While conversations and actions toward creating workplace diversity have increased significantly over the past few years, American companies and their leaders still have more work to do. One of the biggest areas requiring progress is upper-level leadership positions. For example, research conducted by Namely in 2018, shows chief executive leaders at Fortune 500 companies are 81% male and 79% white.
As more businesses establish diverse organizations and teams, these measures must be carefully crafted and protected by company leaders. Poorly constructed and implemented diversity programs can incite resentment among current team members. Consequently, this can cause many individuals to feel disliked and unsupported by those within their organization. In fact, researchers from Russell Reynolds Associates found, “taking a reactive, check-the-box approach to D&I (diversity and inclusion) can be worse than doing nothing at all.”
With this in mind, how can organizations successfully create sustainable, diverse workplaces?
To find out the answer, learn what diversity is, why it matters, and tactics for developing a business that supports and builds inclusivity into its fabric.
What is Diversity in the Workplace?
According to Queensborough Community College, the definition of diversity is: “the exploration of differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.”
Workplace diversity isn’t about meeting a quota. In essence, it’s about creating a work culture where individuals, regardless of their differences, are accepted and respected.
Factors of diversity include:
- Native language
- Sexual orientation
- Socioeconomic status
- Physical and mental abilities
- Religious or philosophical beliefs
Benefits of Diverse Work Cultures
1. Expanded Innovative Team Thinking
Diverse teams expand possibilities when it comes to problem-solving and decision-making. Leaders and employees who share nearly identical worldviews are less likely to think creatively as a team when it comes to solving the company’s challenges. In contrast, on a diverse team, members can take the same problem and provide a multitude of solutions based on varying viewpoints.
As John C. Maxwell explains in an article on his website, “Diversity of appearance—while not wrong—isn’t enough. What leaders need is diversity of ideas. Diversity of thinking. Diversity of experience . . . invite people who bring a different perspective. Invite folks of a different age, a different background, a different political leaning . . . people who believe in your mission but have a unique understanding of how to accomplish it.”
A prime example of a leader who put Maxwell’s words into action is Abraham Lincoln. In Team of Rivals, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin explores the president’s leadership qualities that helped him keep the country intact. One way he did this was by having a diverse cabinet full of his former rivals. For example, he appointed his greatest opponent William H. Seward as Secretary of State. Seward eventually became one of his closest advisors. He also turned his Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a vocal dissenter, into a supporter and friend. Together, through Lincoln’s guidance, his cabinet successfully achieved the collective goal of preserving the Union.
2. Enhanced Recruitment Strategy
Additionally, leaders who develop diversity within their businesses are more likely to attract top talent and promising new leaders. As millennials take over the global workforce, many specifically seek workplaces that have inclusive environments. For instance, a 2016 study determined almost half of millennials desire D&I from their potential employers.
Without developing and protecting this type of work environment, organizations foster an unhealthy work culture. Conversely, business owners who do establish diverse workplaces are much more likely to attract great team members and new leaders.
3. Improved Turnover Rates
When it comes to employee turnover, a study conducted by the Kapor Center on the tech industry found that “40% of employees surveyed indicated that unfairness or mistreatment played a major role in their decision to leave their company.”
One of the best examples of a company creating effective measures for D&I is Kellogg. For instance, the business developed a program called “K-Flex,” which allows more opportunities for diverse workers by providing flexible working arrangements. In 2019, the company reported: “Turnover rates have decreased by 27 percent and absenteeism has dropped by 20 percent since the program rollout.”
4. Increased Financial Health
Team diversity creates more financially stable companies by increasing profit margins. Research from McKinsey and Company found that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Gender diversity in leadership roles is also linked to greater profitability. For example, a study conducted by Catalyst shows, “companies with more women board directors outperformed those with the least on three financial measures: return on equity (53 percent higher), return on sales (42 percent higher), and return on invested capital (66 percent higher).”
