative organizations are refusing to rest easy when it comes to their people by focusing on inclusion.

Inclusion is not simply being permitted to enter an organization, but being listened to and engaged once there. It means not forcing minority groups to downplay their differences or work harder than the dominant group to get equal rewards. A collaborative culture is the focus of new inclusion initiatives, where solutions utilize each employee’s unique experience and contribution. Inclusion drives for cognitive diversity, seeking to integrate various perspectives and experiences. Under this new concept, the leadership style is more transparent, and although uniqueness is valued, the goal is finding innovative ways to pull together towards business goals.

Why Prioritize Inclusion

Though inclusion sounds like an approach rooted in morality and invented by the generation teased for their “participation trophies”, it produces substantial business outcomes at the organizational level. A significant amount of research has shown increased innovation, creativity, and performance from diverse teams and organizations.  For example, firms with high diversity are 45% likelier to have a growth in market share over the previous year, and are 70% likelier to capture a new market. Having a plurality of perspectives in the work force is a resource, and inclusiveness advocates leveraging it.

There is risk in having stale, homogenous thinking within an organization, especially in leadership positions. Too often, leaders hire and promote people with similar traits, which gradually creates bias and leads to exclusion. One of the mechanics underlying the above positive statistics is that organizations and teams can better ascertain customer needs and deliver stronger service if they reflect the end user demographics themselves. Teams that contain a member sharing a client’s ethnicity have a 152% better chance of understanding that client, for example. However, the key point is that team members must feel able to be part of the conversation and empowered to have an impact if their insights are to be effective. This is inclusion beyond diversity.

On an individual level, humans also have a fundamental need for understanding and belonging, and when that need is met they are more likely to perform at their best. When inclusion is a priority, employees don’t have to hide parts of their identity and can bring a more authentic, engaged self to work. Higher engagement is associated with reduced turnover, better sharing of information, and increased creative problem solving. 83% of millennials say they feel engaged when their organization values inclusivity, versus 60% when it does not.

Road to Success

Sound like a lot to take on? It is, and these ideas are still new enough that only one company in five feels it is fully “ready” to tackle the inclusiveness question. Most managers rate their existing efforts as “adequate” or “weak.” Yet, advice is beginning to emerge from companies who are experimenting and getting things right, and certainly more will come as we continue to learn.

All inclusion efforts must begin with culture, and addressing the issue of bias. It is easy for companies to check the diversity box and call it day, but if they want to work on an active, daily environment of inclusion they must start asking some of the tough questions internally. What is it really like to be a member of a marginalized group at the organization? Is there bias at play affecting promotion and development opportunities? How often are initiatives and ideas from individuals being passed over because of their gender, race, etc.? In asking these questions, it is particularly important to take in the opinion of minority groups without making excuses or getting defensive. Gathering this information can take place in various ways from surveys to interviews, but everyone’s genuine experience is a vital part of understanding where an organization is at with respect to inclusion.

Real action rather than lip service is essential. Good intentions are simply not sufficient, and companies are currently trying various strategies to cultivate inclusiveness. Leaders most likely will need training and guidance to overcome unconscious biases they have and hold a space for diversity of thought. This training can also be integrated into existing development programs for managers, which gives an additional bonus of helping with retention. On the hiring side, beyond the standard diversity practices, companies like Pandora are forming connections with community organizations and historically diverse colleges to attract and retain an inclusive pool of people. Other organizations, like Microsoft, have taken a hard look at the numbers and realized they must take immediate, direct steps to increase incoming diversity metrics before they can move into a more nuanced understanding of inclusiveness. Microsoft’s method of choice has been to tie diversity metrics to bonuses, a strategy actually advocated by the British government to UK financial firms. This is a reactionary tactic rather than a fully developed diversity and inclusion vision, but nevertheless a place to begin heading towards an equitable workplace.

Consistency is also important, because if attempts at inclusiveness come and go then long term change is unlikely to take root. It takes time and sustained effort for people to make a change, especially regarding unconscious bias. Organizations can develop their own scorecard of factors to measure inclusiveness and promote accountability throughout their efforts. Pandora even publicly releases their real numerical goals and demographic information on a regular basis to encourage transparency.

Organizations should bear in mind that differences are powerful, and they should not be hidden, ignored, or glossed over. When we bring together people of various backgrounds in an engaging way, those people can produce vastly superior results and have a better experience doing it.

Learn more about building a diverse and inclusive culture by downloading our ebook, Talent Crisis: Diverse and Inclusive Culture.

Nicole Beckerman

Nicole Beckerman

Writer

About the Author

Nicole Beckerman is a marketing consultant, writer, and clothing designer based in Los Angeles, CA. She holds an MBA from Mills College as a Goldman Sachs Scholar.

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