For a long time, we have let assumptions and stereotypes about different groups of people of the society define their ability to work and play certain roles in an organization. However, thankfully, in this day and age, the talk of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace has been garnering a lot of attention.
Also, as the global pandemic forces organizations to consider the new world of work, it is evident that companies have been given a pivotal opportunity to craft intentional work cultures and policies that ensure everyone, no matter their background or lived experience can work and feel safe to be their full, authentic selves. This is the essence of diversity and inclusion.
Diversity & Inclusion at Risk
With diverse representation taking a notable step backward in the past decades, D&I is at real risk of becoming a casualty of this crisis as we rebuild our businesses. For instance, according to McKinsey, although women represent just 39 percent of the global workforce, they have accounted for 54 percent of worldwide job losses during COVID.
Many organizations miss out on significant business opportunities that could be gained from the varying perspectives and innovative approaches of people of different ages, races, and national origins.
They also run the risk of legal and reputation trouble should they breach set labor laws prohibiting job discrimination based on age, race, sex, origin, color, religion, equal pay, or disability. Such cases are tough for employers to win.
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Building Through Diversity, Managing Through Inclusion
Avoiding the risks should not be the only impetus for implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives. Everyone deserves to feel safe and welcome at work. Without a sense of belonging, connection, and place, there’s little reason for highly skilled workers to stick around. Someone from a non-dominant demographic should not feel they have to constantly take into account the dominant demographic. Rather, the dominant demographic must take into account the needs of the non-dominant person. That is the crux of inclusion.
According to a report by McKinsey, companies that are more gender, ethnically and culturally, diverse, relative to the environment they are in, are more likely to financially outperform their peers.
That said, diversity alone cannot move the entire business forward – inclusion plays an integral part too. Even if the room is vastly diverse, if those unique perspectives aren’t being heard and people do not feel a sense of belonging, the impact is lost. Building an inclusive company culture is not only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense, and the thing that sets an inclusive workplace apart is that the team acknowledges its biases and does its best to move beyond them.
Elevating Diversity & Inclusion
While most leadership teams believe that it is important to prioritize diversity and inclusion, they may also think it is something that will just fall into place. In reality, D&I can only succeed if it is deliberate—companies must plan for it, buy into it and incentivize it. All companies should create diversity and inclusion policies and handbooks that express the value of inclusion, what it is, how it can be achieved, and what is expected of everyone to make it happen, from the top down.
HR and risk management also need to partner up to educate managers about inclusive behaviors and the troubles the organization can get into when they get it wrong.
While “inclusion” is difficult to quantify, businesses can try to track their efforts by keeping a record of the new ideas that emerge from traditionally underrepresented employees to give them some idea of whether all voices are being heard.
D&I creates value. It is easy for organizations to believe that they are doing a good job promoting D&I but unwittingly stumble. No one wants to be tokenized or exoticized. Unconscious bias is real, and even people with the best of intentions can be guilty of micro-aggressions and other offenses against underrepresented groups.
The best practice is reflected in companies that tie diversity, equity, and inclusion to business performance. Organizations need to help people see these values by creating expectations and fostering conversations to help open people up to this value.
They also need to do so from the very top, and the norms, practices, and processes that support these goals need to move directly and effectively down the organizational chart. Leaders need to set the tone and be certain that managers and supervisors are not only onboard, but executing these missions regularly.
Diversity and inclusion acknowledge that, for all of our differences, we are more alike than different. In addition, without putting equity into the equation, i.e., pay equity and equitable leadership and advancement opportunities, the D&I movement is half-baked at best, lip service at worst, and definitely not sustainable.