Workplace Diversity and Inclusion: A Guide To The Benefits, Background & Ideas
It’s rare today to see a company without some form of workplace diversity and inclusion program. But these terms are no longer your grandparent’s definitions. They have evolved and the growing millennial workforce has revolutionized how inclusion and new perspectives can improve productivity and profitability.
To keep your workplace attractive and profitable, we’ll discuss actionable definitions of these concepts, tips to implement successful programs, and key takeaways about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
What is Workplace Diversity?
In the days of yore, the meaning of workplace diversity was rather one dimensional. When someone talked of a diverse office, they simply meant a company where one would see faces from different genders, races, and ethnicities. It was all about numbers and demographics.
But simplicity is not always better and having many diverse people doesn’t mean that they are able to utilize their valuable perspectives if they are simply forced into an inflexible workplace mold. As the most diverse generation yet, with almost half coming from an ethnic background, millennials have radically changed this conversation.
Rather than focusing on just numbers, which don’t really promote integration or inclusion, millennials have brought a psychological and cultural element to diversity. And with millennials set to make up 3 out of every 4 employees by 2025, their influence is hard to ignore.
Diversity today means not only having a diverse workforce of genders, ability, identities, and ethnicities, but embracing, integrating, and engaging with these unique perspectives and ideas.The younger generation of workers believes in the power of working together and learning from one another. This means addressing diversity not only on the superficial level, but the cognitive and functional level as well, and making an inclusive workplace that is accommodating to all levels of ability and sees every individual’s difference as a chance to grow and gain new perspectives.
Where Does Inclusion Come In?
Diversity programs always have a second, and often more integral, part: Inclusion. Building off the focus on cognitive engagement with diverse experiences and views, inclusion strives to bring every unique experience into a holistic team.
The older understanding of inclusion, in which every employee was guaranteed fair treatment and equal chances, was, of course, a good start. But today’s workforce has brought the meaning of inclusion one step (or perhaps a few steps) further, involving not only base promises but making them a reality through changing how teams work together.
- Collaborating with each other and building open, interactive workplaces
- Creating workspaces for all level of ableness
- Learning from and appreciating everyone’s experiences and strengths
- Giving every opinion equal value and consideration
Inclusion is the Key
“Inclusion happens when people in power use that power to bring people in rather than keep people out.” — Amber Baldet, former head of the blockchain team at JP Morgan Chase
For any person who is a minority in their workplace, be it gender, race, ability, or something else, it can be a stressful experience. One is confronted daily with stereotypes and expectations that must be proven wrong, regardless of whether they originate externally in society and the office, or internally based on past experiences. It’s a hard line to walk between giving up part of your identity to fit in, and vocalizing ideas and suggestions and thus magnifying the alienation of standing out.
An inclusive workplace alleviates these tensions by building a team based on the appreciation of experiences, strengths, and talents. Knowing that your colleagues respect your work and that your efforts are needed for the larger goal helps take the focus off personal difference and increases an integral sense of belonging, as well as increasing Employee Engagement and productivity across the board.
There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all solution and every organization must find what works for their employees. But for a strong start, encouraging a company culture that is open, communicative, inviting, and that recognizes and incorporates individual talents and ideas goes a long way toward connecting, empowering, and inspiring every employee and their productive potential.
7 Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion
Workplace diversity and inclusion has undeniable benefits for company culture and engagement, but it also shows great advantages for productivity and the bottom line. Harnessing the unique perspectives, skills, and experiences of a diverse office help a team make better-informed decisions, create new ideas, and stay ahead of the curve on innovation and engagement.
Perks of Diverse and Inclusive Workplaces
- Diverse teams make effective decisions 73% of the time, while all-male teams success rate is only 58%
- Geographically diverse teams make better decisions at a rate of 83%
- Inclusive teams make decisions 2x faster and with half the meetings
- Financial success is 95% correlated with good decision-making
- Ethnically diverse teams are 35% more likely to have above average profits
- Gender diverse teams show 15% greater likelihood of having higher profits
- Executive teams show 0.8% more profits for every 10% increase in diversity
Challenges of Diversity and Inclusion In The Workplace
Building a successfully diverse and inclusive workplace is easier said than done. Many companies start with the best intentions but stumble on the implementation. To put an effective, fair, and productive plan in action, and avoid detrimental pitfalls, it helps to keep a few things in mind.
