Diversity matters. So does inclusion. But many employers struggle to properly address both so that one agenda doesn't push the other aside - and it's costing them talented players, productivity, and revenue.
What's the difference? Simply put, diversity is often used to put people in seats, and inclusion helps to keep them there. Of course, for a company that has built these elements into its brand, diversity can be a retention tool and inclusion can be a recruiting tool.
But if an inclusive culture and leaders are lacking, employees will frequently move on to find one. An organization that looks diverse on paper might not be fostering a culture where all employees feel empowered to speak up, to give their best efforts, and to value their time with the company.
If this sounds a bit like splitting hairs, be assured it's not. Yes, companies with ethnic diversity have a 35 percent better chance of outperforming competitors, per McKinsey's 2015 "Diversity Matters" report. However, if a corporation fosters inclusivity, too, it is likelier to capture a new market and increase market share, according to the Center for Talent Innovation.
So while it's true that diversity recruitment is improving, leaders must not look past the inclusion part of the equation if they truly want to drive innovation, engagement, and retention.
Building a workplace based on intentional inclusivity
Imagine a boardroom filled with people from dozens of different backgrounds. What this "diverse" image doesn't show is that a few voices will take precedence in the conversation. See the picture a little clearer now?
Most companies use those types of limited snapshots to determine whether their diversity programs are working - but they need to go beyond run-of-the-mill diversity reports. A diagnostic specifically focused on digging deeper can better illustrate whether represented groups feel they're part of the conversation or just a feather in the business's diversity cap.
Not surprisingly, employers don't often take steps to unearth meaningful inclusivity data. If they did, they could potentially halt attrition in a big way and ensure an equitable promotion process, enabling more underrepresented employees to climb the corporate ranks.
A 2018 Harvard Business Review article took a hard look at this very point. The author noted that one law firm boasted a 52 to 48 percent female-to-male "new associate" balance, yet only 23 percent of the female lawyers became partners. After an investigation, the firm found out why: The female lawyers weren't attracted to partnership because it didn't meet their career needs. The firm tweaked its benefits, and today, women represent 40 percent of partners.
Use a deliberate, even scientific, approach to identify your company's blind spots. Start with a hypothesis, conduct internal research and testing, and determine whether your original thoughts were correct. Repeat this process at regular intervals so you can identify and address cultural liabilities quickly. Only then can you be sure you're not throwing money, time, and effort at the wrong problem.
Building a culture of second-nature inclusivity
Businesses must look at diversity and inclusivity quantitatively and qualitatively, making a continued, consistent, year-over-year investment in both areas. Of course, diversity is easier to measure but, without inclusion, the investments made in diverse recruitment will not pay off. To ensure your organization is reaping the diversity dividend, use the following practical strategies:
1. Identify the difference between diversity and inclusion.
Do you lump diversity and inclusivity together? Separate the two - not just in your own mind, but in your team members' minds. Initiate discussions with other leaders to focus on awareness of the definitions and how they are interconnected.
Case in point: Even if an organization has moved from a 100 percent male-dominated workplace to one where 20 percent of workers are women, it might still be at a higher risk of gender discrimination or sexual harassment because of previous deeply held practices. It's important to recognize that an increase in workplace diversity won't automatically boost workplace inclusion.
2. Train your team to adopt inclusive behaviors and report non-inclusive ones.
If employees are being mistreated or treated unprofessionally, do they know where to go or whom to contact? Do managers understand how to conduct an inclusive meeting to ensure every participant's voice is heard? Never assume that these types of actions are happening if you haven't clearly established protocol and expectations.
Creating a more inclusive culture requires the willingness to intervene when you notice something amiss in balances of power, and training your employees and leadership teams alike on how to do that is paramount. The only way you can be sure you give all workers - those of any race, gender, sexual orientation, marital or parental status, office location, or any intersection of those demographics - an equal seat at the table is to set the stage before problems arise or worsen.
3. Monitor your team's progress.
Just as diversity efforts never end, the path toward inclusiveness is continuous. As you bring more employees into the fold, they will inevitably bring unique needs that could result in new policies and proficiencies. Welcoming them with open arms will lead to companywide benefits: According to Bersin by Deloitte, inclusive workplaces bring in 2.3 times more money per worker than less-inclusive companies over three years.
Remind your team that creating an inclusive workplace is doable. Often, intangibles such as a respectful community have far-reaching results such as increased sharing and fewer harassment reports. Yes, those results can be tough to directly correlate to inclusivity measures, but your constant efforts to elevate all employees' voices are worth it.
If you want to keep truly great employees from walking out your door, you need to prioritize a diverse and inclusive culture where each person's skills and ideas are valued equally. Use these tips to conduct an assessment of your company's inclusion practices and close any gaps you might uncover. If you'd like to learn more, check out our reports on Civility in America and Gender Equality in the Executive Ranks.
Tai Wingfield is a senior vice president in the Employee Engagement & Change Management specialty in Weber Shandwick's Corporate Practice. Tai leads the organization's diversity, equity, and inclusion offering. She works as part of the company's United Minds consultancy.