Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords right now, and for good reason. As companies everywhere grapple with underrepresentation, word has spread that inclusivity isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smartest business move. Including different perspectives in your talent pool means more creative ideas and innovative solutions. And in today’s globalized world, having people of different backgrounds on your side only increases your chances of being able to connect with new audiences. In fact, study after study show that ‘companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians’. But there’s a difference between believing in the power of an inclusive company and sustaining one. Fostering diversity requires intentionality and continued action, but it’s well worth the work.
The first step toward inclusiveness is creating a company culture where everyone feels welcome. Consider implementing diversity training to help staff pinpoint their own implicit biases. It can be startling to realize how many of our habits are inherently exclusive, but by taking actionable steps, we can start to create seats at the table for everyone.
Next, examine the company hiring process. Think about the pool from which your company hires. Are candidates chosen internally? Are those who are encouraged to apply mostly people the existing staff knows? If employees only open the position to people similar to them, diversity won’t follow. Instead, consider posting job listings online to increase the range of applicants. Open positions to a wide geographic area, and be careful to consider applicants who attended state and community colleges, not just expensive private ones. Lastly, ensure job descriptions use gender-neutral language. Implying that a job is meant for a person of a certain gender is the last thing you want.
Once you receive applications, consider using a blind screening process to review resumes. Research shows that despite identical resumes, those with white-sounding names are twice as likely to get called for interviews than those with traditionally African-American-sounding names. During the resume evaluation process, remove names to ensure qualifications aren’t clouded by unconscious bias. Be transparent with your employees about this process so there are no doubts about merit-based hiring. Additionally, if the hiring committee lacks diversity, invite others to weigh in on candidates. That being said, be sure not to engage in tokenism. Parading around a certain employee as proof of diversity is unfair to them and an abuse of power.
All of these tactics can and should trickle down to even the lowest levels of employment. Consider offering paid internships instead of for-credit ones. Not only do unpaid internships rob students of the opportunity to make a living over the summer, the credits often end up costing thousands of dollars. By offering paid internships, you extend the opportunity to work for you company beyond the reach of just the privileged few.
Leveling the playing field within the hiring process is critical. But it shouldn’t stop there. High turnover rates are a big reason many companies struggle with diversity. Who wants to stay at a place where they don’t feel welcome? The company’s mission statement should include a commitment to diversity that executives uphold. But it’s equally important that those values are put into practice on a day-to-day basis across all levels of management. Think about the norms your company reinforces. Practice cultural sensitivity by accommodating different religious holidays, whether that means time off or an adjusted schedule for practicing employees. Create an environment that’s respectful of different cultural or religious apparel.
One of the most important things you can do to create an inclusive workplace is make sure that it is accessible for people of varying abilities. When scheduling interviews, give candidates the contact information of someone responsible for making accessibility accommodations. A company will never be truly inclusive if it maintains physical barriers to entry.
A great way to support individual needs and boost productivity is to think outside of the 9-5 paradigm. If an employee is more productive leaving the office at 4 to be with their children and then logs back on after dinnertime, everyone wins. Allowing employees to work from home, especially parents of young children or new mothers, can do wonders to ensure that having children doesn’t mean employees forfeit advancing their career. Allowing for paid maternity and paternity leave is critical in ensuring that women are not edged out of the workforce just for having children. In fact, it’s the standard of every industrialized country outside of the U.S.
In that same vein, talk to employees regularly to find out what they’re motivated by, and what discourages them. You can even send out surveys to gauge how well these initiatives are working. By having regular check-ins, you’ll avoid losing valuable assets due to negligence on the inclusivity front.
So let’s review:
Creating a workplace that welcomes people regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability is a noble goal—albeit a complex one. It’s not something you can check off of a to-do list or delegate out to others. But start with these steps and you’ll be well on your way.