What comes to your mind first when you hear the word ‘diversity’? Close your eyes for a moment to think. Then write down one or more types of diversity you thought of. How many did you get?
Diversity has many facets, including culture, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, age/generation, education, personality, upbringing, physical abilities, religious affiliation and more. My guess is, we tend to define diversity based on who we are, our background, and our experiences. Most of you would perhaps have written down just a small subset of diversity types. For example, as an immigrant, one might first think of cultural diversity; as a young professional, one might think of generational diversity; as a woman, one might think of gender diversity. Yes, what complex and multidimensional human beings we are!
Companies set specific hiring goals to increase the diversity of certain types. These are good goals as they provide equal opportunity to under-represented groups of the population, but it is important to think about what happens after the hiring takes place. Does the company have a culture of inclusion, which is going to empower these competent people to use their potential and advance those opportunities? Unfortunately, many companies try to meet their diversity goals but are ill-equipped with the next steps. Diversity without inclusion will undermine the entire effort and the business will not reap its expected outcomes.
How does the company lay the groundwork so that diversity is truly embraced? Companies must first understand and acknowledge the benefits of diversity. As an organization, you must realize that it is not simply about opening up opportunities for people but about giving them a forum to be their best. It is about wanting to bring varying perspectives and thought processes to the table, which in turn fosters innovation, new solutions, and gets the best out of the talent you hired. If you do it right, you will see how diversity increases the company’s competitive advantage. For example, you have culturally diverse customers in a community. What products do you stock, to sell to them? Is there a better way to sell to each specific demographic of people? What types of services are they looking for? If your employee pool is diverse too, they will bring in different ideas on products that would appeal to different segments of the user population. In short, diversity is good for business!
Inclusion is where individuals are treated fairly, respectfully, and are valued. This has shown to decrease employee turnover. How do you cultivate a culture of inclusion? Here are some ways: Invite Differing Perspectives Create a Culture of Trust, Get Top-Down Commitment from Leaders, Encourage Professional Development and Training, Pay Attention to Culture Specific User Needs, Create Interactive Physical Spaces. While this list seems generic good practice, it is also something that should extend to every employee/team member, and unfortunately, that is not common practice.
Building a Culture of Inclusion
Invite Differing Perspectives. Create an organizational culture that makes people eager to have their voices and ideas heard. As a leader who will receive varying perspectives, you will have the problem solving and decision-making skills to look through them analytically. However, surround yourself with the right people, and work with them for solutions. People who think in different ways will renew, rejuvenate, challenge and stimulate one another. Such environments foster innovation. It is less likely to happen in a group of like-minded people who agree with each other, all the time. Netflix is a prime example of the power of Creative Disruption. It not only caused physical stores like Blockbuster to close, but it also challenged cable television. It is affecting ways of media consumption and production, especially by the younger generation.
Create a Culture of Trust. It starts with your faith in the talent of personnel you have hired. Be transparent; allow proven people to take calculated, informed risks because you trust their abilities in getting a great job done. If your confidence level to let go is not as high, take necessary steps to build the skills of your team before you can trust enough to delegate. Take steps that would get people on the team to interact with one another, both at work and outside. I remember the coffee breaks our team would take in Australia and the rapport it helped build. Create an environment of trust where each person can freely voice their ideas with one another and higher ups. Be aware of the pitfalls of micromanagement that might erode trust.
Get Top-Down Commitment from Leaders. Apart from being an HR issue, leadership from top to bottom needs to commit to diversity and inclusion initiatives. Everyone needs to train in topics like Unconscious Bias and other diversity topics with real-life scenarios in a way that is convincing, rather than being a compliance checkmark. As a Manager, hone your own skills via training, on the best practices to manage diverse teams.
Encourage Professional Development and Training. Help your employees grow their abilities through training and other ways of learning and networking. Often budget is short when employees mention the need to get training, especially in Soft skills. Managers don’t realize the downside of letting their employees interact with their clients without the essential tools in their arsenal. Don’t be one of those managers. Your employees can make or break client relationships, or internal working relationships with teams without the right soft skills.
Pay Attention to Culture Specific User Needs. A diverse pool of employees who know about different populations can only help in relating to user needs. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is known to have created the empty chair in meetings that represents the user. If people who design a product or provide a service, don’t understand the culture of those who will use it, the greatest products can fail. Your diverse pool of employees will be a valuable resource to provide insights into those different cultures and markets. An atmosphere of inclusion will empower them to present their ideas, provide a wider range of solutions to business problems, and possibly be your interface into those markets.
Create Interactive Physical Spaces. At the workplace, create a physical space that is conducive to interaction between people in that area. Informal chats, not necessarily meeting rooms, often lead to ideas.
Finally, perform a health check every so often to see how your team dynamic is doing! These set of practices will create a culture of inclusion. Sounds pretty easy and commonsensical? In reality, it is amazing how such steps are not part of company practices unless conscious and concrete steps are taken to build this culture of inclusion, beyond hiring for diversity!
Always remember: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” a wise and catchy line by Peter Drucker.