For more than 30 years, Fortune 500 corporations, global organizations, government agencies at all levels, and nonprofits have been focused on improving and expanding their diversity and inclusion efforts. According to Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends Report, 48 percent of surveyed companies consider themselves “adequate” at focusing on global cultural diversity. An earlier Deloitte study revealed organizations that focused on both diversity and inclusion saw a 2x increase in feelings of engagement, as compared to organizations that focused only on diversity (1.2x), or only on inclusion (1.7x). Organizations have learned that increasing diversity — the variety of differences between people in their workforce — and inclusion — helping those employees feel a greater sense of belonging — creates a more engaged workforce and greater competitive advantage.
In order to make diversity work for the organization and its people, it is critical to also emphasize inclusion. Bringing people in who have more diverse backgrounds, unique experiences, and individual differences, without developing a culture that engenders a respect for and appreciation of those differences, will mostly backfire on you.
At work, as in life, people want to feel that they belong. Therefore, having inclusive practices in place is foundational to the overall success of a workforce diversification strategy. Essentially, if you build a process to recruit diverse talent, you’d better have a way to retain them, too!
A couple decades back, after graduating from a highly diverse campus (San Jose State), I spent my first few corporate years as an Industrial Engineer at Intel Corporation. I remember working with people who mostly looked like me and had backgrounds like mine — not a lot of diversity. Intel has come a long way since then, and is now one of the leaders in the tech industry for its approach to enhancing both diversity and inclusion. Intel exceeded its 2016 annual diversity goals in hiring while simultaneously implementing strategies that created more inclusion, such as reaching pay parity for women and underrepresented minorities earlier this year, focusing on multicultural retention strategies, and implementing diverse team management training for leaders.
Unfortunately, while diversity (at least ostensibly) seems to be improving, not all organizations have been as successful in adopting an inclusiveness mindset and strategy. A recent Bersin study shows that while 71 percent of organizations aspire to have an inclusive culture, only 12 percent have achieved this objective. Inclusion, therefore, appears to be much more difficult to achieve than creating a diverse workforce. How can organizational leaders like yourself begin to move past creating a diverse workforce to building one that’s truly inclusive?
Designing for Inclusiveness
Take a moment to step into the shoes of your employees. Now, ask yourself: “Am I able to bring my whole self to work in a way that balances what I do with who I am?” “Do I feel appreciated and valued for who I am, not just what I do?” “How much of my true self do I have to leave ‘at the door’ each day on the way into work?” “Do my opinions and ideas count?” “Do I feel that I belong among my peers?”
Truly inclusive organizations encourage a sense of compassion and empathy where employees feel heard, cared about, and supported. These nurturing workplaces are much more likely to foster an environment that enables individuals to bring their authentic selves to work every day — workplaces where an employee does not have to “cover” up part of themselves in order to be accepted and belong.
For me, it’s about being able to “be real” on the job — it means bringing all my unique gifts and talents as well as freely expressing my passions, concerns, and opinions. It means having the courage to speak up, have difficult conversations, take risks, disagree, and step beyond what feels safe to express my truest feelings, hopes, and even my fears. In some cases, it may mean being able to talk about the wholeness of my life, my outside interests and affiliations, my friends and family relationships, and the causes and passions in life I care most about.
Being this open, do I feel vulnerable at times? Of course! Vulnerability at work can be scary, but it’s actually essential for our healthy growth, change mindset, creativity, and innovation. Fostering an inclusive environment where everyone feels they can speak up and challenge assumptions is good for business.
Being intentional about inclusiveness requires the company to move beyond simple tolerance or passive acceptance of people’s differences to embrace and celebrate the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each person. And it’s not just about the surface level demographics — it’s about differences in education, experience, exposure, mindset, approach, and much more.
Three Factors of Inclusiveness
Inclusiveness can be broken down into three fundamental employee experiences. An inclusive environment can be measured by the extent to which employees feel respected and treated fairly. It’s also characterized by how employees feel valued, and whether they feel they belong.
We can think of inclusion on three progressive levels:
- Fair treatment: Goes beyond tolerance to dignity and respect for all via a “level playing field.” The idea that everyone has equal access and consideration to resources, support, and opportunities.
- Feeling valued: Goes beyond equity to focus on what is unique about each person, and how that uniqueness is appreciated by and made integral to the team. It’s about having a unique voice and being heard. Ensuring everyone is able (and expected) to be heard, have influence, and reach their full potential, and to be recognized and rewarded accordingly.
- Belonging: Goes beyond being valued to focus on being accepted fully within a community of people where members identify with each other, share a sense of personal relatedness, care about one another, and are willing to invest emotional energy for the benefit of community.
There is little question about the benefits to building a more diverse work environment. Differences in experience, background, and thought are the wellspring of new ideas and innovation. For that strategy to succeed, people need to feel included, valued, and fairly treated. And when all that is going well, the ultimate measure of an inclusive workplace is when employees can confidently and comfortably say, “I belong here.”