How to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Diversity has become a major buzzword in the workplace, and on a much greater scale, the world. In reality, diversity is a core value and belief that people must uphold if they want to inspire it in others.
A commitment to diversity is really a dedication to being open and inclusive. According to Dr. Bree Gorman, you can’t have diversity without inclusivity, and vice versa.
In an interview with Crew, Dr. Gorman opened up about her views on diversity and inclusivity, and how both of them play out in the workplace. Rather than focus solely on race and gender identity, Dr. Gorman discusses the importance of creating accessible opportunities for everyone, not just members of certain social groups. Inclusive workplace culture should be an inclusive environment where employees feel valued regardless of their parental status, ethnicity, disability, background, gender identity or sexual orientation.
What does diversity really mean?
In certain sectors, diversity has become synonymous with race. A company that wishes to become more diverse specifically recruits People of Colour and minority ethnicities to appear more progressive. They may advertise themselves as an LGBTQ-affirming business, and go out of their way to participate in supportive causes and campaigns.
As great as these things are, they do not truly encapsulate the meaning of diversity. Diversity is a mindset, one that embodies a greater acceptance of people from all ages, races, sexualties, and walks of life. It means changing the status quo so it doesn’t enforce standards upon people that are actually discriminatory.
Diversity means creating an environment where everyone has equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of their rank or title and there is a true sense of belonging for all.
Any conversation about diversity naturally leads to discussing things like privilege and “systemic exclusion.” These are subjects that can quickly become hard to truly pin down. The goal is not to attack people who may have greater opportunities than others, especially if these opportunities were afforded to them from birth.
What really matters is asking why we may provide privileges, even through subconscious bias, to some people rather than others. Instead of adopting an Us vs. Them mentality, maybe leadership and employees in the workplace need to ask themselves, “How can I make this space better?”
Only when people are willing to move beyond apologies and defensiveness can they become constructive. It’s not a matter of whose fault the lack of diversity is — what matters is how we build businesses and workplaces that will move forward to help shape a world free from discrimination.
The Importance of Multidimensional Diversity
One of the most interesting points in Dr. Gorman’s interview was the discussion of cognitive diversity. The ability of a business to think with diversity is a skill, and it encompasses many different attitudes, beliefs, and feelings.
When companies become more diverse by hiring a broader range of people, they also become more responsive to an ever-evolving audience. No market is static, and in order to provide the highest calibre of service, businesses have to be fluid, too.
Dr. Gorman explained that we think differently when we’re around people who are different from us. These differences can be obvious or subverted; perception is ultimately a major factor that influences how a person interacts with others.
Imagine giving a presentation to a group of people. In one scenario, you are the only person in the room who doesn’t have an advanced degree, and every member at the table trumps your work experience by at least a decade.
You’ll likely be more open to their feedback and relish the opportunity to learn from what they have to say.
On the other hand, what if you were the only expert in a group of interns? When they share feedback, you might interpret it as unsolicited advice, rather than a valuable contribution to the conversation.
The same logic applies to diversity. People who all come from the same educational backgrounds and social upbringings are more likely to come up with similar ideas. In order to make a workplace authentically diverse, there has to be a differentiation between multiple factors, such as education, experience, age, race, and gender.
The Difference Diversity Makes
Dr. Gorman referenced a study she read about in which 10 groups of people were divided by gender and tasked with solving a problem. The teams of men and women were all able to solve their assigned tasks, but something amazing happened when just one member of the opposite gender was added.
By replacing a male with a female in a group, and vice versa, there was a major uplift in both innovative thinking and the final deliverable. The uplift from a single instance of diversity was as high as 40%.
Was this because the male or female in the group thought so profoundly different from the majority? Not really. The actual difference stemmed from the fact that having a more diverse group lead to different ways of thinking, new questions, and different outcomes.
Imagine how this type of mindset can affect a company on a large scale. With an incredibly diverse team, problem-solving is transformed. Rather than work through a cognitive and social funnel, people are continually bouncing ideas off one another. Their different perspectives lead to more novel ideas, greater innovation, and a deeper inclusivity throughout the culture.
What is inclusivity in the workplace?
It’s only through actively building work environments that respect diversity and the unique talents that come with it, that anything meaningful can happen. Without an inclusive approach to diversity, differences can lead to competition, conflict, and disengagement.
Inclusivity is the belief that all people deserve equal opportunities, and that everyone deserves the same rights, benefits, and privileges. Moreso, it’s a commitment to creating equality through actions, rather than simply saying it matters in your workplace.
