A discussion on race, diversity, and inclusion takes a willingness to push one’s comfort levels. It requires examining your and your company’s efforts to foster progress—with the goal to improve the work environment and to gain a lasting competitive advantage.
An effective response to changing demographics—domestic and global—requires organizations to embrace change in their hiring and promotional policies. An inclusive organizational culture will hasten a diverse workplace. In business, a competitive advantage requires an adaptive organization. The one constant in business is change and successful companies respond to a changing marketplace—a marketplace of innovation, products, services, technology, and people. It anticipates changes in buying power, consumer trends, and consumer preferences, and it attracts the best talent. It’s as true in business as it is in not-for-profits or governmental agencies.
A global mindset can leverage diversity and inclusion. Making this organizational shift takes planning; however, some steps can help quicken the process. The outcome of this mindset is “thinking outside your world,” improving communication, and having the confidence to launch a business case for a diversity and inclusion initiative by reshaping the policies and practices within your organization.
Netflix Vice President of Inclusion Strategy Verna Myers captured the way this mindset gets implemented: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance,” she said.
The following steps illustrate an organizational approach to diversity and inclusion.
Step One: Self-Awareness/Unconscious Bias
Self-awareness is the ability to perceive your emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations. This means accepting and understanding yourself—your strengths and your weaknesses. Self-awareness and self-management are two of the four parts of the four quadrants that comprise emotional intelligence. This leadership competency is at the top of the list of competencies that, if not embraced, will likely lead to failure. Becoming more self-aware in the workplace allows you to relate better to colleagues and employees. It also plays a part in your personal life.
Many of us were taught that our norms and our social experiences are the way it “should be,” so we react negatively when we see something outside of our experience. It’s not necessarily wrong, it’s different. But that’s not how we react. We might say something like, “Hey, that’s just wrong.”
This reaction does not mean you are racist (an explicit bias), but it may reveal an unconscious/implicit bias in which we translate different to be wrong.
To raise awareness of how diversity and inclusion influence relationships—and can build capabilities throughout an organization—you have to understand when your unconscious biases come into play. It is one of the defining aspects of self-awareness.
Everyone holds these unconscious beliefs. What is proper is taught early.
First, embrace the fact that it is normal to hold these unconscious preferences and biases, and second, realize that those preferences and biases influence most, if not all, of the decisions we make, particularly those regarding people.
These unconscious feelings play a strong part in influencing our judgment of whom we consider as “others.” Our biases shape how effectively we interact.
Step Two: Understand the Diversity Iceberg
Consider the iceberg as a metaphor. An iceberg will be only 10% visible above water. This reflects how we see people or groups of people, cultures, or ethnicities. Our biases, decisions, and unreasoned feelings and judgments are based only on 10% of a person or culture that we see.
The remaining 90%—what we do not see—is the part that will allow us to make a conscious decision regarding a person or culture. Your own life experience may affect your view of how others’ cultural values compare and contrast with your own. Being “minority” or “majority” in any larger culture will also affect how one views the world.
Sociological studies maintain that as an average we all spend about 25% of our time trying to fit in. Time spent fitting in—whether on the job, at school, or outside of work—can contribute to a reduction in productivity and even employee turnover. When you work in a culturally diverse environment, you will notice behavioral differences and similarities. For the most part, our behaviors are connected to cultural norms. Think about it this way: if you continue to judge a book solely by its cover, you might miss an amazing story! As we hold our bias in suspension, we are better able to appreciate the added value that various cultures contribute.
Step Three: Understand Business Impact
Transformational leaders understand how diversity and inclusion impact their business from recruiting (job descriptions, interviewing methods, etc.) to retention and promotion. Some groups value the diversity they see in the workplace. According to a 2014 survey by PWC and InsightIntoDiversity.com, 72% of women consider workforce diversity an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. Similarly, 89% of African American, 80% of Asian, and 70% of Latino respondents said the diversity of a company’s workforce is important to them. All identity groups find value in companies that hire and promote “people like them.”
Human resources (HR) has to review its recruiting and interviewing resources such as recruiting strategies. This includes where HR “recruits” to expand the diverse talent at an organization. When it comes to recruiting, organizations must address each aspect of the hiring process from start to finish.
- Expand and diversify the talent pool
- Create more inclusive job descriptions that include strong relationship-building skills on working with individuals from diverse communities and cultures
- Review and enhance interview questions to ensure they enable an inclusive mindset to hire top talent
According to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, diversity and inclusion within organizations create stronger financial performance and increased market share. Here are a few results from a 2015 report they did:
- Organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median
- Organizations in the top quartile for ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median
- Organizations in the bottom quartile in both gender and ethnic diversity were 25% more likely to underperform the other three quartiles
Author Simon Sinek said it best: “Consumers don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Step Four: Be Part of the Solution
When embracing diversity and fostering inclusion, employees within an organization recognize that not everyone shares each other’s belief, but they are happy to work at a place that supports their way of life and supports the way of life of their coworkers. Consider the following ways to move toward an inclusive workplace:
- Increase awareness of your unconscious biases
- Understand the definition of diversity and inclusion
- Be aware of the global shift: cultural knowledge, country-specific laws and compliance, etc.
- Be careful of establishing illegal quotas (unless there is an EEOC situation)
- Know the consequences of not recognizing unconscious bias
- Understand key demographics that affect your organization
- Know what is changing globally (and locally) in your business
- Understand the diversity of your customers (internally and externally)
- Pay attention to responses given to social topics
- Help others realize their potential
- Treat every person as a unique individual
- Begin or enhance the business case for diversity and inclusion
- Develop strategy, training, goals, and objectives
- Include and encourage full participation
Employees, potential candidates, suppliers/vendors, and customers will see this inclusiveness, and how your global reach is extended—increasing the organization’s bottom line, creating a competitive advantage, and most importantly, gaining an open, global mindset.
Achieving diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace is a process, and it takes education, collaboration, and high commitment. So, challenge yourselves to be willing to be a bit uncomfortable as you participate in creating a more significant change to achieve a healthy and thriving work environment.
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Nicole F. Smith, M.Ed., CDBC, is Director of Learning and Leadership Development, Barings, LLC, and a certified behavior consultant. For the past 20 years, with her background in learning and development, human resources, and payroll, Smith has trained and coached many organizational leaders at every level in various industries. She has designed, hosted, and facilitated many educational events, conferences, and seminars with attendance of more than 5,000 people. Smith has engaged audiences on a variety of leadership topics such as conflict management, skillful collaboration, emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, and more.