As someone who worked with different Kenyan tribes when running hotels and safaris, diversity and inclusion is a topic that is important to me.
And it should be important to you too. Why? Because employee diversity has measurable, positive effects on organizational success. Plus, on a macro level, due to the global political environment, employees are personally concerned with diversity and inclusion (D&I) issues (including gender pay equity) and want their employers to offer perspective on those issues. In this way, D&I now touches employee engagement, human rights and social justice.
Today I want to break down D&I simply, for those who see diversity and inclusion as an insurmountable challenge to tackle. We’ll start with outlining how D&I benefits company performance, including information which can be used to urge leaders to take D&I initiatives more seriously. Then, I’ll discuss how to foster inclusion at work—because what’s the point of a diverse workforce if employees don’t feel included in company culture, decision-making and upward mobility? Lastly, I’ll review some challenges that diversity brings to company culture and performance.
Four Ways Diversity Benefits Company Performance
Here are four examples of the measurable, positive effects that employee diversity has on organizational success:
Women increase equity, sales and ROI
Catalyst took a look at Fortune 500 companies with women on their board of directors and found that these which co? those that focus on D&I? companies had a higher return on equity by at least 53%, were superior in sales by at least 42%, and had a higher ROI, to the tune of 66%. Those are not small numbers.
Diverse top teams = top financial performers
McKinsey quarterly reported that between 2008 and 2010, companies with more diverse top teams were also top financial performers.
Diversity and inclusion identified as key driver of innovation
When 321 executives at large global enterprises ($500 million plus in annual revenues) were surveyed for the Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce study, diversity and inclusion were identified as the key driver of not only internal innovation, but also business growth.
Diverse groups are superior problem solvers
Groups of diverse problem solvers outperformed groups of high-ability problem solvers, according to a study by Lu Hong and Scott E. Page.
Creating a diverse staff and culture is only the first step. It doesn’t do much good without inclusion, which takes effort. Because what’s the point of a room full of diverse thinkers when no one feels empowered to share their thoughts? Here are three tips to foster a sense of inclusion amongst a diverse workforce:
How Managers Foster A Sense Of Inclusion Among A Diverse Workforce
Coach People To Listen More and Interrupt Less
Listening is a key element of inclusion, and while it sounds simple, it actually requires practice and intention. Leaders and managers need to coach people to listen more and interrupt less. They need to listen with their whole selves—taking into account the words, body language and energy of the communicator.
Encourage Equal Stage Time in All Meetings
We’ve all been in meetings that were dominated by the person with the loudest voice. And unfortunately, the “squeaky wheel” strategy does sometimes garner results in the business world. This is the opposite of inclusion. Encourage meetings where all speak up equally. This will take some careful management at first, but with time the culture of the meetings will change, and more voices will be heard.
Work On Your Own Bias
Our own bias can greatly influence decision-making, often preventing inclusion unconsciously. Here are six quick tips for working on our own biases.
- Start by taking the IAT test to identify biases you have that yet may be unaware of: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
- Watch your language. Biased language is ingrained in how we speak, but can exclude diverse employees. For example, “Okay you guys, let’s get down to work,” does not include female members of the team.
- Identify particular elements in company processes that function as entry points for bias. For example, is your hiring committee all male? People tend to be drawn to others like themselves. If you identify your hiring committee as largely dominated by one gender or ethnicity, change it up.
- Include positive images of diverse groups in the workplace such as posters, newsletters, videos, reports and podcasts. This helps our brains make positive associations with groups we may otherwise be unconsciously biased toward.
- Visualize a positive interaction with toward with those you have a bias against. Visualization is powerful and can actually alter the brain.
- Encourage workers to call out bias and hold each other accountable. Yes, that means calling out leaders too.
Read here for more detailed information on these points.
The Challenges Diversity Brings To Company Performance Or Company Culture
Diversity increases different ways of seeing the world and how people work. For example, how a person from the U.S. views time versus how a person from China views time may be drastically different. Learning the cultural differences between team members strengthens team understanding.
In addition, the complexity of ideas increases with more diverse teams. This is more difficult to manage than homogenous ideas, which require less debate to come to agreement and make decisions. While diversity breeds innovation, it can also present a challenge and requires careful communication skills.
Welcoming diversity and inclusion into your organization is critical. I urge all leaders to take an honest look at where diversity and inclusion stands in their organization, and make it a strategic priority. For some ideas about how to do that check out my article: Human Capital Trends: Diversity Takes the Spotlight.