How to Develop an Inclusive Work Culture
Step 1: Analyze Problem Areas
The first action in developing an inclusive work environment is recognizing and upending any discriminatory or outdated business practices within one’s own organization. Looking at the current state of your company helps you as a leader understand where the business needs to improve.
So, what are some of the top things leaders should be checking themselves on?
When it comes to creating effective tactics for diversity, civil rights attorney Cyrus Mehri tells Time Magazine, “companies need to analyze metrics related to hiring, pay, promotions and bonuses along racial and gender lines to detect and disrupt patterns of bias.”
Step 2: Reach a Wider Range of Job Applicants
After the process of analyzing current practices, begin expanding the company’s scope during the hiring process. Create broader awareness of open positions by posting them on job boards and sites committed to supporting underrepresented people. In addition, advertise the job opening to groups created for minorities on LinkedIn, Facebook, online magazines, and other forums.
When posting, here are a few great places to check out:
Another option is making D&I a focal point on your website’s career page. Doing so informs candidates researching a job with the company that you’re actively looking to diversify your team.
Finally, company leaders can always ask for referrals within their professional network.
Together, all of these methods help recruiters and hiring managers bring in a broader spectrum of top talent.
Step 3: Provide Resources and Support
Too often, companies follow Steps 1 and 2, then stop there. As referenced in the introduction, this actually does more harm than good. Efforts will fail if businesses don’t provide support and resources that create a culture of inclusion at work. One where team members feel accepted, respected, and represented, regardless of differences.
Providing the necessary resources and support includes:
- Hiring people who support inclusion in the workplace
- Drafting new D&I company policies
- Providing learning opportunities
- Developing mentorship programs
- Increasing leadership opportunities
- Ensuring the building is accessible for employees with disabilities
- Intervening when conflict around diversity arises
Step 4: Offer Voluntary Training
The next step is removing requirements for D&I training. This might sound counterintuitive, but enforcing diversity training is often ineffective. In fact, researchers from Harvard Business Review explain the long-term results of mandatory D&I training causes people to feel pressured and resentful. Additionally, these types of programs fail because they typically focus on managers, rather than opening up training to employees at all levels.
Making training optional to anyone interested helps ingrain diversity into the company’s culture. It also makes it evident who wants to better their workplace. Rather than just showing up and being present, these employees take initiative by voluntarily learning how they can contribute to a work environment that is beneficial for all. When choosing the next wave of leaders, qualities such as open-mindedness and sensitivity to others, are important to identify.
Step 5: Develop a Mentorship Program
It should be noted this is not a linear step because a mentorship program should be created alongside D&I resources and policies. Therefore, mentorship should happen throughout the process listed above. Ultimately, it is the most effective strategy in supporting workplace diversity. Research from Cornell University shows mentorship “helps increase promotion and retention rates of minority men and women by 15%-38% compared to non-mentored minorities.”
How to Create a Mentorship Program at Work
- Schedule a meeting with the leadership team.
- Next, create a plan by determining the desired objectives.
- Ideate on how to make mentorship a key part of company culture.
- Discuss how leaders at all levels can mentor the business’s various employees.
- Strategize on the logistics.
- Determine when mentored employees are ready to begin mentoring others.
- Make the program voluntary.
- Introduce the program and encourage people to sign up.
Integrating Diversity into Team Culture
Diversity itself isn’t a problem, nor is it a solution, but when diverse cultures aren’t normalized within the workplace, they can be viewed as both. Part of the problem business leaders face is the belief that diversity is a singular issue that can be tackled by checking the all-encompassing affirmative action box. Seeing diversity through the reactionary “problem-solution” lens is no better because it typically results in unsustainable strategies that negatively affect employees.
Good companies seek true change that effectively tackles their shortcomings. For instance, by those in leadership creating sustainable policies that provide all employees with a positive work environment.
Learn more about creating workplace diversity by reading or listening to:
- Inclusify by Stefanie Johnson
- Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
- Let Them See You by Porter Braswell
- “Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist”
- Cornell University Inclusive Excellence Podcast