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Diversity and Inclusion Is Not an Option

It’s a must for every company


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Victoria Feldman

2 years ago | 7 min read

Growing up outside of the U.S., I’ve acquired an utopian image of America: symbolic ideas coming from movies, music videos. and shows of a country of democracy, opportunity, freedom, and prosperity.

Of course, as someone who’s family faced continued persecution based on race and religion, I knew that racism has always been part of any society. However, recent events made me realize how deeply racial and ethnic inequities exist today and how much they’re a direct result of a whole system that supports and maintains discrimination.

To bring justice and equality we must break that system. But how?

As a talent-and-leadership-development manager, I often hear the phrase “there just isn’t enough qualified minority talent out there” when it comes to hiring and managing diverse talent.

We’ve started seeing companies take public stances on racial injustice. While speaking up or donating money is a great first step, it isn’t enough.

Companies have a responsibility, not only towards their customers and communities, but also towards their most valuable asset — their employees.

Thus, stepping up on diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives is more important than ever. We need to disrupt the existing system and stop thinking about it in terms of “how we can create equal opportunities” and start thinking in terms of “how do we make sure we bridge the gap this system has generated.”

D&I should be on the top of every company’s agenda. Attracting and recruiting diverse talent won’t only bring justice and a societal benefit but will also have a strong contribution towards business success.

In this article, I’d like to share some of my thoughts and high-level ideas on the why, what, and how companies can do to benefit from diverse talent, focusing on ameliorating the number of underrepresented groups.

The What

According to Gallup, diversity represents the full spectrum of human demographic differences — race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, or physical disability.

Diversity — both inherent (e.g., race, gender) and acquired (experience, cultural background) — is associated with business success and is directly correlated with increased business metrics like:

However, simply having a wide roster of demographic characteristics won’t make a difference to an organization’s bottom line unless there’s an inclusive culture.

Inclusion refers to a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging. It can be assessed as the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted, and encouraged to fully participate in the organization. An inclusive environment generates high engagement and performance.

The Why

Indeed, a company’s ability to succeed comes only if its diverse teams are managed well. In fact, studies have shown that homogeneous teams yield average performance, while teams from diverse backgrounds may yield lower or higher performance depending upon how they’re led.

When team members’ differences are ignored, suppressed, condemned, or avoided, then the result can produce lower performance. However, when team members’ and leaders’ differences are understood, communicated, and managed well, then diverse teams can be unstoppable.

Thus, companies must implement holistic D&I strategies throughout the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to succession planning. Here’s how.

The How

Attracting and recruiting

As a job seeker, I came across many job descriptions which require an MBA. Access to such an elite and pricey type of degree can definitely be an advantage, but it doesn’t guarantee outstanding success in the role. Companies should widen their requirements to allow people who don’t have access to that kind of education to also be considered.

Nevertheless, if a postgraduate degree is an important requirement for the role, it’d be great to hire from HBCUs, HSIs, women’s colleges etc.. Another amazing long-term strategy could be funding scholarships for underrepresented populations, like Visa and some other companies did.

In addition, hiring diverse talent can also be a good selling point. Candidates (myself included) are more keen on joining companies that have a diverse workforce and publicly support antiracism.

Another important factor to consider during the hiring process is unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is a prejudice, generalization, or a stereotype in favor of or against a person or a group compared with another, usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. As a result, it can hamper an organization’s attempt at achieving diversity.

The evidence of the extent to which unconscious bias impacts recruitment is overwhelming, in ways that can disadvantage people from ethnic minorities. When interviewing, a diverse selection panel will allow getting the bias out of the way and allow for fair opportunities.

Onboarding

Glassdoor found that a strong onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82% and employee productivity by 70%.

Onboarding is more than just processes and paperwork and should go beyond the first day to about six months in the role. Onboarding is a pivotal moment for making employees feel included. This is why building an inclusive onboarding experience where employees feel like they can be their authentic selves from Day 1 is so important.

Raising awareness and educating about D&I is the most incremental step to ensure an inclusive culture. Their programs should cover key D&I elements, such as unconscious bias, addressing culturally sensitive issues, and working with diverse teams. Completing D&I training programs should be mandatory and enforced by the leadership.

Some companies, like Cisco, took this a step further to support antiracism with amazing initiatives, like offering a history-of-racism-in-America course and facilitating talks with executives about the inextricable link between capitalism and racism.

Obviously, employees must have a safe platform to speak up if they experience or come across some injustice, harassment, discrimination, racism, or offense.

Other best practices for onboarding are pairing the new hire with a mentor/ buddy from a different background and allowing easy access to an employee resource group.

Engagement

When Amy Cooper called the police on a black man bird watching in Central Park, she was immediately fired from her company. Enforcing zero tolerance on any racist behavior should obviously be the norm.

However, when it comes to talking about racism and discrimination with coworkers, it makes people feel awkward. A recent Instagram poll conducted by the networking group Black & HR found that 77% of respondents said their workplace hadn’t immediately addressed what had been happening in the Black community.

However, the only way to create a safe, comfortable, and engaging environment is if we step out of our comfort zone and address the issues the Black community (or any other minority) is facing, listening to their concerns and working together to build solutions to help thrive in the workplace.

Retention and promotion

In 2018, Google reported that Black and Latino employees left sooner and at a higher rate than their white counterparts. Other companies face the same issues. A 2017 report surveyed over 2,000 tech employees who left their jobs, and found many people of color felt they had unfairly been passed over for a promotion or faced stereotyping.

In response, the company took steps, including hiring retention case managers, to work with employees from underrepresented backgrounds.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to build the right company culture. Only one thing is certain: Organizations need to take an employee-centric approach, challenging the assumptions about who’s ready to be promoted and assessing whether growth opportunities are being limited to any one dominant group.

Furthermore, companies need to set measurable targets and actively work on promoting people from underrepresented populations.

For example, when an organization seeks to grow an employee, the promotion criteria should go beyond business opportunities and quality of work. Advancing people should be based on the exceptional value the person is bringing, their diverse perspective, their ability to think differently, as well as on leadership’s willingness to engage and retain their diverse top talent.

Succession planning

A 2018 study showed that only 34% of the Fortune 500’s board seats are held by women and minorities, and from that pool, there are only four Black CEOs. What’s more is the same study also showed that boards more frequently will pull from a pool of existing minority board members instead of bringing in new directors.

To fix those numbers, firstly, companies must ask themselves what the criteria that define the leadership pipeline and high-potential employees are and whether that criteria is inclusive. Secondly, take companies must take it a step further and make efforts to tie a managerʼs performance to the advancement of underrepresented groups.

Finally, I recommend conducting a complete D&I audit of the existing organization-wide system to identify if/where/what groups are underrepresented.

Setting specific measurable objectives to advance underrepresented groups throughout the whole employee-career lifecycle and using appropriate technologies to enable this approach will help companies ensure they’re going in the right direction and will enable them to demonstrate their progress towards building an inclusive and fair environment.

To Conclude

Driving the revolution of D&I should be part of the overall global corporate strategy of companies. Allocating efforts towards hiring and growing an underrepresented workforce will help, not only to bridge the existing gap and bring societal justice but also to bring a sustainable, long-term competitive advantage.

Diverse teams will yield higher ROI only if they’re managed by an inclusive culture. Firms need to implement targeted measurable strategies to hire, engage, promote, and retain diverse employees. Moreover, it’s important that in every step of the way, there’s a space to have proactive and honest conversations about discrimination.

As Daniel Coyle wrote in his book in “The Culture Code”:

“While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

Diversity and inclusion is not an option — it’s a must!

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