I've written a lot about diversity and inclusion in the workforce because I genuinely believe they are at the center of creating a great company that can last well into the future. And I'm not alone in that belief. Many studies show that by improving the diversity of your leadership and staff, you improve your success rates, long-term profitability and the viability of your company.
Yet companies continue their resistance to improving and encouraging diversity and inclusivity in their workforces, because it is hard work. There are so many subtleties to the process that it can seem nearly impossible to achieve. The truth remains, however, that change must come from the top, and it is the responsibility of the chief officers to model the diversity and inclusion they want to see in their company. Without the impetus to shake up the diversity and inclusion status quo, you will remain mired in the same mistakes for the foreseeable future, and that can spell disaster for any company.
In fact, a study done last September by global public relations firm Weber Shandwick and the management consultancy United Minds, alongside KRC Research, shows that when the best practices of diversity and inclusion align with a company's overall business strategy – as well as with the roles and responsibilities of chief diversity officers and the challenges facing them today – that company as a whole becomes more successful.
So, as a company leader, how can you change the diversity and inclusion status quo? After all, you are only one person, and it can be pretty overwhelming to think about rallying an entire organization around the tenets of diversity and inclusion. Here are four steps you need to take to change the diversity and inclusion status quo at your company.
1. Know what diversity and inclusion actually mean.
Many times, thought leadership pieces just like this one will lump diversity and inclusion into one pile. While they are intimately related, they are not the same thing and should be addressed within a company as two separate, interrelated goals.
Diversity refers to the makeup of your staff. Employees' backgrounds, nationalities, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, and disability status all make up what human resources professionals refer to as diversity. Diversity is the "what" of your staff – what makes them tick and brings them to work every day. It embodies the perspectives that they bring to the office and how they solve problems, cook up creative ideas, and prioritize work. Diversity is relatively easy to measure. [Read related article: Diversity Isn't a Checkbox: Here's How to Make It an Intentional Movement]
Inclusion, as I have written before, is much more nuanced and subtle. It's a softer, less identifiable, less quantifiable aspect of diversity, and it can be the trickiest thing to manage as a leader. As ADP notes, inclusion is the "how'" of a company's diversity strategy. How do you bring these diverse people to the table? How do you allow them to be heard? Are there processes in place to support diverse ideas? How do your employees feel about working within your company? What's the corporate culture like? How do you help a variety of opinions and ideas flourish without excluding or marginalizing people from different backgrounds? Inclusion is like the soft-skill side of diversity. It embodies the cultural aspects of a company rather than the nuts and bolts of who makes up the workforce.
If you only focus on diversity and don't foster an environment of inclusion, your plans for changing the status quo at your company will most likely fail. Diversity without inclusion is not sustainable. If your diverse workforce doesn't feel comfortable and inspired, or if it doesn't welcome a variety of perspectives, you'll see a significant outflow of unhappy staff looking for a better place to land.
While they are distinctly different, diversity and inclusion are closely related. Without inclusion, a plan for improving diversity won't last. Without diversity, inclusion isn't something you can improve.
2. Understand the makeup of your current staff.
To get a grip on the cultural makeup of your company, you need a good understanding of who works for you. Work closely with your HR department to get a clear breakdown of race, gender, gender expression and identity, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, and more. Know that even if you appear to have a relatively diverse employee base, there are always ways to improve or change the inclusion at your company. As I mentioned above, diversity and inclusion are linked, and you can't have one without the other.
Once you have a grasp on the makeup of your staff, ask yourself if there are any gaps in the staff's diversity. What groups are not represented or minimally represented in your company? Is there room for improvement? Which groups should you consider targeting to improve your diversity? These are all critical questions to answer while gathering an understanding of what your current workforce looks like.
Once you have a clear understanding of who works for you and where the gaps in your staff may be, you should look at the inclusion factor. Again, inclusion can be tough to measure, but attrition is a key factor that will tell you just how inclusive your company actually is. If you have a diverse workforce that is continually turning over, you may very well have an inclusivity problem.
While having people from a variety of backgrounds at the table is a great first step, it's not the only thing you need in order to shake up the status quo. Those diverse people have to stay with your company and bring their unique selves to the table every single day. If they don't feel welcome, comfortable and inspired to be there, they will find better places to work. The rate at which your diverse staff turns over can offer you an excellent benchmark of just how inclusive your company is.
Once you know what your attrition rate might be, it's essential to drill down into why that rate is what it is. What causes people to leave your company? Is there a common thread that ties all the departures together? Your HR department can support your inquiries in this space and give you a better understanding of what is really going on with your staff.
3. Examine your systems and processes.
Once you understand the makeup of your staff and the attrition rate, you can move on to examining the systems, structures, processes, and policies you have in place that can profoundly influence how included diverse employees feel at your company.
It goes without saying that a high turnover or attrition rate could be a sign of problems with the inclusivity of your policies, practices, structure, and systems. Both the documented and undocumented processes that you use to get the job done every day can have unnoticed biases built in.
Diverse workforces won't thrive when they are forced to follow procedures and processes that are not designed for their particular demographic. This kind of thing can submarine any well-intentioned goal of creating more inclusivity. It can be incredibly damaging and demoralizing to staff to have to interact with and use these systems or processes every day, which can lead to mass departures and, again, a high attrition rate.
Also consider how you and your staff make hiring decisions. Many times, there is a question of "right cultural fit." There may be some inherent bias in the right-fit idea that makes those who do have diverse backgrounds feel excluded. Consider these factors from all angles to get a good idea of where you and your C-suite might be blind to aspects of the company creating inclusion problems.
Once you know where the problems lie, you can tackle them head-on and work with your diverse workforce to change the problems and move on to dismantling and rethinking your company culture.
4. Dismantle and rethink the systems and processes that don't support inclusion.
The brilliant writer David Foster Wallace once told a story about two young fish swimming by an older fish. The older fish wishes them a good morning, asks, "How's the water?" and swims on. It takes the two young fish a moment before one asks the other, "What the hell is water?"
Corporate culture is a lot like water to a fish. Whether it's something you have created and contributed to or a preexisting environment, it's often hard to identify precisely what corporate culture is, what it does, what it supports or hinders, and how it influences daily decisions to support inclusion. You have to examine the "water" around you closely to see how it might make those with diverse backgrounds feel uncomfortable or prevent them from doing their jobs.
This can be difficult and painstaking work, and it requires a commitment. You and your team must take a good, hard look at the corporate culture you are steeped in, asking difficult questions about how the culture supports or detracts from making your diverse workforce feel included. You could be surprised at what you find. Subtle things can make a tremendous difference.
The best way to tackle a project like this is to have open and honest conversations with your diverse staff. It's important to talk to longtime and incoming staff as well as those who have decided to leave the company for other opportunities.
These frank discussions can give real insight into what is actually going on in your corporate culture that could be detracting from your goal of an inclusive workplace. Consider everything from physical spaces to the systems that you require your staff to use to complete their daily tasks. Your staff can point out your blind spots and help you change and improve to support inclusivity. [Read related article: How to Attract and Hire Diverse Employees (and Why You Should)]
The bottom line on changing the diversity and inclusion status quo
The truth is that changing the diversity and inclusion status quo is quite challenging, but it is not impossible. By following these four basic steps to get a sense of where you and your company are on the diversity and inclusion path, you can better understand and plan for how to improve your efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive company. Investing in the hard work it takes to improve these areas now will boost the success of your business down the road.