- All plans need commitment from leaders.
If leadership is only half-invested in the idea of diversity and inclusion, it will show in the results and funding. This lack of enthusiasm can lead employees to feel more excluded, rather than feeling themselves to be valued, contributing members.
- Ordering or dictating inclusion policies creates more bias.
The human condition is a strange one. Studies show that even with a noble goal such as diversity and inclusion, people will react negatively if the concept is forced on them. Using heavy-handed policies can often make employees turn against diversity initiatives, and threaten the success of the program and the well-being of the employees they’re meant to help.
- Identity groups are deep-seated and influential
People have a tendency to build strong identity groups that influence their views of themselves and others. These can be shaped by society, as well as personal traits, but often lead to social categories that bind and separate people, such as race, religion, and gender. When considering a diversity and inclusion plan, it’s important to understand these tendencies, how employees relate to them, and the possible reactions they can generate.
- We all have unconscious biases.
Behind many actions and decisions, including hiring, firing, and team building, there are countless unconscious judgments. These are informed by society and individual experience, and shape how team members are treated, and how policies are shaped. To avoid reintegrating unintentional barriers to inclusion into the office and diversity initiatives, it’s important to be aware of your own biases and how they affect the workplace, and to communicate with your team about their needs and views.
Ideas to Improve Workplace Diversity and Inclusion
Whether you are just starting to develop a diverse workplace, or are looking to take your diverse culture to a more inclusive level, there are a few tips to make your efforts successful, effective, and fair.
- Concentrate on intervention, not just bias reduction. There are always open-minded employees who understand the need for diversity. Train these employees in good ways to intervene when they see something wrong. This will involve the whole team in the positive transformation, and avoid making the initiative seem too heavy-handed or one-sided.
- Spread knowledge to all levels. By inviting non-management employees to inclusion workshops, you help integrate the program into all levels of the company. These new ambassadors help facilitate a conversation throughout the office, rather than a lecture from above, and also help identify possible challenges.
- Promote a level playing field in the workplace. Letting different employees lead discussions or meetings can help remove hierarchies and organize everyone as equals and as a team. Valuing all opinions equally is integral in creating a diverse and inclusive atmosphere.
- Integrate team leads and white male staff. Many hard changes start at the top, which is why team leads need to understand the benefits and reasons behind diversity initiatives. To build on this, white male staff need to also be part of the conversation and solution. Help build connections and commonalities in your team, and use logic and clear language to communicate why it’s being done.
- Define your terms, reasons, and language. Make clear what you mean by inclusion and diversity. What exactly is it and why is it important? Having clear language and definitions will at least place your team on the same page, enabling a more productive conversation.
- Focus on commonalities. People may have a tendency to build groups, but that also means these groups can be redefined and made more inclusive. Highlight the many things that your team faces together, and what they have in common. This can help everyone sympathize with the problem, and avoid developing a dynamic of us vs them.
- Put your hiring where your values are. If you value an inclusive and diverse workplace, then your recruiting should show it. Help create an inclusive team by finding great talents from all walks of life and casting your recruiting net much wider and farther.
- Always keep the ball rolling. Diversity programs are never done. There is no firm finish line. Rather, having continuous feedback through one on ones or digital feedback tools, and even a dedicated diversity manager, can keep workplace inclusivity on track. The best programs stay alert and adapt to issues as they arise.
- Diversity and inclusion don’t just mean demographics and opportunity, but accommodations for different needs, interacting and valuing experiences and perspectives, and developing an inclusive way to work.
- An inclusive workplace has financial and productivity benefits, with diverse teams making better decisions and leading to better profits.
- Creating a successfully diverse and inclusive workplace starts at the top, but requires the whole team and a healthy company culture to ensure an open conversation and avoid negative reactions against perceived heavy-handed diversity tactics.
- A healthy diverse workplace is as much psychological as physical, meaning that social and personal identities and biases need to be considered in any inclusivity program.
- Initiatives for D&I need constant attention and open communication to keep the workplace inclusive for all.