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9 Ways to Create a More Inclusive Workplace

Diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of all kinds of business conversations these days. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that diversity, equity, and inclusion are key considerations impacting organizations ranging from retailers to manufacturers and everything in between.

Why? For a variety of reasons that include both the practical (studies continue to indicate that diversity and inclusion are tied to business success) and the societal (racial and social unrest and the Black Lives Matter movement) have caught the attention of businesses of all kinds that recognize the importance of these issues to all employees of a multigenerational workforce — not just those who have historically been marginalized. In addition, Gen Z, the newest entrant to the workforce, has been shown to particularly value diversity and demand inclusion. They are, themselves, a very diverse generational group.

Including diversity, equity, and inclusion in your business strategy is key to attracting and retaining talent — and customers.

Our 2021 Trends & Forecasts Report noted that diversity and inclusion is taking center stage and trending. We forecasted that embracing diversity and inclusion would no longer be enough — that these efforts must be woven into the fabric of the organization. This involves intentionally tying diversity, equity and inclusion efforts into nine key focus areas. Here we take a look at how companies are doing this and the steps your organization can take to become more mindful about diversity, equity, and inclusion to drive business results.

Strategy

Companies’ strategies around inclusion are clearly critical to drive positive change. Many are, unfortunately, focused on the wrong thing, though, says Yinnan Shen, who teaches Managing and Cultivating Cultural Differences at Columbia University.

“The best way to promote diversity is to stop promoting diversity; promote inclusion instead,” Shen says. “Diversity doesn’t drive innovation or performance; inclusion does. Without the right culture that embraces differences and values diverse perspectives, any diversity and inclusion initiatives will be a waste of resources.”

Shen recommends getting to the bottom of why inclusion hasn’t been more prominent in the past:

“The root cause can almost always be traced back to the people who make decisions,” Shen says. “Is the leadership heterogeneous? Are diverse voices and perspectives included in planning processes? If not, a good starting point is to make sure that you have diverse voices in the rooms where decisions are made.”

Even worse, it can be counterproductive. For example, say you hire a Millennial to a workplace that is dominated only by older generations. The likely outcome is that no one is going to take him or her seriously.

Leadership

Leaders are an integral part of any organization’s attempt to establish and sustain a more inclusive workplace. They must be on board with the initiative and must understand their role as champions, role models and coaches.

Once considered the task of HR and, more recently, of Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs), today’s successful diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are most likely to be driven from the top of the organization. HR and CDOs are important partners in the effort, but CEOs and other C-suite executives need to take the lead. They, in turn, need to ensure that the executive leadership team, managers and supervisors all understand not only why diversity, equity and inclusion is important, but the role they play in strengthening the company’s culture of inclusion.

One leading hospital, for instance has launched a training program for all leadership to ensure they understand the critical role they play in building an inclusive culture. The program will then be rolled out to all employees — about 25,000 — in 2021.

Building an inclusive leadership pipeline is another key tactic that organizations can focus on to ensure adequate bench strength among marginalized segments of the employee population.

Workplace Segmentation

It’s also important for organizations to understand their workforce and the employee segments within. This can be part of an effort of not only demonstrating diversity — but identifying areas that lack the kind of diversity that can drive positive business results.

Once identified, specific segments might also be identified as opportunities for establishing employee resource groups, or ERGs. ERGs are one tool used by many organizations to provide an outlet for employees of certain demographics to come together to share experiences and to learn about each other. Members of these groups also often become sounding boards or opportunities for input on core elements of an organization’s practices that can positively or negatively impact diversity, equity and inclusion — the hiring process, for instance.

Training & Education

While diversity, equity and inclusion are terms that are common today, their meaning is not always clear. Organizations need to define what they mean by diversity, equity and inclusion and how these concepts impact the business and its operations. They need to engage employees at all levels in developing and maintaining a strong culture of inclusion. That can happen in many ways, but one core element of the process is training and education — not just once a year, but on an ongoing basis in a way that is embedded into the organization from top to bottom.

