8 Strategies to Embrace Diversity and Inclusion in Your Organization

Amidst social and civil rights issues facing our country, businesses struggle more than ever to build a diverse and inclusive workforce. Whether D&I is on your radar or you’re just starting to realize it should be, nearly every business has room for improvement in this area.

Ace Workforce Technologies recently hosted a webinar with tangible tips to embrace and practice diversity and inclusion within your organization.

Moderated by noted D&I speaker Susan Ganz and spotlighting the ideas and advice of HR expert Lea del Rosario and Urban League of Long Island CEO Theresa Sanders, the hour-long panel discussion began with describing the D&I spectrum.

Ganz and the panelists then provided actionable insights for business owners and HR leaders.

You can listen to the webinar and view Ganz’s slideshow presentation here.  

We distilled the conversation into seven approaches a leader may can take to embrace diversity and inclusion within any business size or business type. These are approaches to help shape your company’s development for today and the evolving future.

Understand the Vast Benefits of Embracing Diversity and Inclusion, Specific to Your Organization

Ganz began the webinar by identifying five of the main benefits to building a diverse and inclusive organization that values differences in opinion, culture, and thought.

These benefits are:

  • Better decision-making capabilities
  • Increased innovation
  • Increased profitability
  • Engaged employees
  • Enhanced client satisfaction

Let’s break down these five business benefits of D&I and explore why they are so important to an organization.

Better Decision-making Capabilities

When you include various viewpoints and perspectives, you can make better decisions with both a birds-eye view and an in-depth understanding of all variables. This reduces your business risk since you’ve explored all angles to make a better decision.  

Increased Innovation

Innovation, transformation, and agility are prized as competitive advantages in today’s economy. When diverse people come together, they bring more creativity and a wider range of ideas to the table.  

Engaged Employees

When employees feel understood, valued, and free to be their authentic selves, they are happier at work. This job contentment often leads to increased productivity. A Gallup poll shows that teams who score in the top 20% for employee engagement have 41% less absenteeism and a 59% lower turnover rate.

Increased Profitability

The same Gallup poll showed a 21% increase in profitability. These statistics point to D&I as more than just the right thing to do. Ganz said that studies show diverse teams outperform decisions made by individuals 87 % of the time. From a profitability standpoint, diverse organizations outperform their competitors by 35%. 

Enhanced Client Satisfaction

When clients drive diversity initiatives and request that partners or vendors support their accounts with diverse teams, both organizations win. Diverse teams also have a greater understanding of how to work with clients from equally diverse organizations.

From greater cultural sensitivity to more creative thinking, the tangible benefits of a diverse and inclusive work environment are difficult to ignore.

Sanders shared the results of an inequity report completed by the Urban League of Long Island. The Inequity Report quantified the cost of inequity on Long Island at $24 billion. “While we have social and moral obligations to be fair and include diversity and inclusion [initiatives] and diversify who we work with, it’s [also] impacting us financially,” Sanders said.

Identify Where You Are on the D&I Spectrum

D&I is not an “all-or-nothing” philosophy. Rather, organizations and individuals find themselves on a spectrum with five stages in the journey:

  • Unaware
  • Awareness
  • Intellectual Understanding
  • Emotional / Heart Level Understanding
  • DNA / Blueprint

Determine where you are in the journey so you can strive to, ultimately, have diverse and inclusive practices become part of your business model and corporate DNA.

Additionally, del Rosario points out that it is important to define what D&I means to you as a company leader. Does it mean you want to:

  • Employ more diverse people?
  • Have a community impact?
  • Associate with a more diverse network of vendors and partners?

“It can be all of those things,” del Rosario said. “But you have to commit to doing it.”

Examine and Expand Your Network to Recruit a More Diverse Workforce

“It’s very difficult to hire if you don’t know people,” said Sanders. “Some of your social networks have to change. You may have to do a little more socializing and networking with groups that are diverse so you can meet potential employees.”

