Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is no longer just a recommendation. Companies increasingly find themselves under public and internal pressure to meet their diversity-related commitments and create an inclusive work environment. Candidates expect prospective employers to offer a diverse and inclusive place to work, and in today’s labor market, they’re absolutely in a position to say no to companies that don’t align with their values.
Most employees see an organization’s commitment (or lack thereof) to D&I as a statement of its values, and with good reason. It simply isn’t acceptable in today’s business and political environment to let your work culture be homogenous or to turn a blind eye to discriminatory or prejudiced business practices. A lack of diversity and inclusion is a reflection of a company’s values – a disappointing one.
But important though it may be (and it is important) to prioritize diversity and inclusion for the sake of having diversity and being inclusive, today we’re discussing how diversity and inclusion are actually drivers of business performance and innovation.
Two key types of diversity
When we talk about diversity and representation in a corporate setting, it helps to think about diversity in two categories – inherent and acquired. Just trying to recruit more women or people of color doesn’t acknowledge the intersectionality and vibrancy of the diverse human experience. These two categories are one way we can think about how diversity affects our lives and our experiences in the workplace. Research has shown that effective leadership often features leaders who share a combination of traits from both categories.
Inherent diversity is diversity due to intrinsic, personal characteristics we are born with. A characteristic is diverse when it isn’t the dominant characteristic in a particular setting. Inherent diversity is incredibly important. The characteristics we are born with shape our lives to a great degree. The social and cultural experience of moving through the world, coming of age, and learning from these characteristics affects our perspectives, biases, and opinions. A few examples of inherent diversity include:
- Biological sex and gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Some disabilities, such as genetic disorders or limb difference
Acquired diversity is diversity due to characteristics we develop later in life. Some of these characteristics may be due to experiences we’ve sought out; other characteristics may be the result of factors outside our control. Though we usually aren’t born with these factors, they still have a significant impact on our experience of work, social relationships, and the world at large. Some examples of acquired diversity include:
- Speaking a language that isn’t common in your area
- Speaking with an accent
- Some disabilities, like type 2 diabetes
- Political affiliation
- Religious beliefs
- Educational experiences
We can think of diversity at work in two ways: 1) having a mix of people who share a mix of different characteristics and 2) including people who have experiences outside the dominant cultural norm within the organization. Both of these aspects are important in cultivating diversity. When leadership lacks diversity in intrinsic and acquired traits, employees generally feel unrepresented and unheard.
Company culture, inclusion, and innovation
Anyone who has tried to increase diversity and inclusion within their organization knows that it’s a tall order. It’s not as simple as leadership deciding to prioritize diversity, especially if an organization is unwilling to commit tangible resources (money, time, and labor) to improve the situation. Hiring diversely without an intentional focus on inclusion will only backfire, driving away the people you worked so hard to recruit. Too often, minorities within the organization are made to feel as if they’re inadequate because they can’t “conform.” This is toxic; corporate leadership has a responsibility to promote and ensure a culture of inclusion.
With inclusion comes innovation. Why? Because an inclusive, accepting, respectful culture provides employees with the space and support they need to brainstorm, exchange ideas, and do their best work. Hold employees who violate these norms with discriminatory or prejudiced behavior accountable and lift up employees who exemplify the welcoming culture you want to promote.
One Harvard Business Review article identifies six key behaviors that companies can encourage to foster an inclusive company culture. These are:
- Make sure everyone is heard.
- Create a safe environment for sharing ideas.
- Delegate decision-making authority.
- Share credit for successes.
- Give useful feedback.
- Implement the feedback you receive from your team.
Leverage diversity to propel innovation
So, what are some actionable changes companies can make to promote diversity, inclusion, and innovation? Here are a few ideas:
- Make diversity and inclusion part of your corporate values. This means not only devoting resources to these principles, but using them to align business priorities and evaluate progress. Just as a business might evaluate their business decisions in terms of how environmentally conscious they are, so too could they use inclusion as a benchmark for decision-making.
- Evaluate your progress. Don’t just make goals – hold your team accountable for meeting them. Also important is listening to your employees who are women, people of color, disabled, and so on. Do they think the company is fulfilling its commitment to diversity? Members of dominant groups may not realize how isolating or exclusionary their culture is to those who don’t share their background. Ask for feedback, listen, and iterate.
- Prioritize diversity in recruitment … but don’t stop there. As we’ve mentioned, just recruiting diverse candidates is not enough. To retain them, you need to provide an accepting and welcoming environment that embraces differences. Again, listen to feedback from employees on this subject. You may be surprised by what they have to say.
- Provide institutional support. One way companies can make their culture more welcoming is by establishing Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs. Also known as affinity groups, these are groups that provide support for members of a certain identity or experience. You might have an ERG to support your LGBTQ+ employees, for example.
Improving diversity and inclusion within an organization isn’t easy, but it is a worthy task. Not only is fighting for these principles at work morally right, but it also pushes companies forward in innovation. Use these techniques to promote D&I in your organization and support employees with diverse backgrounds. And if you still need help recruiting diverse candidates or supporting D&I in your organization, reach out to us. At PeopleSuite, we have decades of experience recruiting and staffing highly qualified candidates in a variety of industries.