This article includes excerpts from Personnel Concepts’ white paper, “Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are the Keys to Organizational Growth,” written by Melody S. Gee.
Employers have several important reasons to promote diversity in the workplace. A diverse workforce can provide a business access to a broader range of talent, perspectives, and ideas. Simultaneously, diversity in the workforce can provide unique insights into the needs and motivations of a business’ entire customer base. According to a Boston Consulting Group study reported on by Forbes, companies that enjoyed a more diverse management team reported 19% higher innovation revenue than those with below average diversity scores. Meanwhile, failure to promote diversity in the workplace is a risk factor that increases the likelihood of a harassment or discrimination claim.
Under federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws, as well as state and local antidiscrimination laws, employers have a legal obligation to avoid and actively prevent workplace discrimination. These laws protect against discrimination of several protected classes. Specifically, these protected classes include race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), one effective way to prevent incidents and claims of harassment & discrimination is to promote diversity in the workplace. However, employers may often wonder exactly how to attain a diverse workplace. Luckily, employers have access to a number of effective ways to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion within their company.
What Is Workplace Diversity?
In general, diversity in the workplace is any marker that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), diversity is defined by who we are as individuals. In sum, diversity in the workplace is the range of similarities and differences each individual brings to the workplace. Moreover, diversity in the workplace entails respect for and appreciation of these inherent differences. Differentiating markers that contribute to diversity in the workplace include, but are not limited to:
- national origin,
- socio-economic background,
- neurodiversity, and
- learning styles.
When referring to diversity in the workplace, it’s important to remember that people are not “diverse.” Referring to people as “diverse” singles out non-dominant or historically less privileged groups. Rather, teams and companies can be diverse, as a whole. In the end, diversity in the workplace refers to a collection of individual attributes that together help a team or company pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively.
Why Is Diversity in the Workplace Important?
Research has shown that diversity in the workplace can benefit individual employees and the organization, as a whole. Indeed, when companies promote diversity in the workplace, they are in a better position to create more adaptive, effective teams and are more likely to recognize diversity as a competitive advantage. In a study by McKinsey and Company, for example, top-quartile companies [for diversity] outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36 percent in profitability. Reasons to promote workplace diversity include:
- Increased Innovation
Diverse teams are more innovative. The McKinsey and Company study also showed that diverse teams are stronger at anticipating shifts in consumer needs and consumption patterns. The valuable insight that diverse teams offer makes new products and services possible, which can generate a competitive edge.
- Better Decision-Making
In addition, diverse teams can contribute to better decision-making. In detail, diverse teams bring fresh and varied perspectives, require new ways of communicating and collaborating, and push all team members outside their comfort zone.
- Top Candidates Want Diversity
Candidates consistently want to work for companies that promote diversity. Such companies should have supportive leadership, clear structures for equity and inclusion, and a culture of celebrating differences. According to Glassdoor, two-thirds of job seekers report that “a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.”
- Good Faith Compliance with Anti-Discrimination Laws
Fundamentally, to achieve a harassment and discrimination-free workplace, organizations should value diversity and inclusion. However, a commitment to a harassment-free workplace should not simply come from a compliance mindset alone. It should be rooted in a holistic diversity and inclusion strategy. As such, all individuals in the workplace should be respected and valued.
Five Ways to Promote Diversity in the Workplace
In order to promote diversity in the workplace, employers must practice effective diversity management. Diversity management involves employers’ deliberate efforts to hire diverse talent and to support an inclusive workplace. An inclusive workplace is one that values and protects each of its employees equally. Within an inclusive workplace, employers should provide equal resources to all and connect with and respect individual differences. Undoubtedly, diversity management can be a preventative strategy to guard against lawsuits alleging discrimination or harassment. Even more importantly, however, promoting workplace diversity can keep companies competitive and help them grow. The following are ways to promote diversity in the workplace:
1. Train Managers and Employees on Diversity
Implementing diversity and inclusion training is not only an effective means of demonstrating good-faith compliance with anti-discrimination laws. It also ensures that employees feel valued for their unique talents, characteristics, backgrounds, and perspectives. Additionally, workplace diversity training should communicate the employees’ own role in maintaining diversity and inclusivity at work. A good diversity training program should educate managers and employees on:
- the benefits of diversity and inclusion,
- how to recognize and prevent common unconscious biases (mental processes that cause people to act in a way that reinforces stereotypes), and
- maintaining a diverse and inclusive work environment.
Overall, diversity training should emphasize respect for personal differences. It should promote an inclusive work culture that values the unique perspectives, abilities, and thought processes of a diverse team. Finally, it should make employees feel comfortable with bringing to managers any concerns about harassment, discrimination, exclusion, or other unfair treatment.
