Diversity and Inclusion: Going Beyond the Buzz

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a hot topic these days, but it isn’t new. This term has been tossed about in the workforce for decades, but has been receiving more attention recently as minority groups speak out more forcefully about the injustices they face in society and in the workplace.

Consider this: In 2012, only about 14% of the Fortune 500 companies had an employee population of about 40% diversity. By 2018, 29% of Fortune 500 companies reached the 40% diversity mark. So progress is being made, but there is still significant work that needs to be done, and it starts with a better understanding of the topic.

“Diversity and inclusion” get lumped together so regularly that they almost seem inseparable, yet it’s important to consider each independently. Diversity refers to the differences and similarities of the employees that make up an organization, such as gender, race, sexual orientation, education, language, and more. Inclusion means having an environment where all employees have equal access to resources and opportunities. Because each topic is so important, the focus here is on diversity and a follow-up article will be published next week on inclusion.

While diversity is often an organizational goal, it may seem difficult to achieve. Changing people’s daily behaviors, organizational reward systems, or overall culture is a tall order. Yet success in this area greatly benefits all aspects of an organization, as diverse organizational environments lead to more innovation, better decision making, and increased revenue. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Want to improve diversity at your workplace? First, take stock of your current situation by measuring levels of diversity. This is fairly straightforward – ratios of employee segments by sex, race, age and other demographics can be counted. Ideally, you want to see proportional representation of all groups at all levels throughout an organization. Exactly what percentages of each minority group is possible can vary, and goals should be carefully set with contextual factors such as community or customers served, or your geography in mind.

If you find your workforce is lacking in diversity, commit to improving it. Here are some steps you can take to attract and retain more diverse talent.

  • Make diversity a priority. The first step is a commitment from leadership to prioritize diversity as a non-negotiable issue, and put practices and policies into place to achieve this goal. Start by identifying the particular population you are targeting based on your organizational needs.

  • Ensure your culture and management reflect that diversity is a priority. The best way to attract a diverse talent pool is to mirror their diversity throughout your organization. Applicants look to see if there are people like them throughout the various levels. For example, will they have peers and mentors who face the unique challenges and barriers they do? Who can they relate to? Applicants will also check company policies, looking for things such as personal time off for religious holidays, paid parental leave, onsite daycare, and a welcoming attitude around religious or cultural events. Create affinity groups or other resources that are specific to different segments of your population; this helps to show that the organization understands and wants to support the special needs of diverse groups.

  • Look for talent at diverse places. It can be easy to tap into your same network over and over again, but thinking outside of the box can lead to better and more diverse hiring. Check out various organizations, conferences, publications, or social groups that cater to diverse talent. Advertise in those places in addition to your traditional routes. Your search for diverse talent must be intentional.

  • Utilize referrals. Ask diverse members of your team for referrals to fill open positions. They are likely connected to diverse candidates appropriate for the job and would be thrilled to offer suggestions or share the job post in their network. Referrals also have the added bonus of including a pre-made relationship between the new employee and an existing employee that can help the new employee adjust to the organization.

  • Learn from the past. If you’re having an issue keeping diverse talent, consider conducting exit interviews. This should be done by HR to determine why minority employees are leaving and what the company can do to prevent this in the future. Most importantly, changes must be made once enough suggestions have been received.

To get started, consider creating a diversity and inclusion committee to address these issues and brainstorm solutions specific to your organization. And once you’ve recruited more diverse talent, the task is then to retain them. This is where inclusion comes in handy. We’ll dive into inclusion in part two of this article next week.

Have a question for Sertrice Grice, or want to learn how to better incorporate policies and practices to increase diversity in your organization? Email her directly.