Organizations that are diverse are more innovative and creative, are better able to respond to local and global markets, have higher employee engagement and a stronger workplace culture. And when your employees represent the diversity of your clients and customers, your organization can build better relationships with them. All of this translates to a more robust financial bottom line. Yes, diversity in the workplace is good for people. It’s also good for business!
But diversity without equity and inclusion isn’t of much value. The magic begins to happen when you add equity and inclusion to the mix.
Before March 2020 we knew that diversity was important to successful organizations. But the global pandemic reminded us of just how important equity and inclusion are as well. Businesses had to adjust quickly and adopt new ways of working. We began to see a sharp rise in rates of mental illness around the globe. There was a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement resulting from the death of George Floyd in the US and anti-Asian racism rose in many countries along with rates of the coronavirus.
All these factors resulted in more conversations about equity and inclusion, both in society and in workplaces. People all over the world began to watch how organizations responded to these issues; accountability for being a good global citizen seemed to become even more important to consumers and employees.
Different people may have a different understanding of what diversity means. And it may mean different things in different organizations. It can be helpful at the start of your diversity, equity, and inclusion journey to take the time to define these terms. Ensure that team members have a shared common understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean and how they connect to your organizational and team goals; explain the value and connect your employees to the “why”.
So, what exactly is diversity in the workplace, then?
When you think of diversity you might think about men and women, racial diversity, minority groups, or sexual orientation. But it is much broader than that. Diversity is also about diversity of thought, experience, education, socioeconomic status, career paths, disability/ability, age and so much more.
Increasing diversity in your organization is not just about hiring from minority groups, however; it is not tokenism. It is recognizing that many groups that have been historically underrepresented in the workforce or in your industry, have valuable skills and abilities that will make your organization even better! It’s also about recognizing that your organization may have invisible barriers to inclusion for your existing employees and working to remove those barriers.
Equity is often confused with equality when these are two different things. Equality means that everyone is treated the same. Equity recognizes that different people have different needs.
A common example used to illustrate this difference is three people trying to see over a fence to watch a game happening on the other side. These three people are all different heights; the first person can see over the fence from where they are standing but the others are shorter and can’t see without some assistance. Equality means that each person would have to stand on the same level. Equity, however, takes into account that for all three people to have the same experience watching the game on the other side of the fence, they need stools of different heights to allow them to each fully participate.
Inclusion is this: when diversity and equity come together to create a workplace where everyone feels seen, heard, valued and respected. An inclusive workplace is one where you don’t feel that you need to mask or downplay any element of who you are. It’s also a place where leaders do what they can to remove barriers to full participation in the workplace for all.
That value of diversity has been well documented through many years of research. The Harvard Business Review published research that shows that teams that are diverse are able to innovate more and faster than teams that are not and that diverse teams are smarter, too.
Increasing the diversity in your workplace is not as simple as hiring more people from underrepresented groups. It takes intentionality, commitment, and planning. Here are some suggestions to get you started on the diversity, equity, and inclusion path.
1. Examine your current state
Taking the time to identify what is working well and what is not will help you to focus your efforts in the right places. You can do this by conducting a diversity, equity, and inclusion audit. This includes reviewing policies and procedures (attraction, recruitment, and selection, internal movement and careers progression, and workplace culture), your organization’s brand messaging, and engaging with employees through focus groups. This is best done with an external third party to ensure neutrality. The subsequent report should include the opportunities for improvement and recommendations for a clear path forward.
2. Create an equity, diversity, and inclusion strategy or a plan
Once you know where you want to go, you need to create a roadmap to get you there. Include short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans. Consider adding elements such as possible barriers, key stakeholder engagement, training, goals, and targets.
3. Get your senior leadership team on board
Sometimes equity, diversity, and inclusion goals are set by the Board or senior leadership. Increasingly, the desire and need for a stronger focus on this is coming from employees and customers. If you are accountable for this work, ensure that you work to engage leaders at all levels within your organization. Without leadership support – and that also means adequate resourcing and attention – this work will never reach its full potential and all those wonderful benefits that come from an inclusive workplace will never be fully realized.
4. Work to shift barriers in existing structures and behaviors
Workplaces have typically been designed for the majority culture which has largely been White, male, and without disability. The means that barriers – often unintentional – exist in most organizations. Reviewing and updating existing policies and procedures is critical. But just as important is identifying behaviors that are getting in the way of true inclusion for all; supporting your team members to think in new ways is vital. Focusing on both structural change and behavioral change will help move your organization to sustained change.
5. Help your employees move from unaware to aware
If something has not impacted us personally or presented us with a barrier to inclusion, we can be unaware that others may have had to face that barrier. Raising awareness of equity, diversity, and inclusion and the unconscious biases that we each hold, is an important part of shifting behaviors in your team and moving towards full inclusion. As David Rock of the Neuroleadership Institute says, “If you have a brain, you have bias.” Let’s not feel guilty about that but let’s become aware of it and work to reduce it.
6. Gather feedback from your employees
A vital element of your diversity, equity, and inclusion journey is gathering feedback from your employees. Don’t try to guess what your employees need or want or even what matters most to them – just ask them! The insights that your employees provide will be invaluable. Many organizations are shifting away from conducting one annual employee engagement survey to providing continuous opportunities for feedback through online analytics tools, like intelliHR.
When we create workplace cultures of belonging that place a high value on equity and inclusion of diversity, we also create environments where your team members feel that they are valued, respected, and part of something important. And isn’t that something that we all want?
About the Author
Kristin Bower, Partner Leda HR
Based in Vancouver, Canada, Kristin brings two decades of Human Resources experience to a wide variety of clients as an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) consultant. Kristin is a frequent D&I and Mental Health speaker at conferences and in workplaces and her writing has been published in People Talk and Visions magazines and the Good Money blog, among other publications.
intelliHR is a people management platform helping HR, leaders and managers enhance performance, culture, engagement and retention. With built-in HRIS and powerful real-time analytics, see how the platform works today.