As Dr. Gorman points out, a common inclusivity mistake is saying that, “Everybody is the same.” In reality, this comment ignores the diversity of people’s lived experiences. Rather than enforce a damaging norm of “sameness,” companies should embrace differences.
Real inclusivity isn’t thinking everyone is the same; it’s making sure that everyone’s differences are appreciated and they feel included for who they are.
One place we can begin to assess workplace inclusivity is design. Inclusive design expands access and opportunity to different segments of your market. You don’t have to create a product for everyone, but you should account for variances in your target audience that affect how they engage with your offer.
Think about diversity and inclusivity in tech. It’s fine to offer a variety of products (aka a diverse range), but how inclusive are each of those devices and software on their own? Regardless of which one a consumer chooses, their product should be user-friendly, disability-accessible, and accommodating.
So the next question to ask is, “How do we make our workplace more inclusive?”
Many companies know they need to become more inclusive, but they aren’t sure where to begin. A good starting point is by assessing your consumers’ experience.
5 Strategies for Improving Diversity and Inclusivity in the Workplace
In order to transform a business, there are strategic steps to take that lead to lasting change. Most importantly, don’t believe that D&I is a one-time endeavor. This is a radical shift that completely changes how everyone in the company works and interacts.
At Crew, we have three lenses of diversity and inclusion that we rely on.
The internal lens
The external lens
The hiring lens
Each of these lenses provides a different framework for evaluating diversity and inclusivity. Each one also forms its own step in our strategic suggestions for improving your business’s D&I.
1. Start With an Internal Review
True diversity requires a total shift in how your business approaches everything. Ask yourself, “Are there enough resources and training in place to support this change?”
Are your leaders and managers prepared to manage diverse teams effectively? If not, what tools and training do they need to make that happen? Inclusive leadership is essential.
There are also internal biases to address. Are there concerns about what turning over the status quo might do? Are people worried about their own job security or roles with increased hiring?
An internal campaign to prepare the company for a new norm is essential to all future diversity efforts.
You also need to ensure that your business’s practices are actually aligning with its actions. A great idiomatic question raised during Dr. Gorman’s interview was, “Does the sausage match the sizzle?”
2. Look at Your Expression
The external lens is how your brand communicates with candidates and its audience. Once you know that things are all running well internally, you have to look for any discrepancies in your messaging.
A good question to ask here is, “How are we reaching a diverse audience, and what are we telling them about us?”
Another way to think about this is to remember that your audience may not have equal access to what you’re trying to tell them. So going out of your way to tell them is important. Think about your distribution channels.
Consider how your staff communicates as well. Is there a streamlined conversation between various members? Are people actually being exposed to diverse perspectives in their day-to-day lives, or are they isolated in their own department “bubbles”?
3. Hire With Intention
Diversity hiring is far more than simply looking at your current staff and “filling in blanks” with missing races, ethnicities, genders, and skill sets. You have to ask yourself how you’re framing your hiring materials. Are they being tailored to attract people of different backgrounds and education levels?
Have you considered the different journeys various job seekers take when looking for employment?
Diverse talent acquisition has to incorporate elements of psychology, and more importantly, empathy. Put yourself in a job seeker’s shoes. What keywords might they use, what websites might they visit? How does reading level, verbage, and ad placement all affect a person’s experience?
4. Embrace Intersectionality
Dr. Gorman describes intersectionality as “the intersection of a range of different aspects of your identity that create the experience you had in the world.”
Diversity is far more than one or two characteristics that set someone apart from the majority. A female, Black individual experiences life from the lens of two different minorities. But rather than being distinct, these two factors coalesce and influence their entire life’s experience.
Women and men can both make mistakes when it comes to overlooking intersectionality. We often become so accustomed to our way of living, and our company culture, that we forget the incredibly coloured nuances of our world.
Embracing intersectional diversity is a more holistic approach. It embodies elements like cognitive ability, physical disabilities, neurodivergence, and cultural background to truly see and validate others’ identities.
5. Find Ways to Address Discomfort
The discomfort of diversity is something everyone needs to admit before change can truly benefit the company. Most people feel “safer” discussing diversity through traditional lenses, like gender or race. But real diversity is far more than that.
You have to consider your entire company’s mindset when it comes to accepting new people into the workplace, especially those who are far more “diverse” than they’re accustomed to. Their presence upheaves the typical social norms and expectations — and there will be some internal discomfort as people adjust.
The best way to handle this discomfort is merely to listen. Create a safe space for open discussion, do surveys, hold focus groups, and really take time to understand all the perspectives within your organisation.
Discomfort is not inherently bad; it’s human. And in a society that has developed largely through systemic oppression and enforced biases, it will take time to undo the damage as we all learn and grow.