Some may see inclusion and diversity in the workplace as the latest set of HR buzzwords. Others see it simply as the right thing to do. But the savviest employers see it for what it really is: a great opportunity for everyone.
Focusing on inclusion and diversity initiatives and fully integrating them into a company’s core values not only gives businesses a boost, but also helps employees, customers and community thrive, creating a cycle of positivity that benefits all involved.
But what do strong inclusion and diversity programs look like, exactly? What are the measurable benefits? And how can you put them into action?
Inclusion and diversity at work: a broad definition
Diversity goes beyond age, race, gender, sexual orientation, physical disability, cultural background, nationality and other factors that typically come to mind. It’s much more than the visible differences among people. Lise Edwards, director of inclusion and diversity at Robert Half, emphasizes the need to acknowledge that these kinds of differences also imply differences in worldviews, perspectives, opinions and approaches to problem solving and decision making, all of which should be considered under the inclusion and diversity umbrella.
It also applies to personality, work style, family composition, education and experience level. Giving a voice — and the opportunity to be heard — to people with a diverse set of both personal and professional backgrounds is key to reaping the benefits of workplace diversity and an inclusive culture.
“We lead with inclusion at Robert Half, and it encompasses everybody. It’s not just underrepresented groups,” Edwards says. At its core, inclusion means including everyone from interns to executives in everything from conversations about business initiatives to casual chats, in person or via video conferencing apps.
But it also means fostering a collaborative and welcoming environment, recognizing that good ideas can come from each of us, and respecting all viewpoints. “When you have an inclusive mindset, it makes diversity approachable and brings it from concept into living, breathing reality,” Edwards says.
The value of an inclusive and diverse workforce
One advantage of inclusion comes from the sense of empowerment it instills. “When we feel included — not just a seat at the table but where our perspectives and views are being heard — we’re then motivated to participate to greater extents and deeper levels,” Edwards says. “We then take ownership and strive for excellence where some might otherwise be content doing a perfectly adequate job.”
And when you combine inclusion with diversity, you’ll help your hiring and retention efforts, your bottom line and many things in between. Some studies help illuminate the benefits:
- A 2018 report by McKinsey & Company that takes a deep dive into diversity shows that businesses with diverse workforces are 35% more likely to have financial returns above industry standards.
- According to a 2017 survey by Deloitte, companies that practice inclusive hiring, promotion, development, leadership and team management generate up to 30% higher revenue per employee and greater profitability than their competitors.
How to get an inclusion and diversity boost
How can you get your employees to embrace inclusion and diversity at work — and reap the rewards it brings? Consider these tips:
1. Seek buy-in. It has to hit every corner of your company and go beyond lip service. Inclusion and diversity at work is more than a set of boxes to check, and it’s a mentality that should reach from top executives to individual contributors. A great way to spread that mindset is to lead by example — and call attention to what you’re doing and why, at least at first. Employees and managers alike should not only welcome but seek out diverse voices to weigh in on business initiatives and projects of all types. Showing the team your openness to everybody’s input and the good ideas that come from it will go a long way toward ingraining it in everybody — and assuaging any resistance.
2. Foster belonging. If employees feel safe to express ideas and viewpoints, they’ll be encouraged to think boldly. The concept of bringing your whole self to work without fear or shame — acknowledging vulnerabilities right along with strengths — increases bonds between team members and shines a positive light on the differences everyone brings.
3. Hire diversely. You always want to hire the best available person for the job, but leave any potential bias regarding who the best candidate really is behind. Having a diverse set of hiring managers or interviewers helps cut through unconscious bias. And consider your existing team. Is it lacking a gender perspective? That might tip the balance if it’s a close call among top contenders.
4. Promote diversely. Going hand-in-hand with diverse hiring practices, keeping an eye on who’s rising in your company’s ranks and ensuring you don’t end up with imbalances leads to well-roundedness in management.
5. Spread the word about the benefits of workplace diversity and inclusion. A company culture where every voice is welcomed — and truly heard — encourages people from diverse professional and personal backgrounds to apply to your open positions. Highlighting your inclusion and diversity efforts and any outside recognition you’ve received on your website and in job descriptions sends a strong message. Posting opportunities in diversity-focused job boards, such as Diversity Jobs and Diversity Working, also culls a wide range of applicants.
6. Practice pay equity. Discrepancies in pay equality drives a wedge between segments of your workforce. Perception can come into play as well, especially if certain groups of employees receive more recognition than others. Spread the wealth and the appreciation to encourage cohesion.
7. Make it multigenerational. With age presumably comes experience and wisdom, but with youth comes different perspective and innovation. Include workers of all ages and experience levels in projects for an approach that covers all angles. And while you’re at it, get varying voices regarding gender, race and more involved, too.
“Inclusion and diversity — individually and collectively — help make people better, professionally and personally,” Edwards says. And with teams aware, engaged and motivated, your company stands to gain in myriad ways, possibly even beyond current thinking and statistics.