This can include reaching out to group’s like Sanders’ Urban League (or one like it in your community). You might also post job ads on Twitter using hashtags like #WOC (Women of Color) or #BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) to find and connect with specific groups.  

Create Employee Resource Groups or Affinity Groups on Diverse Voices in Your Organization

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or even a D&I committee can be empowered within your organization to bring initiatives to the table.

An Employee Resource Group (ERG) is a collection of employees committed to diversity and inclusion who can work together to devise and implement ideas to improve D&I in measurable ways within your organization.

The key here, del Rosario says, is to ensure these groups are grassroots efforts and led by employees, with senior leader sponsorship. Even smaller companies can appoint a handful of individuals to lead the charge on D&I initiatives. It’s important that these initiatives do more than pay lip service to D&I ideals, but rather have specific goals and measurable KPIs (key performance indicators).

For instance:

  • Your human resources department may focus on diversifying your sourcing and slate, with the goal of increasing the percentage of diversified hiring in key leadership positions.
  • The procurement team might have a goal of growing vendor collaborations with women-owned or POC-owned businesses.
  • The marketing team could create strategies to diversify the customer base.

Similarly, an affinity group is a collection of employees in touch with the diversity in your workforce, that can act as a liaison between other employees and management.

Sanders agreed that most of the businesses she encounters in her work that successfully face D&I challenges have affinity groups or small teams leading D&I initiatives within their corporate structures.

“Your affinity groups can provide you with basic information. They can address topics such as what different cultural groups need, what will make them feel comfortable and attract them to your organization, and how do you pull out the best talent from different cultural groups,” she said. 

Give Leadership a Visible Role

“For me, the core point is that you need to understand WHY you are doing these things,” del Rosario says. “As an owner or company leader, you need to know where you are in the diversity journey for your company.”

While the D&I task force, ERG, or affinity group (whichever term you prefer) plays a key role, leadership should also be visible when it comes to D&I strategies and tactics. “It doesn’t mean the company president has to be at every meeting, but company leadership must be visible and demonstrate that they want change and growth to happen,” Sanders said.

Sanders also emphasized the point of making D&I part of the overall business strategy. “You have to be able to pull out commonalities the entire business can use. The affinity groups cannot operate in a vacuum. They have to collaborate on the basic business model,” she said.

Measure the Outcomes of Your Initiatives

It seems obvious to state that you must establish measurable goals with specific key performance indicators (KPIs.) But D&I initiatives often neglect this important step.

“Talk is great, but action is obviously way better,” del Rosario said. Moving from conversation to action enables you to put measurable goals in place for specific employees or for departments, which tie back to your overall diversity and inclusion strategy.

Address Microaggressions and Micro-inequities Through Trained Leadership

“Everyone has biases,” del Rosario pointed out. “We’re not always sensitive to the things we say or how they can be interpreted.”

Addressing those biases, which can often result in microaggressions, doesn’t have to be fraught with guilt. But it does have to be addressed.

“Very often, regardless of your race or culture, you may not realize you’re committing micro-aggressions every day. We grow up being trained by our parents or grandparents and these were just things people did,” Sanders said.

As we move to a global society, words and actions that may be overlooked within our community or our social network become unacceptable.

“Instruction about micro-aggression is so important, but if it’s taught right, you won’t feel guilty or ashamed,” Sanders said. She noted that it should be taught by a professional who can raise awareness without shaming people.

“It’s not an embarrassment that you said something that may have made somebody feel uncomfortable,” she said. “Now you’re aware of it and we have to move forward from there.”

Moving Forward on Your Diversity & Inclusion Journey

As you begin to raise awareness within your organization, you can continue to move forward on the D&I spectrum.

“This is something that requires a meaningful commitment, understanding where you are in the journey and then identifying where you want to go,” del Rosario said. “Ultimately, you will be successful not because you’re looking for quick wins, but because you’re looking to make a change.”

The financial, emotional, and societal benefits can make the journey rewarding. And all it takes is one approach – identifying where your organization lies on the spectrum now – to begin.


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