15 Ways to Improve Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
Mention diversity in the workplace and you’ll generally get a positive response from executives.
That’s because most of them understand the many benefits of a diverse workforce. They know 1) innovation and 2) terrific customer service are two key ways any company can stay competitive in tough markets and show consistent revenue growth.
Diversity in the workplace benefits
And execs know a diverse workforce (in age, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and gender) brings diverse viewpoints and perspectives to the company; these elements can help you develop great new products and great new ways to cater to customers. A recent Medium article (The Top 5 Diversity Workplace Statistics) shows the benefits of diversity include higher revenue, more innovation, better decision making, higher rates of job acceptance when you make offers to qualified candidates, and better performance than competitors.
Therefore many execs have no problem embracing policies, initiatives, and tools designed to increase levels of diversity among employees. A diverse workforce, however, is just the first step.
That’s because diversity in the workplace does not necessarily mean inclusivity in the workplace. Yes, making diversity a priority is important; but so is the next logical step: creating a culture where people from all backgrounds feel included. Inclusivity is the key to actually maintaining (not just creating) diversity in the workplace.
When it comes to establishing and following through on a commitment to diversity and inclusion, however, you can have a big impact. Here are the top 15 ways you can support inclusion and diversity in your workplace.
1. Use the “Inclusive Workplace Model”
What’s the difference between diversity and inclusion in your workplace? If your company doesn’t score high inclusivity marks, you risk alienating some of your workforce.
For example, consider the employee who’s a native Spanish speaker but doesn’t feel entirely comfortable to speak any language other than English in workplace common areas. Or the breastfeeding mother just returning to work who has no space to pump her breast milk. Or the Muslim employee who feels insecure about maintaining his daily prayer routine on company grounds.
When your employees feel they have to hide or mask core parts of themselves at work because they feel unsure, unsafe, or invisible, it can take a toll on motivation, engagement, and (ultimately) employee retention and turnover rates.
Diversity in the workplace statistics show that most companies desperately need to consider aspects of inclusivity as part of their efforts to create a workforce that reflects a variety of backgrounds and experiences.
2. Evaluate your executive team – Do they portray diversity and inclusion?
How diverse is your executive team?
The makeup of your executive team is a huge signifier to the rest of your workforce (not to mention your customers, partners, and other stakeholders). The top management of a company speaks volumes about your culture.
Accordingly, it is essential to have diversity among top management that is diverse. Are men and women equally represented? What about people from various cultural and religious backgrounds?
A survey report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found among the Fortune 500 companies, only 24 CEOs are women, which represents just 5% of the total number of CEOs. The same report pointed out that, among the 500 CEOs, only three are black, another three are openly gay, and one identifies as a lesbian.
As an HR professional, you may not have much control over your executive team; but if you do have the means to make a case about diversity and inclusion to the C-suite, you should. And you can help your executives communicate with employees authentically and transparently.
3. Acknowledge and honor multiple religious and cultural practices.
Introduce a policy for honoring a variety of cultural and religious practices.
You can do this by focusing on holidays and celebrations. This Forbes article suggests designating a special refrigerator to keep Kosher food items separate, for example. And the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes some companies still give Christmas Day off, but also offer “floating holidays” to accommodate the religious preferences of all employees. (Speaking of Christmas, make your holiday party nondenominational.)
Again when employees feel satisfied with and supported in their work environment, the company benefits from higher employee retention.
4. Foster a company culture where every voice is welcome, heard, and respected.
Most often employees quit jobs when they feel that their authentic self and uniqueness is not appreciated or valued. As such, it is vital to create an environment where they feel a sense of connectedness to the company and its people.
Employees need to feel free to express themselves based on their unique perspectives. Companies must make sure employees feel included and respected regardless of their
- sexual orientation,
- physical conditions,
- cultural background or
- country of origin.
When it comes to supporting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, don’t play favorites, practice basic courtesy, and pay special attention to how you can embrace non-discriminatory practices and policies. Employees feel included when they feel “safe” to voice their concerns and opinions without fear of victimization. The freedom of expression without fear also empowers companies to not just listen to but also actively embrace diverse viewpoints.
One great way to do this is to invest in a workforce communications platform. By integrating all your communications channel into one platform, you will reach each worker on their preferred channel. You will truly help your workforce feel connected and included in larger company initiatives and goals. Also, you will gain insights from unified analytics to understand how best to meet their needs and help them thrive. And you’ll provide a personalized employee experience that is inclusive and allows all voices to be heard.
5. Open a dialogue about gender pay inequality.
Want a culture of inclusion built on trust and transparency? Get ready to talk about gender and potential pay disparities, and possibly reveal some of the company’s data points around compensation.
Gender pay equity is a big point of contention at many companies. Workforce trust and a sense of inclusion are built around a company’s transparency in its policies and communication about those policies. For companies that have gender pay imbalance, it is important to open the communication channels so that employees can give their feelings and opinions. Additionally, present to them with clarity, the strategy the company is or will be using to address the gap. That way, they will feel safe knowing that the company is committed to taking action to bridge the gender pay gap.
It is crucial to avoid being defensive in presenting your company’s data around such policies. If data is skewed for a variety of factors (such as maternity leave vs. untaken paternity leave, for example), explain this the employees in a straightforward, clear way.
6. Welcome a multilingual workforce.
Imagine being part of a working environment where almost everyone regularly speaks a language not native to you?
