Written by Elizabeth J. W. Spencer
You are probably facing the same question in your business that most of America is facing: how do we take our diversity policy to the next level? Here are five steps toward building a more diverse and inclusive organization.
There is an opportunity in diversity
2020 has brought to the forefront inequities and the impact of discrimination in America, and businesses are on the frontlines to economically empower these underrepresented groups. Statements and donations are critical at this time—but they are not enough. Fighting for diversity and inclusion in your business isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense. Instead of seeing diversity and inclusion as a risk to mitigate against, see it as an opportunity for your business to grow. Deloitte published a report demonstrating that inclusive businesses are two times more likely to exceed their financial targets and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
Fighting for diversity and inclusion in your business isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense.
1. Identify gaps—and own them.
First, as individuals and businesses, we have an opportunity to listen, learn, and acknowledge our contributions to systems that contribute to racial bias, unfair treatment of others, and exclusion of certain groups. This process may require non-defensively apologizing for past mistakes, getting feedback from all stakeholders to identify current gaps, and making commitments to remedy those moving forward. Don’t just look at who is represented in your team as a whole, but also look closely at your executive team and your board, as well. If people of color and women have less than 50% representation on any of your teams, then you have work to do. There are other underrepresented groups to consider: LGBTQIA+, persons with disabilities, and veterans, just to name a few.
2. Implement anti-racist and non-discriminatory policies and practices.
Treating everyone the same isn’t enough to end inequities. Addressing company policies and practices that are marginalizing underrepresented groups is a critical step, but sometimes these policies and practices aren’t obviously discriminatory or racist to the dominant culture. Where is your organizational system giving disproportionate opportunity, or reinforcing disadvantage based on affiliations, backgrounds, culture and/or skin color? There is no neutral ground for your organization when it comes to expressing bias or racism; it is time leaders and organizations take an active approach to equality and fairness for everyone. As a first step, you need to have policies to address discrimination, just like your organization has sexual harassment policies. Then you have to take a deep dive into the policies and practices of your organization where you might unknowingly be putting underrepresented groups at a disadvantage in hiring, recruiting, working conditions, reviews, promotions, benefits, and continued education. For example, having employees pay for expenses up front and then be reimbursed, assumes that everyone has money to pay for something up front—putting some people in a hard position. Other steps like expanding your employee calendar to include holidays like Ramadan, Juneteenth, and Kwanzaa, just to name a few, is a simple but huge statement in recognizing and respecting that we all come from different backgrounds and cultures.
3. Actively recruit from underrepresented groups.
Some of you might be feeling lost on how to combat racism and discrimination in your company. We know it can be overwhelming, but the solutions are more straightforward than you might think; hire diversely, create a culture that retains your diversity, and give underrepresented groups the right tools to be promoted within your company. On recruiting, you are going to have to expand your network and tap into diverse universities. If you are serious about building a diverse team, excuses will be no match for your tenacity in addressing the barriers keeping underrepresented groups from being hired by your organization, but you will have to make changes. You will have to stop hiring your friends; you will have to stop hiring people you “connect with” or who are like you; you will have to go where the people you want to hire are instead of waiting for them to come to you; you will have to hire people that are different from you. If you are unsure if you can do this objectively, you might need to implement a blind interview process, as well as a set of clear criteria to evaluate who the best option is.
4. Retain and equitably advance underrepresented employees.
So, you have hired the right people—now you need to keep them. Part of keeping employees is building a culture where they enjoy coming to work, and the other part is giving employees opportunities for leadership and advancement in their fields. To equitably address advancing underrepresented employees, it is important to establish opportunities for leadership development, manager mentorships, as well as talent strategies for those with disabilities. Obviously, this kickstarts a commitment to have underrepresented groups in the C-suite and management positions. This commitment is followed with programs to raise up leaders from underrepresented groups and give them the tools they need to succeed.
Arguably, the hardest part of diversity and inclusion is the inclusion part—creating a safe environment for all of your employees to be heard, and making them an active part of building the work culture.
5. Diversity isn’t enough—create a safe place with inclusion.
The second part of keeping employees is creating a place where they want to keep coming to work. Arguably, the hardest part of diversity and inclusion is the inclusion part—creating a safe environment for all of your employees to be heard, and making them an active part of building the work culture. You may have the numbers and policies right but the dominant culture may not reflect all changes you have made to address diversity. This dominant culture forces people of color, different backgrounds, and affiliations to assimilate, instead of being a part of creating that culture. Essentially you might have everyone at the table, or the “numbers right” on diversity but does everyone at the table feel like they have a voice and are they contributing to the conversation?
Uncomfortable conversations about diversity, educational resources and programs, affinity groups, and a “speak up” environment are key to shifting the culture and making sure all voices are heard. Be transparent with your employees about the shortcomings within your organization in regard to diversity, as well as how you are actively tackling discrimination and most importantly, ask for their feedback and suggestions. Provide resources—expert guest speakers or webinar courses—to educate your employees on race, as well as different affiliations and backgrounds. Help underrepresented groups connect around their identity by facilitating affinity groups where members share a particular identity and can discuss the issues they are facing. Encourage a “speak up” culture where employees can speak up about discrimination and follow through with their concerns by addressing issues.
Acknowledge that you need help
It’s okay to lean into experts during this time and acknowledge that you need help navigating meaningful change within your organization. Don’t be dissuaded from building a radically inclusive culture for your organization. Each of us has a part to play in building a future where every person is not just welcome at the table but is making critical contributions.
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About Elizabeth J. W. Spencer
With a varied career in international politics, social enterprises and a tech start-up, the common thread for Elizabeth over the past decade has been the pursuit of sustainable development in emerging markets. Writing has been the medium to synthesize her experiences in between changing diapers and kissing skinned knees. Elizabeth believes that power of purpose-driven businesses to deliver profitable products at the intersection of societal and environmental benefits can change the world. She lives in an ‘01 converted Blue Bird school bus with her husband, two kids and a Vizsla.