Productivity and efficiency have their place. Why not eliminate waste and streamline work? Create a streamlined process and increase profits.
The problem is that one approach does not fit all. Bias and discrimination do not go away by filling squares.
“Companies are trying to silo off diversity, inclusion and belonging—or, they make one of the words synonymous with the others,” said LaFawn Davis, vice president of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at Indeed, which was founded to help people get jobs.
In an earlier article, Davis cited the pandemic’s impact on people of color, women, those older and marginalized workers:
- Discrimination against Asians in the United States has surged since the early days of the pandemic. Over 30 percent of Americans have witnessed COVID-19 bias against Asians.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 33 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were Black. This is despite Blacks comprising only 13 percent of the American population.
- An October 2020 study on women in the workplace by McKinsey found that one in every four women is considering downshifting their careers. Otherwise, they might give up their jobs due to the impact of the pandemic.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Meghan M. Biro, a Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture chief executive officer. “We must start that work by acknowledging that people of color and women are shouldering recent burdens far more than others.
“Talking about workplace diversity without talking about inclusion and a sense of belonging can be counterproductive,” she said. “Worse yet, it isn’t going to help the marginalized feel like they have a seat at the table.”
All into nothing
Biro and Davis weighed why many companies are still trying to lump diversity, inclusion and belonging into one entity.
Businesses struggle with building diversity because they hire based on familiarity—people who look like them. Many referrals also come from employees who pass along resumes from friends who look like them, which compounds the lack of diversity makeup.
“Organizations can struggle to build out diversity if they don’t formalize and clearly articulate their company-wide aspirations,” Davis said. “That leads to a lack of direction and accountability. This is Step 1 to a successful diversity initiative.”
Integrated programs—not separate but equal—are a must.
“We can’t just pledge to create diversity as a separate endeavor away from the work culture,” Biro said. “That’s only one part of the puzzle.
“Diversity means all the identities and perspectives in a workforce,” she said. “To build that, we need to make sure everyone feels like they belong, and their perspectives and participation are welcome.”
Leaders might offer solutions that sound good but are disconnected from reality.
“I see organizations turn diversity into a task-based initiative that doesn’t change anything,” Biro said. “It’s like, ‘Let’s increase the diversity in the workplace by pledging to hire 5.7 percent more minorities.’ Yet, the culture doesn’t shift at all.”
Leaders need to be attuned to the varied preferences and norms of their workers. Downplay conformity and “This is how we’ve always done it.” Welcome different backgrounds and ideas that might eventually help the organization stumble into innovation.
From numbers to action
Customized strategies can help increase inclusion and belonging.
“After you formalize your goals, use metrics and objectives and key results to guide your diversity efforts, and think globally,” Davis said. “Also, be prepared to fund initiatives and build out a full team to ensure company values become actionable results.”
Success hinges on buy-in from top to bottom.
“You need a work culture that embraces inclusive behaviors—those that enable your employees to feel like their voices are heard and their stories respected,” Biro said.
“Find out about how your work culture is perceived around belonging,” she said. “How about doing anonymous surveys to find out how your people are feeling? That’s a great way to ensure they do belong.”
There is no such thing as a drive-by solution.
“Inclusion isn’t fitting people into a common denominator that mirrors the status quo,” Biro said. “Do the hard work of looking beyond that legacy mindset. Admit your work culture needs to change.”
Leaders can build more diverse workplaces through greater outreach in communities. Connect with representatives of social organizations who have firsthand insight of talent hidden from corporate eyes that only skim the surface to most easily fill positions.
“LaFawn said leaders make a choice,” Biro said. “Do you want to be known for sticking to norms that actually harm your workforce, or evolving for the future?
“Don’t just focus on hiring,” Biro said. “Look at engagement and retention across the organization and see where the weaknesses are. You can’t just hire them. You need to keep them.”
Carry your own weight
That starts with paying attention to and acting on workers’ pains, hopes and dreams.
“It shouldn’t be up to traditionally marginalized employees to do the heavy lifting for you,” Biro said. “You do need to find out how they feel and what their stories are. Listen and learn.”
This is the opportunity for leaders to breathe life into feel-good teams that have languished so they can chart the path to diversity, inclusion and belonging.
“Think of ways to transform your Employee Resource Groups into authentic business resources,” Davis said. “Give your ERGs a seat at the table, and leverage them during key business decisions such as product creation—including accessibility from concept to launch.
“In the workplace, it’s not about looking like me or coming from where I come from,” she said. “It’s about those common threads that pull us together.”