Diversity and inclusion in the workplace has become a focus for many companies. Above and beyond social concerns, diversity in the workplace generates new ideas and helps create a positive corporate culture, as well as fostering loyalty among employees.
That leads to improved employee engagement, a wider range of skills, and increased profits.
“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.”
But how do you ensure your work environment is welcoming to a diverse workforce? And how do you find the right hires, and retain loyal employees while focusing on inclusion?
Diversity mandates and quotas follow the letter of inclusivity without the spirit.
Stay away from diversity training that encourages passive participation. Instead, create a culture where discussions of inclusivity and concerns about workplace policy are part of your day-to-day.
Empower women and minorities in your employ by opening lines of communication between management and employees to address concerns as they arrive.
Rather than attempting to meet quotas, use hiring managers and blind hiring practices to encourage a diverse pool of applicants, and discourage cognitive biases.
Measure your diversity
In the world of business, what gets measured, gets done. To properly measure the diversity and inclusion in your company, focus your attention on your employee quarterly reports.
Maintain your hiring records, to get an idea of where you might be failing in your hiring practices. Look at your turnover rates. Sometimes, we don’t see the challenges our workplace culture presents to women or other minorities. Only by tracking your hiring tactics, can these come to light.
This was the experience of Social Media Scheduling tool Buffer. They researched why only 2% of their applicants consisted of women. They discovered that using the word “hacker” in the job ad (which they considered gender-neutral) deterred women from applying.
Conduct exit interviews with employees, to determine what you can do to increase diversity. By measuring and quantifying your need to diversify as you would any other aspect of your business, you will be more likely to prioritise it in the future.
Get referrals from current employees
A good place to start when looking to diversify your workplace is through your current employees.
Check in with your workers and communities, and ask for referrals. If you find asking for referrals directly isn’t giving you the results you want, try asking for loose referrals or leads.
It carries less weight, and employees might be more inclined to refer. If you’re still not seeing results, try to find ways to effectively encourage and incentivise under-represented groups in your company, such as cash bonuses, special rewards or recognition, or socially responsible gifts.
This also works to encourage a shift in your work culture, moving everyone toward a more inclusive environment.
Have reasonable expectations
Reasonable expectations means lowering your barrier for entry. This doesn’t mean that you need to lower expectations for the capabilities of your employees. But requiring unpaid internships, or an excessive amount of experience for an entry-level position are just two unwitting barriers when it comes to employees in a more vulnerable financial position.
Think about what you really need for your company, and be open and honest in your application process, to remove financial, educational and social barriers that may be keeping out an otherwise capable member of your team.
Explicitly state your intentions as an equal-opportunity employer
One of the most important steps you can take is to put the word out that you are looking for ways to mix up your workforce.
Explicitly state your intention at every stage of the application process. Make it part of your mandate to create an inclusive, and welcoming work environment.
Avoid biased language and images in your job postings. With regards to some careers, for example, there is a shift taking place from their definition as typically “male” or “female” professions. For others, there is still a long way to go.
Focus on creating a blind hiring process, by obscuring indicators of gender, race and demographic information from hiring managers. Work to ignore college pedigrees. Focus instead on experience and achievement.
Resist the temptation to scan an applicant’s social media. Studies show that hiring for “culture fit” can just reconfirm culture bias, and create the same problems you’re trying to avoid.
Nurture inclusivity throughout the office
Once you’ve done what you can to improve your hiring practices, it’s time to focus on employees you already have.
What are you doing to nurture an inclusive culture in your current workforce? Placing importance on inclusion means including it in the company mission statement. In addition, managers should adopt a managing style that allows each team member to fulfill their role and contribute, regardless of background.
Effective diversity management also means navigating cross-cultural differences between employees. Create employee resource groups, such as groups for working mothers, employees of shared nationalities, and LGBTQ employees, to discuss challenges and share ideas.
And take it a step further with focus groups to confront community service and social initiatives. Not only is it good for engaging and retaining quality employees, it will increase your business’s profile in the eyes of your community.
Look beyond race and gender
When you’re looking to diversify your work culture, look beyond the most obvious. As your workforce fills with millennial and Gen Z workers, you will see a “majority minority” in the two most racially diverse generations in our history.
Stop thinking about diversity purely along racial lines. Instead, work to empower the diverse points-of-view that more accurately reflect your customer base.
Having various socioeconomic backgrounds, nationalities, genders, and disabilities representing customers from inside the company will make it easier to address a multitude of issues your company hasn’t even considered until now!
Create a more flexible work culture
We’re slowly moving away from the traditional 9-5 work culture of previous generations.
The increase in remote work options and changes in work hours brought on by technology can mean great things for various groups.
A flexible work schedule that accommodates for a long commute, or someone’s chronic health concerns can allow for more diverse hiring practices without digging into productivity.
Inter-office programs like a daycare, or transportation can make it easier for employees with family concerns, or those outside the area to stay with the company longer, saving you money, and cementing employee engagement and loyalty.
Focus on retention
We’ve mentioned just a few ways to keep valuable employees long-term and create a more diverse work culture.
Beyond flexible work schedules, it’s also important to ensure you’re offering adequate training and working to support new hires. Creating a culture of inclusion means working with your employees to provide support when needed.
This ranges from flexible work hours, changing the culture in your meetings to allow for a free flow of ideas, to making time to praise the members of your organisation who are truly standing out, and allowing space for growth within the company.
One crucial step before choosing strategies for minimizing turnover, is to implement a structure where employees can give feedback. This way, you will avoid making decisions purely from a top-down approach, and increase support for changes in your company.
Promote from within
That brings us to our last important point:
It’s not enough to simply hire with the aim to diversify your workforce.
Think about who’s in charge. Which are the voices leading change in your company? Are you making the effort to promote diverse voices?
Recognizing the need to look for new ideas is one thing. Allowing those new ideas to take root, and challenge conventional thinking is another.
To encourage and empower new perspectives, you need to place your bold new thinkers where they can create real change.
It may mean making a smaller change, like organizing meetings to curtail interruptions and make space for everyone to have a voice. Or it could mean simply making space for an employee’s personal goals.
Employees who are able to express their concerns, take on leadership roles, and enjoy a level of autonomy and creativity, are more willing to stay with the company longer.
Diversity is more than the hot social issue of the 21st century. By encouraging a diverse workforce, you encourage a deeper and more creative exchange of ideas.
You increase profits by decreasing turnover and making room for a wider range of skills, and a wider customer base.
To make a real change in your company culture, you need to look beyond meeting diversity quotas and find ways to make your workplace more flexible, and more open to new perspectives.
About the Author
Sophie blogs over at Surehand, where industrial safety professionals find their perfect job. It is her aim to help create a safer world, one inspector at a time.