If you truly want everyone to feel included, make sure you take into account language barriers and preferences. Global companies deal with this sort of thing all the time; let’s say they have different teams, working in different countries, speaking the same language … but they want to invite all those teams to participate in a virtual event. What language should be spoken by the person who introduced that event? What language will your CEO make her speech in?
Global companies know to offer translation services so that everyone can understand what’s being said and also feel included. (If the CEO speaks multiple languages, she might opt to leverage that in her speech as well.) But just as important in small companies is simply to make sure everyday employees feel secure and comfortable communicating in whatever language they find most suitable for them, especially in common areas or during company-sponsored or sanctioned events.
As a long-term approach, having a multilingual workforce may call for educational opportunities for workers to learn other languages. This might sound prohibitively expensive but think of it as an investment that yields returns in due time.
It is also a good idea to consider applicants’ language skills during the recruitment process. For example, with the same qualifications, it might make more sense to hire an individual who speaks more than one language.
7. Foster diverse thinking.
When you make an effort to hire for diversity, you put your company in a good position to think in culturally diverse ways. But for diverse viewpoints to really stick, you must account for inclusivity.
This is important because different people from different backgrounds and generations sometimes have vastly different perspectives on all sorts of issues, from what they choose to wear to work, to how they compose an email, to the kind of feedback they give on employee reviews, to what kinds of ideas they pitch in meetings. So it’s not just important for an individual employee or even a small team or department to understand thinking patterns; it’s also important that they know and understand how other people at the company think.
Embracing diverse thinking is useful in generating ideas and getting useful feedback while at the same time creating an environment where everyone feels relevant and part of a shared mission.
8. Build a multigenerational workforce.
Today, millennials make up the vast majority of the workforce. Having a workforce that recognizes and accommodates multiple generations is essential in building a diverse and inclusive workforce. And while millennials are generally known for being tech savvy, bear in mind this generation encompasses ages 22 to 38. The older millennials might not have the same proficiency with tech tools as their younger counterparts.
You can really see this at work in communications practices. Sometimes certain employees are more comfortable using social channels, for example, or group chat functions. On the other hand, employees of older generations might not embrace such communications channels so readily.
Again, communications professionals can invest in a workforce communications platform to easily and efficiently create and send messages via channels that employees prefer; this will help communicators craft messages that will appeal to all generations, and encourage engagement.
9. Reflect everyone’s needs and preferences at everyday gatherings.
In addition to holiday parties, many offices celebrate minor holidays (like Halloween) or events like birthdays. Whenever you have even a casual company event, be sure to include food and beverages that everyone can eat and drink. For instance, include both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks during events, and you may want to avoid hosting offsite events at bars. (Happy hours can be held in bar/restaurant spaces.)
Also, not everyone likes to celebrate birthdays, so be sure to ask the employee what he or she prefers (and never reveal the employee’s age or year of birth). Make sure employees know such events are optional. For example, some employees may suffer from intense shyness and would panic at the thought of having to attend a work-sponsored karaoke event.
This doesn’t mean you have to forgo small, ordinary celebrations altogether. But asking proper questions about preferences and offering a variety of food and drink options will go a long way in making such experiences more inclusive.
10. Strengthen anti-discriminatory policies.
A Harvard Business Review survey found that 75% of respondents found that superficial policies and language was insufficient to truly institute real change. They believed that leadership commitment and strengthening anti-discriminatory policies were critical. Also, every organization is different, so a tailored approach makes sense for success.
11. Make your workspaces inclusive.
You can establish gender-friendly bathrooms and restrooms and also set up dedicated nursing rooms for mothers. (Mothers should not have to book a conference room or hide in the bathroom.) A nursing room needs a door that locks, a comfortable chair, covered windows, proper ventilation, and a special refrigerator to store the pumped milk.
12. Eliminate bias in the evaluation process and promotion opportunities.
A large body of research shows that the hiring process is unfair and full of bias. Much of it is unconscious sexism, racism, and ageism. If left unchecked, it can harm your company. Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design explains, “Seeing is believing… If we don’t see male kindergarten teachers or female engineers we don’t naturally associate women and men with those jobs, and we apply different standards” when we hire, promote, and evaluate job performance. “Managers have to learn to de-bias their practices and procedures.”
Some strategies to combat bias include:
- Rewriting job descriptions so they are gender neutral and use words that strike a balance of gendered descriptors and verbs
- Create a blind system of reviewing resumes so you don’t see “demographic characteristics”
- Set diversity goals as an organization, which will help you track your progress
13 Segment employee engagement surveys by minority groups.
The annual pulse survey is common among companies, but many neglect to segment that data according to gender, generation, ethnicity, geography, and others. By only looking at total numbers, HR pros may miss the whole picture and an opportunity to identify issues pertaining to those groups.
14. Use independent groups to conduct focus groups.
Focus groups are a good way to collect qualitative data and gain deeper insights into employees. By using an outside facilitator, employees may be more comfortable speaking freely, and the outside company will maintain a neutral position.
15 Personalize one-on-one discussions.
One of the best ways to learn what employees care about is one-on-one talks with their manager. In order for these discussions to truly be effective, managers must have an “open door” policy. Workers need to feel comfortable in speaking their mind honestly and openly.
Managers (and leaders in general) can do this with authentic executive communications. By showing they too are human, employees will feel comfortable speaking up and trusting their leadership.
Inclusion in the workplace
Improved diversity and inclusion policies mean better engagement and employee retention. Learn more by downloading our new guide, New Insights For HR: A Four-Step Guide to Improving Employee Engagement now to learn how to make it happen. (No email required.)