More than four decades have passed since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established in 1965. The Commission's mandate was to investigate cases of discrimination in the workplace.
Now, almost 55 years after the creation of EEOC, workplace diversity remains a protracted problem. For example, C-suites and boardrooms among Fortune 500 companies continue to be overwhelmingly male and white—though not all. Twelve of the Fortune 500 appeared on the most recent 50 Best Workplaces for Diversity list.
The issue of diversity and inclusion understandably raises numerous questions. What exactly is workplace diversity, and why are some businesses making significant strides in increasing it while others continue to lag? Does diversity among employees really add to the bottom line, or is it simply a gratuitous nod toward political correctness? Finally, what steps can businesses take to create a culture in which diversity and inclusion are promoted and valued?
What Is Workplace Diversity?
Diversity and inclusion mean different things to different people. Most agree, however, that they have a direct impact on the workplace. Here's how Small Business defines diversity in the workplace:
In order to explain the term diversity, it is important to understand that diversity directly affects the workplace—and with increasing significance. The term diversity includes an understanding and acceptance of the fact that people have individual characteristics, which make them unique from each other, particularly when comparing individuals in a group. These characteristics may include race, ethnicity, gender, religion, political ideologies, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, or socio-economic status. These characteristics also may include life experiences and cognitive approaches toward problem solving.
Are Diversity and Inclusion the Same Thing?
Workplace diversity and inclusion have a similar goal: to increase the influence of marginalized groups in businesses. But they're not precisely the same thing.
Diversity, for example, has to do with who works for a company. It includes things like recruitment strategies and who gets to sit at the table during important meetings. Inclusion is more about the tactics employers leverage to ensure that all groups are welcomed by the company, and that employees at all levels understand (through effective training programs) that diversity is an integral component of a company's mission, brand, and policies.
How Do Diversity and Inclusion Benefit Business?
Properly understood, diversity and inclusion are not about organizational reputation alone. They have a direct impact on productivity and profitability, as well as on a company's ability to recruit top talent. Consider these eye-opening workplace diversity metrics:
Businesses with more diverse management teams on average have almost 20% higher revenue
Inclusive companies are almost twice as likely to be thought leaders and innovators in their industries
Diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones almost 90% of the time when it comes to making smart business decisions
More than 2 of every 3 job seekers say that a diverse workforce is an important consideration in weighing job offers
Companies that are more racially and ethnically diverse exceed industry norms by more than 35%
What Can Companies Do to Increase Diversity and Inclusion?
Achieving the goal of increased diversity and inclusion requires a thoughtful plan or a group of smart tactics aimed at clearly defined objectives. That plan should include things like:
The establishment of realistic and measurable goals. It’s a truism, but nevertheless true, that establishing clear goals increases the likelihood of achieving them. Getting input from key stakeholders as part of the goal-setting process is essential.
Emphasizing that diversity is about more than race. Among the boondoggles many companies face is relegating diversity to a series of racial statistics. In fact, diversity is about race, but also about gender, religious backgrounds, nationalities and sexual orientation, among other factors.
Enhanced recruitment strategies. These include casting a wider, more diverse net to fill job openings and, if necessary, recruiting from a larger geographic area.
Enhanced retention strategies. Companies that are inclusive and diverse understand that it's not enough to recruit diverse talent. Strategies aimed at retaining and promoting diverse workers (to add their voices to leadership decisions) must also be a priority.
A focus on organizational culture. Inclusive, diverse businesses use employee surveys and training to transform the culture of their companies.
Enabling Transformational Change
As important as these tactics are to achieving greater diversity and inclusion, they're not sufficient to effect enduring change. That's because the change needed is transformational, not transactional.
Applying both quantitative and qualitative measures of success can help. The process begins by asking employees straightforward questions that elicit transparent responses—questions like whether they feel forced to behave at work in ways that are different from their normal behavior.
Next, it means actively listening to employees’ responses to these questions. This is not a pro forma exercise. Rather, it’s intended to illuminate the truth about the current culture of diversity and inclusion.
Finally, it means integrating three qualitative, yet critical goals:
Ensure employees are treated with respect. Employees may give the "right" answers to diversity and inclusion questions, but have they internalized the value of mutual respect and integrated it into their work? Respect is a cornerstone value in organizational culture. According to Gallup, 90% of employees who report not being treated in a respectful manner are more likely to report incidents of harassment and discrimination from fellow workers.
Ensure employees are valued for their abilities and accomplishments. One of the sticking points of failed diversity plans is the lingering belief among some workers that people from diverse backgrounds are valued by management based solely on their diversity. For this reason, it's important to give all employees opportunities to achieve, and to celebrate their achievements at every possible turn.
Ensure leadership fully embraces the plan. Establishing sound diversity and inclusion policies is not only the right thing to do ethically—it also builds trust among colleagues, which increases productivity and profitability. Leadership must understand the reasons for ramping up diversity and inclusion planning and then commit to actualizing a workplace environment where all employees feel free to express their opinions honestly and safely. According to Gallup, a culture of trust positively correlates to one of inclusiveness.
Creating a work culture where diversity and inclusion are valued is about doing what's right for diverse workers—and doing what's right for business. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion will help companies attract and retain more talented employees, enhance productivity, and increase revenue.
Interested in learning more about diversity & inclusion in the workplace? Check out our webinar, Recruiting for Diversity: How to Build Better Teams by Overcoming Biased Hiring.