I was surprised by the invite to meet about Diversity & Inclusion, since the company had previously earned kudos from industry colleagues and such mainstream publications as DiversityInc and GreatPlaceToWork (owned by Fortune Magazine).
In other words, how to create a more inclusive environment for diversity to thrive.
Too often, managers fail to realize this distinction; having diversity in your workplace does not mean it’s also inclusive. For sure, diversity is important to attract top talent and drive innovative results.
But there exists a certain asymmetry between diversity and inclusion: hiring for diversity without creating an inclusive environment is less likely to be successful over time than promoting a culture of inclusion before hiring for diversity.
Think of it this way: it’s one thing to invite people to the party, and quite another to get everyone to dance.
You have to make the dance floor accessible to all, set the right mood with lights and decor, and certainly, pick the best playlist.
This is what inclusivity does: it helps foster and maintain diversity within your firm.
Intuitively, we know this makes sense: if a company fails to be inclusive toward employees, especially those whose skills, characteristics and experiences differ from those of everyone else, the company will find it difficult over time to recruit and retain them.
But if your firm has a reputation for being inclusive, it’s more likely that someone from a different background would be willing to join your team.
As a practical matter, then, inclusion is the process of putting diversity into action, and requires working cross-functionally (C-suite, Human Resources, Legal, Sales, Communications, etc.) to create an organizational culture where people from all backgrounds feel informed, part of the process (valued) and ultimately, work with a sense of belonging.
Here are several of the best practices we used to help our client promote a more inclusive work environment. Hopefully, they will assist you to do the same:
1) Start With Your Employees
Create an internal communications campaign that not only informs about your diversity initiatives, but also helps employees to understand their role in them and in the company’s overall culture.
Simply issuing edicts from the top won’t work. All too often we see this top-down approach and nothing more. Memos from the C-suite drive compliance, not commitment. From managers to rank-and-file employees, everyone must understand their role in your company’s culture.
For example, including employees in your recruitment process will not only provide you with a broader view of what potential employees may bring, but will make your staff feel valued and that their opinions count when making important decisions for the company.
2) Measure, Measure, Measure
Diversity training is now commonplace at most firms. But are you measuring the effectiveness of these programs and acting on this data?
A good starting point is an employee survey to determine whether they’re seeing improvements in inclusion. The goal here is to fully understand the trouble spots in your company, then put in place initiatives to address them. Use this approach to review your company’s key touch-points, such as recruitment, promotions and leadership. How inclusive are they? How do your employees perceive them?
3) Evaluate Inclusion
Don’t treat inclusion like a school elective.
If you do, then so will your employees. Right now, they’re focusing on the skills they perceive as necessary to get ahead: financial, technical, pleasing their bosses, etc. If your incentive system doesn’t recognize inclusion as a necessary skill, employees will likely ignore it.
If, however, you treat inclusion as a desired skill, then employees will see it as necessary to get ahead and will learn it.
To begin, consider evaluating your employees based on how well they moderate discussions to make sure everyone has a chance to contribute, share opinions and give colleagues proper credit for their work.
Hiring a diverse workforce is not enough. True inclusion as a hallmark of the workplace experience is what allows employees to feel valued and represented, leading to more diverse hires that stay, grow and thrive.
An easily understood and truly participatory inclusion policy enacted at all levels of your company not only serves as a business driver, but as a way for your company to connect with its increasingly diverse workforce.
And if you do that, then you’re on your way to creating a culture of belonging that allows employees to realize their full potential.
Time to get up and dance.