Often, businesses will be told they need to focus on diversity and inclusion if they want to be successful – and profitable – in today’s market.

And while this is true, if the terminology is unclear or worse, is misunderstood entirely, it can lead to a lot of confusion and uncertainty.

Which, as we all know, ultimately leads to inaction…something that benefits no-one.

What is “diversity and inclusion?”

While often used together, there are subtle nuances of each concept that it’s important to consider.

The term “diversity” means precisely what you think it means…different, or variety.

So in real terms, this means your company demographic should represent a diverse cross-section of society; women and men of different races, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, etc.

Inclusion refers to efforts undertaken by each organization to create an environment where every individual feels welcomed just as they are.

Why are “diversity and inclusion” important?

Aside from the obvious fact that it’s the right thing to do, businesses that actively diversify their workforce and that make inclusion a priority improve their bottom line.

How?

Many ways. For example, a diverse workforce can feed creativity which leads to better productivity.

Diversity and inclusion inspire creativity, leading to increased productivity

Research has shown that “…people like to fit in, so they are cautious about sticking their necks out. When we have a strong, homogenous culture, we stifle the natural cognitive diversity in groups through the pressure to conform.”

Therefore, workplaces that are both diverse and inclusive have a natural advantage over workplaces lacking such diversity.

This is confirmed by McKinsey & Company 2017 research data which showed that “…companies in the fourth quartile on both gender and ethnic diversity are more likely to underperform their industry peers on profitability.”

A diverse and inclusive workforce reduces employee turnover

Starting a new job can be hard; things such as new procedures, trying to remember new faces, etc. can be stressful enough without the added pressure of not feeling as if you “fit in”.

A workplace that is purposely diverse and that focuses on making sure everyone feels welcome and that each person’s ideas and contributions hold equal weight can help with employee retention.

A Peakon study highlights the fact that an employee’s low engagement level can be an indicator of their imminent departure.

“Our study found that both employee engagement and employee loyalty scores are strong indicators of an upcoming employee departure. Nine months before quitting, an employee’s overall engagement score begins to drop significantly.

“Coined by Boston University professor William Kahn in 1990, employee engagement refers to the level of personal investment an employee has in their work. Highly engaged employees are enthusiastic about their jobs and strongly value their company’s mission and goals.”

The study goes on to highlight that in a workplace setting, peer relationships and the freedom of sharing opinions are among those factors that have a positive impact on employee engagement.

But it’s not only peer relationships…management must direct efforts towards creating an inclusive workplace. Employees tend to stay within organizations where both their peers and management make them feel included.

An ADP Research Institute report states that “trust is a foundation of engagement. Employees who trust their team leader are 12 times more likely to be fully engaged in their work.”

What is the difference between diversity and inclusion?

Hiring for diversity simply refers to the process of hiring skilled individuals that represent a wide spectrum of society. Inclusion, however, strives to design a workplace where each person is encouraged to be their authentic self.

As noted earlier, the terms diversity and inclusion should not be used interchangeably.

For example, an organization could create a diverse workforce by hiring according to demographics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve put structures in place to ensure that every person feels respected and valued for what they bring to the table.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

In today’s work environment, organizations are competing against each other to secure the best talent possible.

Combine the tight labor market with the need to establish a diverse workforce and it’s clear that companies need to reach beyond the usual sources for top talent.

Creativity, a reduction in employee turnover and more innovative solutions are just some of the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Here’s how your organization can create a diverse and inclusive workplace.:

Give everyone a voice

From the top producing sales rep to the newly hired office clerk, everyone should have a way to share their ideas. More importantly, make sure the ideas are shared across the entire organization, giving credit where due.

This has a dual purpose; you make the employee feel valued, and you spur innovative ideas across the organization. Even ideas that aren’t feasible should be openly discussed as you never know where a new concept or better process can be discovered.

Improve engagement

When you actively show that each person’s contribution is considered and appreciated you create engagement.

And businesses with employees who are emotionally invested in the organization’s success will enjoy less turnover and higher returns on equity.

For example, a meta-analysis on Gallup’s Employee Engagement Survey showed that “Engaged employees are more present and productive; they are more attuned to the needs of customers; and they are more observant of processes, standards, and systems. When taken together, the behaviors of highly engaged business units result in 21% greater profitability.”

Encourage failure

Yes, you read that right.

The famous story about Thomas Edison and the light bulb should be enough to encourage businesses to free their employees from the fear of failure.

Fear of failure can stifle new concepts and ideas, stopping them from being fully realized and hampering your employees’ creativity in finding solutions or coming up with an innovative product or service offering.

Evaluate your current diversity hiring process

Do you see any discrepancies or bottlenecks that are interfering with finding top diverse talent?

Where do the problems lie? At the top of the funnel or do candidates get lost somewhere else?

Don’t skip this step…if you don’t know where you’re at, anything you try will be less effective.

Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How are we succeeding in diversity hiring?
  • Where are we failing and/or where can we make improvements to our diversity hiring process?

Make changes

Once you’ve seen where improvements can be made, start with a single metric to ensure a continued focus rather than creating a “scattershot” method of improvements that go nowhere.

For example, if you want to increase the number of female employees in technical positions focus your recruitment efforts on that demographic. Then, to ensure that all your efforts don’t go to waste, focus on creating a workplace environment that ensures your new hires will want to stick around for the long term!

Attract diverse candidates

According to Glassdoor, 67% of people looking for work consider diversity when evaluating companies they want to work for. To catch the attention of these individuals, telegraph your current (or aspirational) diversity in all your communications, website, social media, etc.

Word choices

Before sending out that job advertisement have another look at it. Pay close attention to your language choices. Make certain that what you’ve written won’t lead an otherwise suitable candidate to self-exclude themselves from applying.

Ask for referrals

It’s not uncommon for individuals to socialize and connect with others like themselves, so take advantage of this fact and ask your diverse employees for referrals.

Use blind hiring

Blind hiring is the process of removing personal information about a candidate that could lead to unconscious bias (e.g. their name, age, sex, etc.)

When this information is removed from applicants’ profiles you create a more equitable hiring process.

Finally, pay attention to the gains in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, always keeping in mind the end goal…a better experience for your business, your employees and the communities you serve.

“When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become wiser, more inclusive, and better as an organization.” – Pat Wadors, Chief Talent Officer at ServiceNow