Managing Successful Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

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  • November 15, 2018

A growing body of research shows that diversity isn’t just the right thing to do—it also improves operational productivity, boosts bottom lines, and is critical to the organization’s overall success.

  • A report from the McKinsey Global Institute found that gender-diverse companies deliver 15 percent better financial performance over the national median, and ethnically diverse organizations perform 35 percent better than the norm.

  • Two-thirds of job seekers say a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating a potential employer, according to Glassdoor.

  • A study by Deloitte discovered that 83 percent of millennial employees are engaged in their jobs when they believe their organizations foster an inclusive culture. That number drops to 60 percent for millennials who think their companies are failing at inclusion.

In Cultural Intelligence: Surviving and Thriving in the Global Village, authors David Thomas and Kerr Inkson write, “Diversity provides groups with a wider range of ideas and viewpoints. Like all forms of diversity, diversity in culture encourages diversity in ideas. And the wider the range of ideas, the better the chance of finding good ones.” The result often is an organization that not only runs better, but also attracts and keeps top talent.

That said, managing diversity in the workplace isn’t as easy as proclaiming, “We’re going to be more diverse!” Here is a closer look at running a diversity and inclusion program that works.

The Distinction Between Diversity and Inclusion

Before delving deeper into managing a diversity and inclusion program, defining the two terms is important because they aren’t the same. They are complementary in mission and goals, but each comes with unique requirements and strategies.

Diversity covers who you hire, what you are hiring for, and where employees are coming from—in other words, a diversity of experiences that strengthens your organization. Diversity focuses on the “who.”

Inclusion deals more with the “how:” how differing voices, viewpoints, and work styles—diverse or otherwise—are safeguarded and encouraged. In their book Safe Enough to Soar, inclusion experts Frederick Miller and Judith Katz refer to this principle as interaction safety. “Organizations are only as productive as the interactions that take place among people,” they write. “Interaction safety encourages reasonable risk taking and inspires every individual to be brave enough to reach for higher goals and more ambitious possibilities.”

When people feel safe, they also feel included and empowered to share their best ideas without fear. In order to foster meaningful diversity initiatives and broaden the scope of who you hire, you must also think about how the current organizational culture might feel unsafe to someone who feels different, and find ways to increase interaction safety. Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand, and both are vital to managing diversity in the workplace.

Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace Strategies

The late diversity and inclusion powerhouse, R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr., lays out a diversity program model in his book World Class Diversity Management: A Strategic Approach. He divides his approach into four quadrants—four pieces of a puzzle that, when set in place, thoroughly encompass diversity management. The four strategies Thomas outlines are:

  • Managing workforce representation: According to Thomas, this strategy creates a workforce “that is representative of the broader society by minimizing or eliminating the underrepresentation of multiple groups that have been insufficiently present.”

  • Managing workforce relationships: This strategy’s goals include achieving harmony, establishing a workplace that affirms everyone as equals, and creating a climate free of demographic tension in order to increase productivity.

  • Managing diverse talent: This quadrant aims to fully engage the talents of all people in a diverse workforce. When this happens, a competitive advantage can be realized.

  • Managing all strategic diversity mixtures: This approach focuses on “developing a universal organizational, managerial, and individual capability for addressing strategic diversity of any kind.”

Each quadrants’ immediate goals may differ, but the overarching mission ties the strategies together: a holistic approach to diversity and inclusion. A successful diversity and inclusion program considers all forms of diversity—ideas, people, and teams. Once these four quadrants come together, meaningful change can flourish.

Executing the Plan

Unfortunately, many organizations say they are dedicated to diversity and inclusion initiatives, but then never actually follow through. For a program to be more than just lip service, companies should devise a plan of action to back up their stated goals.

In World Class Diversity Management, Thomas offers three management tips to put workplace diversity into practice. First, he suggests adopting a strategic diversity management process, or SDMP, to guide leaders on a diversity journey through each quadrant. Then, he advises these leaders to be ready for the complexity that inevitably develops when implementing a diversity plan.

Finally, Thomas suggests mastering the strategies and paradigms of his four quadrants so that they dynamically sync with each other. Doing so allows leaders to address any diversity and inclusion challenge or need that comes along, as well as plan for the future.

A Wide Net

Managing diversity and inclusion in the workplace requires more than declaring intent to be more diverse and inclusive. It involves best practices in communication, hiring, delegation, collaboration, creativity, policies, and feedback. Moreover, diversity and inclusion requires understanding; we must embrace other viewpoints and experiences to work toward common goals, which sometimes can make us uncomfortable. Embracing discomfort with an honest goal of fostering inclusive and diverse workplaces better equips organizations to innovate and evolve with manageable complexity.

Often, that understanding starts with leadership. The authors of Cultural Intelligence write, “Any group requires good management support, such as material resources, relevant information, and psychological support in the form of goodwill and respect. Cross-cultural groups especially need managers who respect cultural difference and appreciate the potential of diversity to improve the organization’s creativity and performance.” The commitment of managers will determine whether diversity and inclusion take hold or remain nothing more than buzzwords.

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