2. Recognize and Disrupt Unconscious Biases
Even in a diverse workplace, unconscious bias is still a reality. However, individuals can train their brains to recognize unconscious bias instead of normalizing it. After that, individuals may more easily disrupt those processes that lead to unconscious biases. First of all, unconscious biases are not intentional. In fact, they often go against values and beliefs that an individual may have. Typical unconscious biases include:
- confirmation bias – taking in only information that confirms pre-existing personal beliefs.
- affinity bias – identifying with people, or putting people in higher regard, with whom one shares similar traits.
- halo effect – believing, without proof, that since a person is good at something, they are also good at other things.
- pitchfork effect – assuming that one perceived negative trait in a person means other negative features exist, without proof.
- status quo bias – favoring people who one assumes will help maintain the status quo.
Recognizing unconscious biases is the first step. Disrupting processes that lead to those biases requires ongoing effort. To that end, employers can create procedures that require more deliberate actions. Having inclusive procedures in place also gives individuals a chance to point out unconscious biases where they exist. Examples of procedures that disrupt unconscious biases include:
- reviewing resumes blindly to avoid biased assumptions, and
- basing reward systems on only competency and achievements, rather than behavior or appearance.
3. Examine and Change the Hiring and Interviewing Processes
Employers should recruit, hire, and promote with anti-discrimination in mind. This means implementing practices designed to widen and diversify the pool of candidates considered for employment openings. At the same time, employers should ensure that any outside recruitment agencies they use do not search for candidates of a particular race or color. To create an equitable and inclusive hiring and interviewing process that, in turn, contributes to diversity in the workplace, employers can:
- ensure job duties, functions, and competencies follow objective, job-related qualification standards;
- make sure job openings and promotion criteria are communicated to all employees; and
- determine how diverse the applicant pool is and tailor job descriptions to reach a broad audience.
In the end, employers should compare the diversity of the qualified applicant pool and compare it to the diversity of their current teams, departments, or leadership. Determine, first, if the company accurately represents the population at large. Next, make such changes to the hiring and interview process that will promote diversity in the workplace.
4. Promote Workplace Inclusion
In order to promote inclusion in the workplace, employers must, first, understand “exclusion.” Exclusion is denying individuals access, opportunity, information, rights, power, autonomy, authority, or decision-making based on their identity. Alternatively, when employers create inclusive workplaces, they proactively and visibly invite traditionally excluded groups into spaces that may have once only been reserved for a few. Employers may foster employee engagement and workplace inclusion by:
- creating a feedback structure that is safe and anonymous;
- ensuring all employee participation is possible when planning events, meetings, retreats, pieces of training, etc. (Consider time, location, distance, duration, space accommodations, etc.);
- providing childcare and eldercare services or subsidies;
- offering paid holidays beyond the standard American set (including Jewish or Muslim holy days);
- inviting input from all employees during meetings and seminars, rather than the same set of people every time; and
- collaborating on projects, training, or coaching across boundaries and differences whenever possible.
5. Encourage Employee Engagement
A recent Gallup poll revealed that only 36% of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and workplace. With that in mind, employers should ask themselves if certain employees in their own workplace are engaging more than others. If so, are there any noticeable trends? If there is a pattern of individual or groups of employees who are regularly disengaged, there are several ways that employers can encourage employee engagement. Employers can both spark employee engagement and unlock a diverse team’s potential for innovation by:
- ensuring that every voice is heard;
- listening to and considering novel ideas;
- empowering team members with decision-making authority;
- giving actionable feedback; and
- sharing credit for successes.
One significant effect of equitable and inclusive practices is a sense of belonging. This feeling is the core element of an innovative workplace poised to grow. Afterall, when people feel respected, valued, and safe to show up as their whole selves, they, in turn, feel free to take risks, innovate, challenge, and think outside the box for your company. In short, a sense of belonging helps people do their best work.
Key Employer Takeaways
In conclusion, diversity in the workplace can have a significantly positive effect on productivity, innovation, and performance. To be sure, the main driver behind these positive effects is the changes that promoting workplace diversity makes in the individual. Promoting workplace diversity helps people:
- participate more,
- contribute in new ways,
- get to know their colleagues,
- build relationships,
- increase their personal investment in their work, and finally,
- feel a sense of ownership in their organization’s mission and success.
Indeed, when people feel supported, more often than not, they are better at their jobs. When employers implement accountability measures, provide transparent structures, communicate clear expectations, and value diversity, equity, and inclusion, employees can spend their time and energy on their job.
Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Training for Employees
As discussed, employers that create a diverse, inclusive work environment are less likely to experience claims of harassment or discrimination. Furthermore, companies that promote workplace diversity are more innovative and financially successful than their competitors. To help employers promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and demonstrate compliance with anti-discrimination laws, Personnel Concepts has introduced an online, interactive Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Training Program for Employees. The training program addresses key terminology, common biases, and best practices for ensuring that individuals feel valued and respected for their unique characteristics. Finally, the program covers the role that both employees and employers have in creating and maintaining a diverse workplace.
NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.