By now, we all know diversity in the workplace is good for people and business. But many employees still feel disconnected or undervalued, despite companies’ best attempts at hiring a more representative workforce.
What’s missing is a culture of inclusion.
From introverts feeling overlooked in large meetings to sober or religious employees feeling left out at alcohol-related events, business leaders are clearly struggling to connect diversity with inclusion. Given that 72% of working Americans would consider leaving an organization for one they think is more inclusive, it’s time for employers to move beyond diversity quotas and start fostering real inclusivity.
Diversity Is More Than a Number
While diversity refers to an employee’s inherent characteristics, such as race, gender, age, and sexual orientation, inclusion deals with employees’ lived experiences and how they’re accepted in the office.
Think of inclusivity as the way you support your employees. In an open, welcoming environment, everyone can thrive regardless of background.
Although quotas can bring diverse voices and viewpoints into your organization, companies that merely check off diversity boxes can also perpetuate serious inclusion issues. Take older employees, for example. Those who are at or approaching the traditional retirement age of 65 are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. Yet only 8% of companies include age in their diversity and inclusion strategies, making it that much easier for ageism to flourish. Acknowledging how this demographic may feel entering an office full of significantly younger coworkers is an essential first step for successful inclusion strategies.
At the end of the day, diversity and inclusion practices are about much more than the numbers. They speak to how welcomed every employee in your organization feels. And when workers feel accepted and valued for who they are, everyone benefits. The companies that have cracked this code experience higher cash flow per employee, increased revenue and profits, higher performance and productivity rates, more engaged employees, and greater innovation in the workplace.
Putting Inclusivity into Practice
Creating an inclusive company starts with HR teams acknowledging the cracks in culture. Once you’re aware of the opportunities for improvement, you can take action:
- Rethink quotas. Even if they’re well intentioned, diversity quotas can lead to feelings of tokenization. But many organizations have achieved success by doing away with quotas altogether, instead focusing on companywide inclusion efforts that better support diverse groups of people.
In addition to implementing policies to help women balance their families and careers, McKinsey & Company organizes networking and career development events designed specifically for women. These initiatives have helped the global consulting firm attract and retain more women talent, without the stigmas associated with gender quotas.
- Get buy-in from the top. An employee-driven inclusion task force is a great first step. But let’s face it: Without C-suite support, your diversity and inclusion initiatives won’t get far. Educate leaders on the importance of inclusivity in the workplace and the critical role they play in establishing these norms companywide—and then offer training to help them understand their own unconscious biases. If your company’s core values don’t already address diversity and inclusivity, ask leadership how you can help lead the charge for a revamp.
- Create safe spaces. Safe spaces are exactly what they sound like: designated places where people can feel comfortable and secure at work. These include gender-neutral bathrooms, lactation rooms, prayer and meditation spaces, and quiet zones for overstimulated or introverted workers.
You can also promote inclusion by making your office wheelchair-accessible and installing multilingual signage. Consider creating safe digital spaces by including pronouns in your e-mail signature or establishing Slack channels for specific communities and employee resource groups to interact.
- Establish a culture of continuous feedback. Regular one-on-ones help build trust and open dialogue between managers and their direct reports. The opportunity to honestly share feedback or concerns is fundamental to making employees feel heard and valued. Employee engagement tools can also help HR teams gather anonymous feedback from workers who aren’t comfortable sharing certain comments or observations in person.
- Expand your event offerings. Social activities are crucial to building a strong, inclusive culture, but happy hours just don’t cut it for everyone. Many employees are pregnant, don’t drink for religious or personal reasons, or have evening family commitments. Round out your office events to be more inclusive of all employees. Invite guest speakers to present over lunch, surprise employees with a catered breakfast, and encourage groups to volunteer at local organizations on company time. You can also create opportunities for meaningful conversation with in-office book clubs or movie screenings that showcase diverse voices.
- Recognize and reward employees. One of the best ways to make workers feel seen and valued is simply by recognizing their efforts. Give kudos at weekly team meetings, use engagement platforms for employees to send each other praise and motivation, and reward great work. Be sure to include employees who might not get a lot of visibility or acknowledgement from senior leaders, like introverts or junior team members.
- Reflect and re-envision. Inclusion is an ongoing process that requires continuous evaluation to succeed. Regularly survey your employees to assess sentiment and identify opportunities for improvement. And if your efforts are falling flat, make a real effort to learn, change, and grow.
Diversity hiring is just the first step in creating a culture that supports all your employees—regardless of their sex, race, gender, age, religious background, physical ability, or sexual orientation. Embracing inclusive practices and establishing a safe environment ensure every employee has what he or she needs to succeed at your company.
Source: Dania Shaheen is Vice President of people and strategy at Kazoo. Shaheen focuses on transforming Kazoo’s business vision into effective structures, operations, and talent base, enabling the company to scale rapidly. To learn more about how to create an inclusive culture, click here. And to learn more about Shaheen, check out her interview for our “Faces of HR” column.