by Crystal Kadakia
24 Sep 2019
Breaking down the barriers to reach diversity and inclusion
“We need to have diversity and inclusion in our workplace.”
This is a phrase we hear often in the workforce, especially given the movements in recent years such as #metoo. It’s a phrase meant to inspire people and organizations to become active participants in building a non-homogenized work culture.
The goals of diversity and inclusion are an incredibly powerful, positive force for both the community and the bottom line for companies. But diversity and inclusion absolutely MUST reach deeper levels and have more meaning than checking a box in the recruiting and promotion processes. How many women do we have? Check. Are we ethnically diverse? Check. Simply put, if that’s all we’re doing….then what are we doing?
What we are doing is focusing on the diversity part of diversity and inclusion. When we do that, we tend to focus on labels and differences that risks psychological safety for both the majority and the minorities. Majorities today may feel unfairly unsupported and all, majorities & minorities, might wonder if this is just another diversity hire.
I’ve said it before in previous works on this topic, but it bears repeating that diversity and inclusion mean getting down and dirty with your own barriers. You've got to challenge yourself to go beyond trying to achieve metrics to develop the behaviors that promote inclusion and belonging. Diversity without addressing inclusion is downright dangerous. It creates categorization that minimizes the same people it intends to lift up.
In contrast, when diversity is paired with inclusion, workplaces are healthier. The Center of Talent Innovation’s research finds that employees in an inclusive environment are 1.3 times more likely to feel that their innovative potential is unlocked and are 42% less likely to say they intend to leave their job within a year. Your business needs to develop behaviors in all their people that build a culture of inclusion.
To do that, here are three things you need to know.
Don’t forget to heal the demographic divides
I’m a proponent of affirmative action and continuing to support recruiting and promotions that support diversity targets. But organizations often get hyperfocused on meeting diversity goals; that’s the push, but where’s the pull? Pulling on the other end of the rope is inclusion. Here’s the number one mistake you can make in trying to create a culture of inclusion: leaving it at macro groups.
Macro-groups are those demographic divides we create when achieving diversity strategy goals. We know we are trying to hire and promote a certain percentage of women and minorities into each level of the organization. We then support these groups by pooling them together in employee resource groups. While this offers support from like-individuals, these are neglected inclusion opportunities. Instead of bringing diverse people together, they focus on a level of specificity of identity that may isolate various groups.
For example, what if you had a Heritage resource group? And what if within that Heritage group you had subgroups for Asian, black, Latino, etc? Now what happens is that there is a place for cross-cultural participation – you don’t have to be Asian to be a part of the Heritage group – and if you are Asian, you still get the support and sponsorship you need from the subgroup. Now we can promote inclusive behaviors because we have a way where people can transparently and openly dialogue about cultural styles and how they show up at work.
Embrace disagreement, not assimilation
Diversity by default creates differences in thought and approach. When we have diversity without inclusion, we run the risk of derailing disagreements or stagnant assimilation. When people assimilate we lose out on the advantage of having a diversity strategy where our goal was to recruit difference. Instead, acknowledge differences, and build safe spaces for discussing those differences.
How do you do this in practice? Respectful conflict occurs when people share their differing thoughts but keep their eye on the goal for the conversation or the team. When tensions run high, step back and ask “Tell me again, what do we want to achieve here? I’m losing sight of our goal.”
When we expect everyone to agree with us or to assimilate to our way of doing things, we miss out on opportunities for innovation and true contribution. We create feelings of disengagement that can lead to loneliness and depression, which are increasingly problematic in today's workplace. Diversity & Inclusion initiatives can address these issues by demonstrating empathy with all employees’ perspectives and embracing the qualities of common ground.
Don’t forget to move the top leadership
While often the most difficult place to create inclusive behaviors, top leadership is also the most essential. People of difference often feel the system is against them – and this often has some truth in it. When people in powerful positions who shape the system become more inclusive, we see the ship turn and build a better foundation for the workplace of the future.
However, this can be difficult because many at the top have a history where inclusion wasn’t the priority or even a necessity. It’s not about being right or wrong, but it is about the reality today. We are continuing to move from a more homogenous workplace to a beautifully different landscape. Furthermore, we are moving from an environment where assimilation was expected to assimilation being rejected. Whether you’re a part of the majority or the minority, the point is about contribution – and we can all value each other.
The easiest route is to have a more diverse leadership team. People need to see themselves reflected in the leadership above them. 9 in 10 professionals agree that companies are more empathetic when they have diversity in their leadership. But it’s also possible and worthwhile to work to expand the existing leadership team’s mindsets. Regardless of your approach, don’t forget to move beyond grassroots work where minorities often carry the burden of moving the top leadership. Together, we can make a real difference.
Conclusion – it’s all worth it
We could look at inclusion as just another complex, difficult task. It is, but that wouldn’t be the whole story. When we acknowledge and embrace that people are different than us, we each stand to gain. As individuals, we grow and find freedom in ways we never could imagine. Connecting with people is neurologically rewarding, the greater the difference, the better. As organizations, companies who focus on diversity and inclusion as a strategy 31% more responsive to customer needs and 42% better at collaboration.
Perhaps that’s beside the point. Diversity and inclusion aren’t about making more money (although that will happen (Earnings Before Interests and Taxes (EBIT) margins are 21% more profitable for diverse companies according to a report by Mckinsey & Co).
Inclusion is about looking people in the eye and seeing them, not a reflection of yourself. Marrying diversity efforts with inclusive behavior is the way workplaces and communities win in the future.