Another educational avenue is within their employee recognition platform. Organizations can use that platform, for instance, to link to training modules and materials, and “train” employees to recognize and call out examples of diversity, equity and inclusion. Leaders can then recognize employees for their efforts in support of building a positive team culture.

Technology

Technology can bring people together. We certainly learned this during the pandemic as businesses of all kinds found themselves needing community with employees, customers and others through technology.

Technology can also play a role in gathering and monitoring data and trends related to workforce diversity and correlating that data to business outcomes.

Gen Z is a particularly tech-savvy generational cohort, making technology an effective way to engage what is also a very diverse segment of the population.

Data & Reporting

One thing that more companies are doing to make their workplace inclusion efforts more meaningful — and measurable — is putting a focus on data and reporting. In addition, some are tying compensation and rewards to executives’ abilities to move the needle on inclusion in measurable ways.

A diversity, equity and inclusion dashboard, for instance, can be used to evaluate the diversity of individual departments within the organization, as well as the organization as a whole. Sharing the dashboard publicly is a great way to keep diversity, equity and inclusion top-of-mind.

Communication

Communication is a key component of any company’s efforts to create an inclusive workplace. First, it needs to be clear to employees that the company is committed to inclusion. Employees need to understand what that means, specifically, for the organization. Communication needs to be constant and ongoing. Successful efforts to create a more inclusive workplace involve more than an annual in-service.

Tara Ataya is Chief People and Diversity Officer at Hootsuite. When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, says Ataya: “One of the things we do a lot of is talk about it, because the more you talk about it the more top of mind it becomes.”

Leaders should leverage a variety of communication tools — company and CEO newsletters, recognition platforms, special events (e.g. Pride Month, various religious holidays and cultural events), etc. Messages from leaders can be a great way to objectively illustrate a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Multiple communication channels ensure that the message is carried to all segments of the organization. At Paylocity, says Tauhidah Shakir, Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer: “To promote DEI throughout our organization, we use various resources such as trainings, micro learnings, speakers, fireside chats and docuseries discussion groups to keep the conversation going with employees and leaders. We also post our DEI initiatives on our website and in our employee handbook.” In addition, Paylocity uses its own Community platform to share diversity, equity and inclusion statements and policy updates. Externally, Paylocity demonstrates its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts through recruitment communications, social media posts, client webinars and podcasts.

Effective communication, of course, is also about listening. Hootsuite, for example, says Ataya, is piloting listening sessions where employees meet with her and the company’s CEO, Tom Kaiser. “It’s an opportunity for us to elevate under-represented voices within our company to the most senior level,” she says. Employees are asked to volunteer for the sessions which are designed to help improve understanding of groups’ experiences at Hootsuite.

Engagement & Measurement

At Hootsuite, says Ataya, progress is measured through employee surveys including an annual assessment of diversity, equity and inclusion through a third-party assessor. Results are shared with employees who are engaged in helping to improve inclusion efforts. Hootsuite also uses a third-party assessor to assess equal pay for equal work — not just based on gender but on other underrepresented groups at well, Ataya says. They’ve made a commitment to doing that assessment annually.

At Paylocity, says Shakir, employee diversity data such as employee gender representation and employee race and ethnicity representation is openly posted. “We make an effort to keep this information up-to-date so that employees and clients are aware of the progress we are making in creating a diverse workforce,” she says.

Budget & Finance

Budgets drive action and awareness. CFO Dive recently reported that 86% of North American financial executives are expanding budgets to offer diversity, equity and inclusion training. They also note that in October 2020 CEOs at many large US companies “pledged support for corporate and government programs aimed at reducing the economic opportunity gap in communities of color.”

Much of this activity is likely driven by recent widespread social and racial unrest stemming from the George Floyd murder and high-profile incidents of others from minority groups being the target of violence. Still it’s a sign that the issue is being given increased attention from senior leaders at organizations of all kinds.

There are a variety of things that organizations are doing to create and sustain a more inclusive culture. Using technology and taking a strategic focus across a variety of dimensions can help ensure that these efforts become part of the fabric of the overall culture, and not an after-thought or add-on.

Topics: leadership, technology, training, data and reporting, diversity, strategy, communications, budgeting, education, workforce segmentation, inclusion