The phrase diversity and inclusion has been thrown around a lot in recent years. So much so that we can sometimes lose track of what it really means. So think of it like this:
Imagine that you’re a left-handed baseball player. You’ve been selected to play on a team of all right-handed players. Before you begin your first practice, you wonder and worry. Will you be harnessed for the advantages your left handed-ness comes with? Or kept on the bench because they’re unsure how to train you or handle your skillset?
Diversity is having different handed players on one team. Inclusion is making sure all players are utilized on the field. Making sure the coach and team understand the benefits of including a lefty, and practice and train with this advantage in mind makes the team as a whole a stronger, more fierce competitor. Ask any major league baseball team, and they’ll tell you how beneficial it is to have a couple lefties in the lineup. This diversity makes the team more creative, competitive and innovative. The same goes for teams in a workplace setting.
Diversity in the Workforce is Becoming More Prominent
Diversity simply means the collective differences among us. Inclusion is the practice of making room for, and involving those differences within a specific group. Together these are known as D&I. While many organizations are focused on gender and ethnic D&I, there are many other sorts of diversification out there: age, gender, LGBTQ, culture, socioeconomic status, education, neurology (the way we think and process information), and more. The more diversity organizational leaders are aware of, the better they can build initiatives and campaigns to foster a supportive, inclusive company culture.
This matters, because the youngest workforce generation is the most diverse population yet. And this increasing diversity is only trending up. In addition to this, the nature of work is becoming increasingly global, with teams spanning multiple states, countries, and continents. Organizations that can navigate cultural differences will source more talent, and greater business opportunities.
Greater Returns When D&I is Done Right
When organizations include employees who have diverse backgrounds and thought and combine this with a culture that is setup to be inclusive of them (i.e. setting up a high potential mentoring program for minority employees or establish reverse mentoring between current leadership and women employees), they outperform peer organizations on many key metrics. Organizations that invest in differences of thought see higher levels of innovation. Organizations that involve diversity in leadership and recruitment strategy attract and retain more diverse talent. Teams that prioritize cultural awareness and adaptability to differences are better able to, as SHRM reports, win more diverse, often international, customers and partners. All of this adds up to better business outcomes. A study by McKinsey proves organizations that rank higher in diversity are 15 percent more likely to outperform peers in financial returns.
A D&I Organization is Not Created Overnight
The benefits of D&I highlighted above are not new. Organizations have been dissecting and discussing the importance of D&I for awhile. Yet, many organizations struggle with developing a diverse, inclusive culture at their organization. That’s because it’s not a simple fix. It takes time and effort. Organizations need to start investing in those efforts now, in order to see results in the future.
The Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University notes that one reason this process is complex is that humans are wired with implicit bias, which is the unconscious preferences and dislikes we have for some people over others. Unless implicit bias is discussed and brought to consciousness, it can affect decisions employees and leadership make at work. This is a sensitive topic, and is difficult to discuss. So often, it just isn’t. But without addressing what implicit biases may exist amongst employees and other challenges that come with diversity–yes, this includes conversations about race–organizations will continue to struggle to overcome the barriers to building an inclusive culture. Without these steps, entities might skip straight to hiring people in order to check boxes, rather than building the inclusive culture necessary for diversity to thrive once introduced into an organization. Without this key last step, organizations will continue to risk high turnover of employees that are diverse, but don’t feel included.
Mentoring: A Simple First Step
Luckily, there are some concrete steps organizations can take to building an inclusive culture. Initiating exposure and dialogue seem to be the most effective ways to remove bias and learn from others at the individual level, which is exactly what mentoring does! Starting a mentoring initiative, or several, can support minority staff, and build awareness, tolerance, and empathy in majority staff. Programs include minority onboarding initiatives, high-potential programs targeting minority groups, and network building initiatives for various or all employees to connect. These can be places to openly discuss issues of bias between employees or groups of co-workers. It can also be a place to create greater bonds between people of differing backgrounds, gender, and culture. Whichever format you chose to incorporate, connect with diversity experts, either specialized roles within your organization or consultants if needed. They will help you avoid missteps and create a supportive, effective program.
A diverse workforce can provide organizations powerful benefits, including improved innovation, greater agility, and stronger business outcomes. But only if organizations have an inclusive culture to embrace differing perspectives. Working with D&I experts and building mentoring initiatives that connect people to each other is one of the best ways to start this journey. Harness the power of diversity for your organization’s success and future growth.