diversity and inclusion. These buzz words have been pushed to the forefront of headlines with movements such as #MeToo and the growing focus on the overall makeup of the organization. Diversity can take many forms: racial, gender, sexual, religious, physical ability, etc. It can even involve varying education and work experience levels. Often diversity and inclusion are used interchangeably but in reality, they are two separate ideas. While having a diverse talent pool of employees is admirable, it does not make a difference unless the organization also has a policy of inclusiveness where employees feel supported, appreciated and welcomed to go with it.
Diversity is about representation. Inclusion fosters a feeling of belonging, where employees feel connected to your business. If you have a diverse team that effectively reflects the demographics of your market and clientele, you are half-way there. To fully reap the benefits of diversity, you must also implement policies where your workers will feel comfortable to share their ideas, leading to innovation and growth for your company. Here are six tips to building a more inclusive workplace from The Society of Human Resource Management:
- Educate Your Leaders: In order for your program to be successful, it must be practiced consistently through all levels of management. Do not assume all of your leaders understand what diversity and inclusion mean. Instead, provide instruction in what inclusion is and why it is important for your organization. Training in unconscious bias, judging people based on gender, race or other factors without realizing it, can also be helpful. Your leaders should walk away from the training equipped with tips to help them better model inclusive behavior, such as engaging in active listening and encouraging different points of view—in meetings, performance reviews, and other interactions.
- Form an Inclusion Council: Consider forming a council made up of a group of eight to twelve influential leaders who are committed and passionate about inclusion. Your group may be larger or smaller depending on the size and makeup of your organization. Ideally, the council would be involved in goal-setting around hiring, retaining and advancing a diverse workforce and in addressing any employee engagement problems among underrepresented employee groups. Having underrepresented team members on the council is helpful for understanding some of the issues they face but often they do not have the power to affect actual policy changes.
- Celebrate Employee Differences: One of the most important ways to show employees that you respect their backgrounds and traditions is to invite them to share those in the workplace. Cultural potlucks and holiday observances, creating a prayer room, space for nursing mothers or making an extra effort to reach remote employees are examples of ways you can make employees feel included.
- Listen to Employees: The best way to understand your team's needs and expectations is to get it directly from them. Use employee surveys and focus groups to identify engagement and inclusion issues, as well as other topics that may be of concern for your team. Listen with an open mind and do not attempt to defend or explain examples that they provide.
- Hold More Effective Meetings: Beyond policies, an employee's day to day interactions with coworkers and management are a true reflection of the organization's inclusiveness and culture. Meetings are the cornerstone of most offices. You can make meetings more effective and inclusive by ensuring all employees have a voice, being open to differing viewpoints and new ideas, scheduling meetings at alternating times to accommodate employees who arrive later or work remotely and distributing materials to be discussed ahead of time.
- Communicate goals and Measure Progress: Establish and clearly communicate specific, measurable and time-bound goals as you would with any other strategic aim. Diversity and Inclusion goals should be a part of your overall company goals and strategies, not a separate indicator to meet. Use feedback from your team and best practices from other companies to set your goals. Once your policies are implemented, conduct occasional audits to verify if they are yielding the desired results.
Implementing diversity and inclusion policies is a competitive advantage for companies that are able to do so successfully. Research from McKinsey & Company, Delivering Through Diversity, found that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 21% more likely to outperform their counterparts who did not have such policies. The study also found those who were more racially and ethnically diverse were 33% more profitable. Actively promoting and implementing inclusive strategies does not happen overnight. However, the benefits of a multi-talented, happier and more productive workforce as well as the possibilities of growth and increased profits sure make the efforts worth it.
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