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Diversity Isn't a Checkbox: Here's How to Make It an Intentional Movement

ByDara Treseder,
business.com writer
|
Sep 16, 2019
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Diversity isn't just something that looks good to the outside world, it can spawn innovation and improve financial performance. This five-point plan will help you make it a reality in your company.

  • Workplace diversity is sometimes seen as "have to" rather than a "want to" or "need to."
  • Diversity works best when it's organically integrated into a company's cultural fabric. 
  • Championing diversity from the C-suite down allows companies to make it a value that permeates every department and every level.

Make diversity an intentional movement in your organization

Workplace diversity is becoming a sincere need, desire and priority for American employees. As the country itself shifts and underrepresented groups continue to shape our mainstream culture, U.S. workers are demanding diversity from their employers. 

New research from the Pew Research Center supports this sentiment. The study suggests that three-quarters of Americans say it's important for companies to promote racial and ethnic diversity. For companies to do this in an authentic way, it is important to actually change the makeup of your organization. 

Diversity needs to be intentional and wholesale, not just some item to check off a list. So much talent from underrepresented groups is available and ready to add value to the current corporate landscape. Businesses that treat diversity initiatives as organic talent searches can interact with and onboard quality hires who add long-term value to their organizations. 

What intentional diversity means for your workplace

Intentional diversity is exactly what it sounds like: Building a culture and staff that fills the gaps a company might have. For instance, if your company lacks knowledge about the communities it serves, intentional diversity recruits talent from those communities to confront potential bias and ignorance directly. 

The insights brought on by intentional diversity also invite more innovation. A study conducted by North Carolina State University compared several companies' diversity policies and the number of new patents and products each one produced. The results found that the organizations that favored intentional diversity were more likely to develop and unveil new products

Why? Well, approaching diversity deliberately means looking critically at your organization, both its strengths and weaknesses. It means that you're asking questions that point to customers' needs and future needs. 

The "intentional" part also means that companies are actively sharing knowledge. As organizations take into account a wider array of insights and values, those companies will collaborate more and boost revenue. According to a 2018 study by the Boston Consulting Group, there's a direct correlation between diversity and financial performance

So intentional diversity isn't just good optics. It's a demonstrated boost to an organization's bottom line, proof that it's a worthwhile approach to take. 

Practice intentional diversity

Seeking a more diverse company isn't enough; you have to put active measures in place to turn your organization's mindset more toward different viewpoints. Use these strategies to leverage intentional diversity to its fullest potential. 

1. Make it a top-down initiative. 

Ideally, diversity should diffuse from every part of your organization. But to really put it in motion, leadership must drive it. 

If leadership doesn't embrace or embody diversity, the initiative can only go so far. Lengthen its shelf life by showing employees examples of diversity's effectiveness so they can envision pathways to success for themselves. 

Wealth management platform MyVest, for instance, made a concerted effort to build a more gender-representative executive team. In the spirit of one of its mantras ("People Matter"), the company renamed its human resources department the "people and culture" team and set out to make representation a priority in the C-suite and elsewhere. 

When MyVest employed this approach, it saw the change reflected in the whole organization and got more buy-in from its staff. Women now constitute 33% of MyVest's executive team, and occupy pivotal roles such as the chief technology officer and vice president of engineering. Consider MyVest's example one to follow when committing to intentional diversity. As leaders, take an "all-in" approach to diversity and display just how effective a resource it is. 

2. Allow equality to spark efficiency. 

Intentional diversity empowers everybody in your organization to feel valued and produce to their fullest potential. Think of equality as another way to accomplish this. 

An Accenture study found that the workplaces that prioritize equality were more likely to foster innovation due to the presence of fewer creative barriers. Use intentional diversity to build an experienced staff capable of developing unique solutions. When brainstorming or troubleshooting, identify unique solutions from out-of-the-box sources.

Diversity of experience enables you to leverage as many minds as possible to innovate and produce. By embracing equality, you outfit your company with minds that can dig any part of your organization's operation out of a rut. 

3. Communicate your goals around diversity. 

Part of intentional diversity is discussing it with your whole team. Communicate why diversity is important to you and how it will influence your organization so your team sees how serious and committed you are. 

For example, the CEO of my company informed our entire staff when we achieved gender pay equity and reiterated his commitment to maintaining this important balance. This announcement didn't just trumpet a stat that will make us look good in the hiring process. It was an example of our commitment to do what it takes to attract and retain an inclusive and diverse array of talent. 

Communicating broadly will help to ensure that you don't treat diversity as a temporary fix or initiative, as there will be accountability. Sharing your goals allows you to make diversity a cultural movement, an ethos that will define your company and lead it into the future. 

4. Get diversity and your market on the same page. 

Diversity will look very different in different organizations and markets. It's important to pursue the kind of diversity that will ensure you're able to innovate and relate to consumers. 

To do this, you'll need to assess demographic breakdowns and see how your company can better appeal to or strengthen its foothold with certain underrepresented parties. What this means may shift according to how your marketplace changes, so get ready to periodically re-evaluate and revisit diversity the way you would your business plan. 

5. Recognize your unconscious biases. 

Numbers paint a grim picture of how bias affects productivity. In a study conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation, employees who perceive some sort of bias in their companies are three times less engaged than their counterparts, and active disengagement, in turn, causes U.S. companies to lose between $450 and $550 billion annually. Bias also hurts retention: Employees who perceive bias are three times more likely to jump ship within a year than those who don't. 

For leadership, those losses become even tougher to endure when they realize these root biases are ones they unconsciously harbored. To be intentional about diversity, take a hard look at those blind spots and formulate a plan to rectify them. 

Health care coverage manager Kaiser Permanente confronts its own potential biases directly through its National Diversity Agenda, an initiative primarily focused on building a racially diverse staff. It's a proactive and effective approach that's allowed Kaiser to consciously pursue diversity while simultaneously assessing where it can improve its inclusivity efforts. 

While this kind of full-scale overhaul isn't possible for some companies, managers can similarly shine a light on their own unconscious biases and strategize ways to overcome them. For example, look at the hiring resources (universities, scholarship programs, etc.) that your company doesn't usually tap or voices that aren't often heard from within your company. Determine why those avenues don't get explored and why those employees aren't listened to, and then find ways to better involve them. 

Diversity looks good, but it's also a driving force that the company of the future will need to run. By getting everyone in your organization excited about the long game of diversity and inclusion, you will fuel your company to include more viewpoints, backgrounds, and identities, not just now but as it evolves.

Dara Treseder
Dara Treseder
See Dara Treseder's Profile
Dara Treseder is the chief marketing officer for Carbon, a leading digital manufacturing platform that helps bring game-changing products to market fast. Carbon is located in Redwood City, California.
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