The benefits of making diversity and inclusion a priority are clear: Organizations with ethnic diversity outperform those that lack diversity by 35 percent and those with gender diversity surpass those without by 15 percent, according to global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
Unfortunately, workplace diversity and inclusion activities are viewed as nonessential and are often relegated to committees and one-off programs. And, more often than not, this type of work is the first to go when things get busy.
The truth is, your organization will reap the performance and competitive benefits of diversity and inclusion only once the values are woven throughout your company’s fabric and embedded into your systems and processes.
So how do you make diversity and inclusion a priority?
Instead of making it another meeting in which people feel guilty because they didn’t have time to follow through with another survey or action item, you must encourage the entire staff to think of what the idea of diversity and inclusion means to them and their responsibilities within the company.
To some, diversity means perspective. To others, it means race or ethnicity, more women in leadership positions, a diversity of leadership styles, or even personality or cultural differences.
You must make these varying definitions work in concert with each other, getting each employee to care about diversity in terms that are relevant to them so that they share responsibility for creating a diverse and inclusive culture.
If you’re looking to get others on board, here are three reasons to make diversity and inclusion activities a part of your organization’s culture:
1. Diversity drives engagement.
Although there are standard practices and processes within every organization, not everyone moves through them in the same way. Creating space for people to talk and really absorbing their viewpoints places an emphasis on equal inclusion, which allows employees to feel safe enough to address even the most deeply rooted problems and concerns.
Diversity and inclusion activities can help your organization address issues—such as race, religion, or politics—that could otherwise be polarizing, writes diversity and inclusion pioneer Mary-Frances Winters in her book We Can’t Talk About that At Work! Such taboo topics can impair productivity, engagement, retention, and teamwork if your organization doesn’t encourage employees to discuss them openly. According to Winters, a polarized society leads to a polarized workplace:
“Polarization fosters an ‘us-and-them’ environment, whereas inclusion attempts to create a sense of belonging and unity. Most major organizations today have a goal to create an inclusive culture because they realize that inclusion drives engagement.”
In fact, research has shown that the employees who are most engaged rate their organizations high on diversity and inclusion. One Gallup study even reported that companies with high employee engagement and gender diversity saw 46 to 58 percent (comparable revenue and net profit, respectively) higher financial performance.
2. Diversity and collaboration foster creativity.
Collaboration is becoming more difficult as organizations strive to achieve common goals amid increasingly polarized workplaces.
“We want to get something done that is important to us, but to do so, we need to work with people who view things differently than us,” conflict resolution expert and best-selling author Adam Kahane writes in Collaborating with the Enemy. “And the more important the issue and different the views, the more necessary and difficult the collaboration.”
Progressive organizations have learned that the conventional understanding of collaboration—a harmonious team that agrees on where it's going, how it's going to get there, and who needs to do what—is wrong, writes Kahane. Instead, he suggests that we need a new approach to collaboration that embraces discord, experimentation, and genuine co-creation.
Kahane explains how organizations can use unconventional “stretch collaboration,” instead of relying on unrealistic fantasies of harmony, certainty, and compliance: “Stretch collaboration enables us to get things done even in complex situations with people we don’t agree with or like or trust.”
Organizations that embrace stretch collaboration tackle complexity head-on instead of shrinking away from it. They move from paying attention to only one dominant whole, one optimum plan, and one superior leader, toward attending to multiple, diverse holons (wholes that are part of larger wholes), multiple emergent possibilities, and multiple co-creators.
“Energies must be mobilized; needs must be balanced; actions must be taken,” writes Kahane. “Stretching does not make this work disappear; it just enables us to do it with less fear and distraction and more connection and awareness.”
3. Diversity improves results.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, majority populations are projected to become the minority by 2044. If organizations want to remain relevant to the changing populations of consumers and employees, diversity and inclusion initiatives will be key to sustained success.
Activities that promote this kind of culture can help your organization compete by building upon the differences of the team members. In fact, in his book The End of Diversity As We Know It, Martin Davidson, the Johnson & Higgins professor of business administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, writes that businesses can thrive by making the most of the diversity that is already present among stakeholders.
Leveraging inherent differences can turn persistent diversity problems into solutions that drive business results. “Differences are present—among employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, acquired or acquiring organizations, and governments. Success comes not from shying away from these differences, but from fiercely and skillfully capitalizing on them,” writes Davidson.
In his book, Davidson guides organizations through a three-step process for leveraging differences:
- Identify and hire for the differences most important to achieving organizational goals.
- Help employees work together to understand the ways these differences matter to the business, such as through diversity and inclusion activities focused on leveraging differences.
- Experiment with how to use these relevant differences to get things done.
He also provides several examples of how organizations can leverage employees’ subtle differences in culture, thought, and personality, as well as more the more obvious differences of race and gender.
You may already know that your organization will benefit from greater diversity and more inclusion, but you must make this obvious to your employees. Diversity and inclusion activities can help you do so by demonstrating to each employee that you can have a healthier morale, better quality of work, and stronger positioning in the marketplace. These are three reasons diversity and inclusion activities need to be part of your organization’s culture.
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