Diversity and inclusivity initiatives are at the forefront of every corporate strategy in 2019. Or at least, it seems that way given the countless articles published in Forbes, the NY Times, and other business-focused sites. Unfortunately, there are still employers out there that do not support such initiatives or worse, do not fully grasp the difference between the two and why both are important to remaining competitive in the current global market. These employers may have a diverse workforce. They have the numbers to show they hire from all backgrounds. The problem comes when diversity initiatives are not coupled with inclusion.
First, let’s discuss the difference between diversity and inclusion.
The historical version of diversity in the workplace is fairly easy to achieve and, in the past, diversity initiatives were considered successful if there were at least a few employees of different races, genders, and backgrounds. Even now, some employers still see this as successfully embracing a diverse workforce. According to many scholars, diversity extends beyond race, religion, gender identity, and sexuality to include personality, work style, talent, behavior, and more.
Inclusion, on the other hand, takes the next step by espousing practices that go beyond non-discriminatory hiring practices to include training, promotions, and creating a work environment where all groups feel accepted. Such initiatives are deeply beneficial to both the employee and the employer. For the employee, inclusive workplaces are typically healthier and more productive. For an employer, maintaining an inclusive workplace is a fantastic way to attract talent and keep it because the business is considered more progressive and forward-thinking than their competitors.
Simply put, an inclusive, diverse working environment helps all employees feel like they belong. Working for such a place sounds amazing, but how can you, as an employee, determine if inclusion and diversity are a priority in your company? Here are a few signs to help you identify if your company supports diversity and inclusion.
1. They have a ‘quota’ for hiring from minority groups
The only thing that seems to matter to leadership is making sure to diversify their hiring, to onboard more minorities to meet some arbitrary minimum standard set by Affirmative Action laws. I hate to say it, but companies who focus exclusively on hiring a diverse workforce are stuck in the past. Affirmative Action laws have a noble intention, to extend employment opportunities to underserved groups and protect these employees from discrimination. However, the law only goes so far. It falls to company leadership to shift the focus from mere numbers to establish a culture where employees feel accepted and moreover, feel they are a valuable contributor to the company’s success.
2. Race is the only focus for diversity initiatives
Take a moment to look at your coworkers. When diversity initiatives are only skin deep, your office may appear to include a very diverse group of people. However, looks can be deceiving. A truly diverse workforce will include people from different backgrounds, personalities, socio-economic status, culture, personal situations and even behaviors. Such diversity enhances the workplace because it brings wider perspective to issues facing the group.
3. Vaguely defined diversity and inclusion initiatives
Most companies have a handbook with guidelines for employees. Typically, this is where you will also find the company policies on diversity and inclusion. When you review the handbook, if you find only a vague statement about the company’s inclusion and diversity policies, your employer may not even understand what those words mean as they pertain to the company. Vague statements play lip-service to the concept without doing anything to make the workplace more inclusive.
To be effective, such policies must be clearly defined, then broadcast and reinforced internally and within the community. After reviewing your company’s diversity policies, you should be able to understand why the policy is in place, who it serves, and what the ultimate corporate goal is for such initiatives.
4. No effort is made for inclusion, just diversity
Let’s say your company does expand how they define diversity in hiring. Your coworkers come from all walks of life, a picture-perfect cross-section of your community makeup. That must mean your company has this whole diversity thing on lock, right?
Well, maybe not. If your company does nothing to generate a sense of belonging, respect, kindness and understanding then the diversity initiatives they implemented are unlikely to be successful in the long run. Workplace diversity cannot exist without inclusion just as inclusion cannot exist without diversity. Inclusion goes beyond simply having a seat at the table to demonstrate that your contributions to the team are valued. It encourages everyone in the group to participate, not just the one who shouts their ideas the loudest.
5. Leadership is homogenous
Contrary to what some want to believe, diversity and inclusion do not start at the ground floor of an organization. Such initiatives must come from the top down and can only be effective when reinforced by example. It is one thing to have diversity in entry-level positions. It is quite another to have the same level of diversity in leadership.
So, when you look at the leadership in your organization, what do you see? If those in leadership roles, to include middle management, all seem to come from similar backgrounds and cultures regardless of skill or experience there is a strong possibility that the company you work for doesn’t take diversity and inclusion within the organization seriously.
Ultimately, inclusion and diversity are critical for any business. Such initiatives allow businesses to attract and retain higher quality talent, especially among younger generations who place higher value on feeling like they belong, like they are making a difference, like their work matters. When a person feels included and valued, they aren’t wasting time and effort trying to fit in or stressing that they do not. Instead, they will focus their efforts on their best ideas and how they can contribute to the company – and that is something any business owner should want from their employee.