A critical topic for the fastest-growing generation in the workforce, Generation Z, and one that all companies need to have at the forefront of their minds is fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Diversity and inclusivity are not just something that is nice to have. According to studies conducted by leading generational researchers David and Jonah Stillman, 77% of Gen Z state that a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there.
In our recent global research on workplace culture, we found that a positive and inclusive environment was the second most important factor for employees in determining if they would stay in their current role or look for a new job. In my last article, I highlighted how to create some more positivity in the workplace, but now we want to consider how to build more inclusion into your culture. Let’s begin by understanding some of the keywords that define this area of workplace culture.
Diversity and inclusion are two buzzwords that are brought up often in leadership meetings across every industry. They roll off the tongue as a pair—diversity and inclusion—but we don’t always consider what each of those is as an individual concept. And, as a leader in your organization, it is important that you understand them both, as they both should be a critical part of your culture.
The Merriam-Webster definition of diversity is “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” When we consider people and each “differing element” within your team members, diversity is a huge concept. As we talk about diversity, the most common type to come to mind is the diversity of race and ethnicity, but that alone is a very narrow-minded view of the concept. In actuality, diversity can and should also include the diversity of sexual orientation, gender, age, socioeconomic status, background, skill set, level of education, and more. Anything that makes us unique as people are part of our own diversity and has reason to be celebrated and sought out.
Inclusion, on the other hand, is the act or state of being included within some kind of structure. The big difference between diversity and inclusion is that diversity is, more or less, passive. It is a representation of diverse groups and the presence of individuals who are a part of those groups. But mere presence is not enough, so we look to the more active idea of inclusion. Inclusion involves ensuring that diversity isn’t just there to paint a pretty picture; it actively recognizes and celebrates differences and, more importantly, invites everyone to the table and encourages their contributions.
So, what can you do as an owner or leader to build greater diversity and inclusion in your business? If your first instinct is to just say, “let’s have diversity training,” you’re in good company, but you’re on the wrong track. A recent statistic revealed that Americans spent an estimated $7.5 billion on DEI-related efforts, and that number is projected to hit $15.4 billion by 2026. The unfortunate truth is there’s little to no evidence that these mandatory workshops and training work – and they may even prove to do more harm than good.
Thankfully, because this is such an important topic for today’s workforce, there is a lot of good research being done in this area, too. From our experience working with clients on improving D&I and from the current research on the subject, these are our top four recommendations for making actual improvements to diversity and inclusion in your organization.
Start at the top.
The ownership and senior management team must take the lead in creating a collective mindset or culture that wants, respects, and embraces differences. I know this might sound obvious, but if those at the top of the business do not accept, want, and then actively invite greater diversity into their business, it will not happen organically at lower levels. Unfortunately, whether we like to admit it or not, many business leaders subconsciously prefer that everybody looks and thinks the same. While that sameness might appear to reduce conflict and create closer connections, it also means that the business is missing out on the best talent, lacking in creative thinking, and being insulated with an unrealistic view of the diverse world in which we live.
Give your hiring processes an update.
If you want diversity but aren’t getting it, then you need to look at how you are hiring people. The reality is that most recruitment processes are inherently biased, and it is easy for owners and managers to hire people that look and think as they do.
When it comes to recruiting greater diversity, first, look at casting a wider net when connecting with potential employees through various channels. Be sure to utilize multiple channels, including job fairs, online job posting sites, college campuses, and even job placement agencies. By recruiting from a variety of communities and socioeconomic backgrounds, you open yourself up to a wider group of candidates and possibilities. Next, during interviews, be sure that you ask each candidate the exact same set of questions to maintain consistency. Also, get more people involved in the hiring process—use a diverse panel of current managers and employees to help assess candidates. Finally, ensure that any pre-employment testing is 100% job-related, valid, and reliable.
Recruitment is one area where technology is playing a bigger role; often, technology is used in helping companies pre-screen and select ideal candidates. One major advantage of this is that the technology has no consideration for a person’s ethnicity, background, sexual orientation, or sex. It is simply dedicated to finding the best person for the role. So, if your organization has the resources, consider using technology to help further reduce bias in the recruitment process.
Once you have created more diversity within your workforce, you can now focus on ensuring inclusion is a reality.
Consider the impact of your front-line managers.
Inclusive leadership means taking a personalized approach and getting to know each member of your team. It means involving and listening to employees on key elements of their employee experience—how they prefer to be recognized and rewarded, their communication preferences (including how they’d like to be heard), and their career development. Managers must show a genuine interest in the individual and their story, including their background, ethnicity, orientation, traditions, beliefs, and groups they relate to. This requires managers to step outside of their comfort zone and have meaningful conversations that create a sense of truly knowing another person. It requires leaders to have an open mind and to be aware of how their own assumptions or biases may be, making them less inclusive than they think.
Inclusion means creating opportunities for everyone to contribute their ideas. This means collecting ideas from all employees, not just the employees who always speak up. This also includes actively seeking input from all employees during meetings and having regular one-on-one conversations with all members of the team to get their input. Managers should encourage employees to challenge current practices and come up with creative ideas and solutions. This means as well that managers should not ever immediately dismiss or ridicule an idea. To truly foster creativity, no idea can be off-limits for consideration. A manager should be a safe space where they can share their input.
Managers can have a significant impact as well by celebrating the differences of their team. When managers respect and recognize the different talents, perspectives, and ideas that their employees showcase each day, then an inclusive work environment becomes a reality. All employees want to be seen at their best, so when managers spend time with their employees, recognizing their strengths and abilities even beyond the work they do each day, it makes all the difference.
Commit to a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and bullying.
The focus of any business and manager should be on building a unified team that respects each other, their backgrounds, and their ideas. Leaders must be able to recognize when employees are not being included and must have tough conversations with those who make others feel left out.
However, feeling left out is often the least of a person’s worries as they try to fit into their work environment and with their team. As highlighted by the media, there are still too many occurrences of bullying and harassment in the workplace. The unfortunate truth is there are still too many owners and managers who are not committed to encouraging diversity in their workplaces. As a result of this outdated thinking from a place of authority, too many workers are allowed to feel inferior, uncomfortable, and frustrated at work – and those who make them feel that way are let off without even a warning.
There can be no place in the workplace for managers who use their position to harass and bully others. It is up to owners and senior managers to have zero tolerance for such behavior. And if you are an owner or senior manager who does not see the problem with such behavior, do not be surprised when your employees quickly depart for an organization that will appreciate and includes them as they are.
Research has revealed again and again the correlation between diverse teams and stronger results. At the very least, diversity may lead to greater creativity and better decision-making due to the variety of viewpoints being considered. And a focus on diversity is critical to attract and retain the best young talent available. With that in mind, consider what you are doing to build an inclusive environment, one that ensures the diversity in your workplace is more than just checking the D&I box. Aesop, the old fabulist, once wrote, “When all is said and done, often more is said than done.” That probably sums up many companies’ approach to D&I. We hope this business advice gives you more insights and ideas for getting something done right, and we are confident that your entire organization will benefit.