With recent equality movements gaining momentum in society, there is a powerful microscope on companies today. Many are trying to evaluate their own organization’s diversity, but diversity has many layers. Yes, it’s about race, but it’s also about gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and any other trait that differentiates one person from another. The pressure is on for businesses to move beyond a simple definition of diversity and reach a level of inclusion.
At their most simple, diversity practices in business often mean making sure there is appropriate representation from different groups of people. That intent is admirable, but it’s not enough on its own. Even with diversity, if a company culture is still focused on one group of people, then the richness diverse populations bring to the workplace is lost. In that environment, employees can feel like they are not part of the group. Their viewpoints are either missed or not embraced, and they may even downplay their diversity in an effort to conform to the company.
Diversity is most valuable to organizations when it is not just viewed as a legal, compliance, or ethical concept. Diversity is most powerful when differences are embraced throughout the organization. Inclusive representation like that improves internal engagement and also helps a company provide services and products to diverse customers better. In other words, inclusion is the real goal, not just diversity.
In life, it’s difficult to learn anything without listening first. The same holds true for diversity and inclusion efforts in business. The companies that have received backlash for their efforts are those that jumped into the fray with a statement that had no real weight behind it. They thought they solved the problem without even understanding the views, experiences, and emotions of their people or their audience. That’s why conversations are one of the most powerful tools available.
If previous company culture has pushed employees to keep their diversity separate from their professional lives, then they may be hesitant at first. Companies that invite the conversations in different but persistent ways are those that can break through any initial discomfort. Employees want their voices heard and to know that their beliefs matter, and that takes more than just sending out one survey. Creating a safe space for people to talk, brainstorm, and share ideas without fear of judgment is the answer. These safe spaces might be created internally or could require outside consultants who are trained to facilitate difficult conversations, but they’re where active listening skills are especially critical.
Improving diversity and inclusion (and active listening) means including initiatives as part of an organization’s training and strategic planning. These efforts begin with a needs assessment that discovers the baseline by evaluating the current state of the organization, the employees, the stakeholders, and the customers. This information can be assessed so that new goals can be set as part of an action plan in order to ensure implementation and accountability. When these measures cultivate ideas from diverse groups, continued growth is possible.
Successful organizations hold diversity and inclusion training, but they also weave these topics into various training sessions, reinforcing them in different ways throughout the year. In particular, understanding one’s implicit bias is crucial during any training or planning exercise. Everyone has an unconscious bias that shapes how they look at the world. In the workplace, this can unknowingly show itself through policies, hiring practices, and interactions with employees. Gaining greater self-awareness helps prevent potential consequences that can arise from these unconscious views and beliefs. Whether it’s training by an expert outside party or through one of Harvard’s free implicit bias tests, this is how to avoid unintentional, hurtful, or insensitive words and action.
Implementing a successful diversity and inclusion plan will impact all aspects of the organization. Recruiting might change by giving candidates the opportunity to apply for positions in new ways or on different platforms. That might include reaching out to local colleges for interns, which would give diverse groups a better foot in the door. Interviews and onboarding may shift focus from a “This is how our organization works” mentality to a “What can we learn from you?” one. Promotions and career path discussions can better position diverse groups to achieve representative leadership.
These are just a few examples, but diversity and inclusion efforts impact every area of a business. Some priorities like compensation or succession planning may be more obvious, but others may not be as clear. Robust plans will extend outside of the organization and consider customer relations, vendors, suppliers, marketing, branding, and more. Doing so ensures alignment between the organization’s diversity efforts with partner policies and procedures, with each supporting and encouraging the other.
Diversity and inclusion shape every layer of successful companies. These leading organizations make a continuous effort, reviewing their plans often and adapting as their workforce evolves. This is done not just for compliance, but to ensure that the values of the organization accurately reflect the people working inside its walls.
Despite their best efforts to improve diversity and inclusion, smaller businesses do face more challenges when compared with larger corporations. After all, it’s much harder to create a succession plan and increase the diversity of a small, long-term leadership team. SMBs are encouraged to think outside the box, perhaps placing diverse employees in team lead positions, forming committees or workgroups, or even creating new positions without rewriting the entire org chart.
The key for any business is to identify the unique challenges it faces internally, in its region, or in its industry, and find ways to counter them. Synergy is here for any organization seeking to improve their diversity and inclusion. Through consultation and collaboration, we can help develop custom strategies, succession plans, organizational culture shifts, training activities, and more.