Inclusive, diverse cultural growth is increasingly becoming a strategic imperative when it comes to the future of work. In the 2030s, the U.S. population is projected to “age considerably” and “become more racially and ethnically diverse.” And the rise of the social enterprise illustrates the need for mission-driven values combined with revenue-generating priorities among diverse professionals.
Diversity is an important and strategic bench strength an organization can build and lead with. There have been a number of mishaps at corporations due to insensitive marketing. On one hand, the “diversity gap” can be so pervasive in an organization’s business and people processes that it’s only a matter of time before it is seen and felt by consumers and the marketplace. On the other hand, this diversity gap creates a clear path of opportunity for competitors.
I believe leaders should view diversity and inclusion as more than a nice-to-have compliance activity if they want to survive in the long term. Creating an inclusive work environment makes sense for sustainable growth. Whether leaders want to recognize it or not, I believe a lack of diversity and inclusion in a corporation’s strategy can now be an indicator of its market survival in the 21st century.
Embedding diverse perspectives into key business processes — i.e., recruiting, product development, supply chain and marketing — not only mitigates business risks. Diverse thinking also helps develop the innovation necessary for an organization to outperform its competition. As beneficial as creating a diverse, inclusive workforce has been substantiated to be, many companies simply have not cracked the code yet on its full potential.
A thoughtful strategy takes into account an end-to-end view of how diversity and inclusion fit into employee experiences, business processes and technology. Below are five important lessons I believe all diversity and inclusion strategies should take into account to have a true impact:
1. Teach employees to check their bias.
In my experience, some employees and leaders experience a sense of guilt once they realize they are biased. The key is to challenge employees to purposefully interrupt their “automatic” thought patterns regularly, and replace them intentionally. For example, when evaluating the performance of employees, supervisors should check themselves to ensure they have evaluated demonstrated performance of employees, not perceived performance. Demonstrated performance looks at tangible results, such as the number of contracts closed or revenue targets. Perceived performance, on the other hand, looks at things that are intangible in nature and can be seen as more subjective. Having clear, tangible metrics and evaluation criteria can help minimize subjective interpretation of performance.
2. Help your team unpack and recognize what type of bias they have.
For many organizations, conducting a mandatory diversity awareness training is the go-to answer to create diverse cultures. Awareness training can help bring a specific situation or issue to light. And although I believe this training can be a helpful start, it is not enough; in my experience, awareness training without any follow-up can make things worse if left unchecked.
Conduct ongoing training and messaging on the various types of biases and how they can appear. Educate, role play and discuss what examples of inclusion look like in action. Describe what structural bias looks like in interpersonal work relationships or in people processes. Have those employees who experience the bias share their stories in safe spaces, and involve them in problem-solving. Hold leadership accountable in order to thoughtfully interrupt biases at the employee level, which requires intentional energy, ongoing education in cultural competency and time.
3. Prioritize the removal of biases in cultural structures.
Many organizations invest a significant amount of resources recruiting diverse talent. But without a sound inclusion strategy, simply focusing on recruiting might not yield the return leaders seek. Without inclusion, diverse talent will not stick around. To create a culturally competent workforce, leaders must look at ways to reduce or eliminate bias in the structural guts of its people and business processes. For example, when it comes to performance management, do employees have transparency into the promotions process or open job roles? Is there a blind application process in recruiting to reduce bias in sourcing and evaluating candidate resumes? Do an organization’s core values and leadership actions match when it comes to demonstrating the importance of diversity and inclusion?
4. Prepare an outreach plan.
When an event happens outside of your company — whether locally or globally — that underscores social injustice, it’s important you show your team you have zero tolerance for discriminatory acts. Create a psychological safety net for diverse professionals in your workforce by allowing employees to freely discuss these issues that affect their lives. Although leaders might not have answers to complex social problems, demonstrating timely empathy goes a long way in building trust with your employees.
5. Help craft and reinforce inclusive social contracts.
It is in these unspoken social contracts that true inclusion lies. Employees and leaders alike might not do anything overtly biased; rather, they might demonstrate microaggressions, which usually reside in subtleties of actions as the result of unchecked biased thinking. Microaggressions are a complex phenomenon that might not always be seen but can be felt throughout organizational structures and processes. Understanding how inequity manifests specifically in your workplace is critical. Consider conducting focus groups or launching anonymous surveys of diverse employees to help uncover behaviors that need to be reexamined in the workplace.
Lastly, do not focus on diversity or inclusion simply because it might seem like the “trendy” thing to do. There is an invisible, emotionally tolling undercurrent to this work. Empathy and authenticity must be present to make changes stick culturally, particularly when there are unforeseen obstacles. Ensure you are able to prioritize diversity so that it receives the attention it needs and deserves. And most importantly, have all leadership involved. Create a strategic business case for change; clear a path that aligns with your broader corporate strategy, and secure senior executive sponsorship and buy-in toward a more diverse, inclusive culture.