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 work environment?

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?

Building an inclusive workforce leads to stronger retention rates for under-represented 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?

Achieving an Inclusive Workforce 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.”

Conclusion

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.