You’ve probably seen companies in the news or on social media announce how proud they are of the strives they’re making toward increasing the diversity of their workforce. But the work doesn’t end there; changing hiring practices requires that the workplace culture also evolve to reflect the diversity of employees’ identities, perspectives, and experiences so that everyone feels that they’re on an equal playing field. Often, employees come on board with optimism, only to find that the biases that were hidden during the hiring process are alive and well in day-to-day operations—or, worse, deeply embedded into the organizational structure and culture.
Committing to diversity also means committing to inclusion—accepting and valuing the viewpoints of people who come from a variety of backgrounds. Authors Tiffany Jana and Ashley Diaz Mejias write in Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion, “We have become accustomed to cultivating systems that work well for those in power, those with wealth and connections, and those with access to the levers of change within systems. We have mountains of research that prove that diversity and inclusion help create smarter, more effective, more profitable systems. If diversity serves the greater good, whether economic or social, why have we not developed our systems to optimize inclusion?”
Organizations may be struggling to achieve inclusion, so we’ve put together three strategies that can help any organization on their inclusion journey. These three strategies provide a path for companies who want to change the workplace for the good of all.
1. Start with leadership
Testlio is a small software testing and QA business that’s unlike other tech companies in a significant way: 40 percent of its employees are women, according to its former CEO and cofounder, Kristel Kruustük, in a piece she wrote for Entrepreneur. In the same article, Kruustük described how Testlio’s founding team was committed to a gender balance from the start, and how they continue to hire to maintain and reap the benefits of that balance.
Organizations may not be able to turn back time and change the diversity makeup of their founding teams, but current executives can make strong—and genuine—commitments to diversity and inclusion that set the tone for the entire company. When these priorities are communicated and reinforced by leadership, employees feel empowered to consider how diversity and inclusion (D&I) impact their everyday tasks, and the organization becomes an attractive place to work, resulting in a workplace culture where productivity improves.
As Frederick Miller and Judith Katz write in Safe Enough to Soar: Accelerating Trust, Inclusion & Trust in the Workplace, “Leaders throughout the organization no longer see interaction safety as ‘soft stuff’ that is disconnected from the work of the organization. In fact, they see that more ideas are shared, which leads to retention of talent, greater speed to market, efficiencies in process, and improvements in quality.” Leadership holds some of the most powerful tools for building workplace inclusion and boosting the bottom line.
2. Set goals and emphasize accountability
For years, Accenture has been at the forefront of prioritizing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In 2018, the management consulting giant was ranked first on the Thomson Reuters Diversity & Inclusion Index. Accenture detailed the initiatives that led to its No. 1 ranking, including:
- Creating a diverse board of directors
- Setting a goal of a workforce comprising 50 percent women by 2025 (it is currently at 41 percent)
- Emphasizing transparency by publishing its workforce demographics
For any organization looking to boost inclusion in the workplace, goals and accountability are imperative. Too many companies claim to be dedicated to D&I in spirit and may include some nice words on their website, but don’t put anything concrete in place. Really commit to inclusion in the workplace by making D&I goals transparent, whether internally to all staff members or in a public announcement to consumers and competition. Set goals and deadlines; establish benchmarks. Designate people to advance D&I initiatives. Disclose progress or lack thereof for all to see, and discuss strategies for reaching your goals. In other words, don’t just talk the talk—walk the walk.
3. Get all hands on deck
Compass Group USA argues that employees are the ideal drivers of increasing diversity and fostering inclusion in the workplace. The American division of the largest food service company in the world coordinates D&I action councils, emphasizes employee development and empowerment, offers training courses to foster respect and overcome bias, and recognizes individuals who excel in furthering diversity and inclusion. Opportunities for employees to engage with D&I strategies and programs abound, leading everyone to feel as though they’re contributing to shaping an inclusive workplace.
Although inclusion in the workplace requires executive leadership buy-in, employees are the steam that powers the D&I engine. Engaging the workforce to contribute to and advance inclusion goals incorporates a broader range of perspectives and gives employees ownership of making their organizations a better place. In her book Dig Your Heels In: Navigate Corporate BS and Build the Company You Deserve, author Joan Kuhl writes, “When you decide to dig your heels in at your company, you’re coming at the problem with insider knowledge. You know the pain points … intimately. You know the politics, you know the players, and they know you. You are uniquely positioned to make the case for change and to win.” Create opportunities for employees to achieve those victories, and the entire organization will benefit.Fostering inclusion in the workplace is both the right thing to do and a sound business decision. When people feel empowered to contribute, everybody wins. The authors of Safe Enough to Soar admit this isn’t always easy, but maintain that it is worth the effort: “People must be willing to be vulnerable, let go of past experiences, and take a leap—to be big, brave, and bold with others and be willing to step into a new realm of interaction with one another. It takes the dedication and commitment of leaders and team members who understand interaction safety is a fundamental component of unleashing creativity and higher performance.”