From Diversity to Inclusion: Why and How Top Companies Are Shifting Their Focus

Managing diversity and cultural differences is one of the top three things CEOs worry about most, according to Harvard Business Review. Yet after years of throwing just about everything at the problem, there is very little to show for it. Diverse employees’ careers to leadership continue to stagnate and retention wanes. Metrics have barely budged (and in some cases regressed) while great ideas and innovation continue to fall short of true potential.

Why Do Organizations Miss the Mark in Fostering a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace?

The challenge lies in how they’re going about it. Organizations typically gauge success through diversity numbers: female representation in leadership roles, retention rates of veterans, number of new hires from under-represented groups, etc. While these are important starter indicators of a diverse workforce, they’re not enough to truly tackle inclusion. In conjunction, leaders are often caught by surprise when the metrics don’t improve after typical diversity initiatives are implemented. In order to see improvement, progressive organizations are flipping the traditional mode of operation from a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiative to an Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) strategy. While this subtle difference may seem trivial, it’s critical to building a sustainably inclusive and diverse work environment.

By shifting the focus from simply hitting diversity metrics to building inclusion programs in the workplace, leading organizations are not only able to create an environment of belonging that encourages diverse views, but also provide a ripe workplace for people with diverse backgrounds to flourish and feel valued. These organizations are focusing on inclusion indicators for their workforce, such as:

  • Do employees feel welcomed at the organization?
  • Do they have a support network they can lean on?
  • Are there strong and diverse role models at the organization?
  • Are there available development opportunities to advance their skills and careers?

two men sit at table having discussion

Building an inclusive workforce leads to stronger retention rates for underrepresented employees. In other words, by shifting the focus from D&I to I&D, organizations are able to create more engaging work environments which lead to workforces that can grow and flourish.Focusing on diversity metrics alone has made most D&I strategies relatively formulaic. Recruit a diverse pipeline of employees, onboard them throughout the organization and repeat. This model overlooks the importance of long-term inclusion within the employee journey, which without can leave employees feeling isolated and disengaged. Instead, organizations should be focusing on humanizing the employee experience for greater engagement, productivity and ultimately business results. But how do leaders do that?

Building an Inclusive Workplace with Mentoring

One theme that has been gaining popularity is the notion that DIVERSITY + MENTORING = INCLUSION.

Mentoring programs help employees feel a greater sense of belonging. As Catalyst points out, what makes employees feel included in a company more than anything else is when they feel they have a personal connection with employees at all levels of the organization and ample opportunities to make meaningful contributions. Mentoring connections and relationships humanize the employee experience and foster a more inclusive work environment. Whether your goals are to break down silos, increase retention rates or give senior leaders more exposure to diverse views, mentoring can facilitate the inclusion, development and support your workforce needs. Programs such as flash mentoring, career mentoring and reverse mentoring can serve to tackle these objectives and build greater belonging in your company. In fact, if done the right way, formal mentoring programs can directly impact the inclusion and diversity metrics that will indicate the success and equality of your future workforce.

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It is no wonder that the most diverse organizations have healthy and robust mentoring programs and cultures. By creating the right environment for diverse employees to engage, share their diverse perspectives and grow, the workplace becomes more inclusive and innovation flourishes. Organizations that run effective mentoring programs are providing “the missing action link to diversity initiatives through the simple act of bringing people together and teaching them to engage in a reciprocal learning process.”

7 Ways to Increase Inclusion in the Workplace

Diversity and inclusion are more than buzzwords. Companies that prioritize these initiatives see an improvement in productivity, employee retention, reputation and even capital investment.

It can be challenging to counter decades of old habits. Here are ten tips on how your company can learn how to increase diversity in the workplace, and enable the benefits of a more inclusive environment.

1. From the Top Down

The top of a company sets the tone for the culture and practice of the rest of the organization. Research has found that when senior leadership and boards of directors are made up of more gender and ethnic diversity, profitability and innovation trends upward. It also sets an example for the rest of the organization. A CEO must take the lead, even if she or he is not a member of a diverse group. Making diversity a public and vocal goal for the organization can help initiate better hiring and promotion practices from the top down.

2. Recruitment

Human resources must make sure that its staff is reaching out, interviewing, and hiring diverse candidates at all levels. Recruiting should include women, minorities, LGBTQ candidates, and people of a wide range of ages, national origins and neurological differences.
Companies should attend job fairs focused on diverse demographics. Meanwhile, marketing can expand its target audience through ads, diverse email language, and new events focused on a variety of demographics.

Women discuss leadership tactics

3. Mentoring Programs

Mentoring programs can provide specific support and progression for diverse communities in the workforce. Impactful diversity mentoring can also create better integration and cohesion among employees across departments, hierarchies and demographics. With one-on-one mentoring, employees can feel more comfortable discussing challenges they face in the workplace. It also helps to talk with someone in the company who has faced similar challenges.

Mentoring strengthens individuals’ ties to one another and to their corporate workplace. It improves retention and morale. It allows for more senior employees to pass institutional knowledge on to future generations.

4. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

ERGs provide effective ways for employees to find smaller communities within the wider workplace. They can meet and learn from others with similar experience and perspectives. Examples include Women’s Circles, LGBTQ Alliances, and even Parents of Young Children groups.
Often these groups include both formal meetings and agendas, as well as social events which foster relationships and networking. They can encourage friendships across departments, regardless of position. They give employees a safe place to bond with others who share their joys, and can guide them through challenges.

5. Tracking and Analytics

Diversity and inclusion measures need to be tracked in order to assess their effectiveness. How can you tell if you are doing a good job if you don’t compare statistics from earlier years?

Make sure HR keeps clear records on hiring, promotion and retention statistics for employee demographics. If you notice a stagnation in diverse hiring or promotion (where organizations often fall short of tracking), it is time to implement different strategies to assist and build up employee groups.

6. Transparency

Increasing diversity in the workplace takes time and a sustained, concentrated effort. Not all your initiatives will be successful. It’s important to remain transparent in your efforts. Showcase your efforts within the organization, and recognize successes while admitting failures. If you do notice a lag or decline in your results, reassess your programs and see what can be changed. You may need to build a diversity task force that includes diverse employee contributors to focus on weaknesses. You may need to look at your promotion policies and see why diverse candidates are being overlooked. You may need to increase the budget for your inclusion events and training.

Don’t be afraid of false starts or poor performing programs. Use them as a guide for a continually improving guidebook towards better diversity and inclusion within your organization.

7. Solicit Feedback

Diverse members of your workplace need a way to communicate their feedback. Provide a virtual or real-life comment box for anonymous feedback. Circulate comments and new ideas within the organization and leadership team. You can also conduct confidential surveys through your mentorship and training programs for feedback. Listen to mentors and mentees, as well as ERG leaders. They have valuable insight based on their one-on-one interactions with diverse members of the workforce.

To encourage honest feedback, you must respond. Implement viable suggestions from your employees in order to show you’re listening to their feedback. This shows your employees and the outside world that you are listening and earnestly trying to improve your workplace practices.


The modern workforce is changing at an unprecedented rate. Employees are expecting more from their workplace than ever before, and are not afraid to speak up through protests, walk-outs and lawsuits. Organizations that understand this changing dynamic are realizing that focusing on diversity metrics alone is not enough to engage and retain your diverse talent.

In order to see real change, organizations must invest in holistic solutions to this challenge. Forward-thinking I&D leaders are humanizing their employee experiences through modern mentoring programs that create a stronger inclusive workforce. This powerful approach can move the needle in creating a more diverse, modern and ultimately innovative workforce.

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