The importance of diversity and inclusion as key pillars of a safe and healthy workplace has long been touted. A McKinsey research study found that the top ethnically diverse leadership teams are 35% more likely to outperform those companies that lack ethnic diversity. The same holds true for the leadership teams that are the most gender diverse, with a 21% likelihood of outperforming their non-gender diverse peers. So, ok, we know diversity and inclusion are good for business. In fact, more than 75% of Fortune 1000 companies offer diversity initiatives. So why are so many companies still struggling to see any significant results?
Well for one thing, diversity quotas, affinity groups and flashy website pages paying lip service to the company's commitment to diversity simply aren't enough. Those companies that truly value and prioritize diversity and inclusion for their employees have several important characteristics in common when it comes to creating these safe spaces.
Unconscious bias has the name for a reason. It is a bias that happens automatically, triggered by our brains making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations based on our backgrounds and personal experiences. We all carry them, but an inclusive company can help fight back against the effects of unconscious bias by encouraging a "speak up" culture to allow employees to self-correct behavior in the moment and prevent issues from happening in the future. Companies that allow for safe spaces to have meaningful dialogue about bias tend to see an increase in communication and transparency, leading to greater employee happiness and loyalty.
They Educate About Diversity
Learning more about those that you work with can create understanding and empathy that can impact communication, collaboration and creativity. An enhanced understanding helps to see others not just as coworkers, but as humans with varying experiences and cultural backgrounds that are all valuable to the group. Inclusive companies take the time to educate employees, ask questions and learn about those aspects that may be unfamiliar or different from your own. When we listen to and learn from each other, we can begin to break down some of the barriers and see each other as unique individuals, rather than a member of a particular group. One exercise we often do in our HABIT trainings is to think about identity like an iceberg. You can see a small part of an iceberg above the surface, like certain aspects of our identity (race, gender identity, age), but there is so much more going on beneath the surface that is hidden (political views, socio-economic status, family status, education, religion, dietary restrictions, on and on. . .). The goal of the exercise is to allow us to see each other as more than just our surface identities and to realize how beneficial it can be to get to know someone you might not otherwise have connected with; you may have more in common than you realized and without even trying, you are contributing to a more inclusive workplace culture.
They Hire & Promote A Diverse Workforce (Duh, But Really)
Representation matters, and inclusive workforces tend to have diverse employees in leadership positions and treat everyone the same. Our partners at Kaplan Hecker & Fink strongly encourage new dads to take the same four months of parental leave that they offer to new moms, and famously found a way to help their associate take full maternity leave during a clerkship by seconding another associate in her place so she could have the time off with her baby. These small acts go a very long way towards creating an equal and inclusive workplace. Gender and race pay equity is critical, as is transparency around hiring, promotion and bonus policies. Inclusive companies aim to have both a diverse workforce with meaningful representation and a valued voice in leadership positions.
Diversity and inclusion is more than creating policies around tolerance and compliance. Companies that value inclusion actively engage employees through programs and dialogue aimed at fostering acceptance in the workplace. When employees share a sense of belonging and inclusion it can make everyone, regardless of background or cultural differences, feel welcomed and valued as a member of the organization.