Diversity That Improves Employee Engagement - And doesn't piss everyone off.
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Achieving diversity in the workplace is a complex process, but necessary to ensure that all your employees are happy and productive.
The steps to achieve diversity in the workplace is usually a long and tedious process, and one that doesn't just happen organically; it takes work and a commitment to succeed. But one that is well worth the journey!
The first step is to identify your company's or organization's goals for diversity. Do you want a more diverse workforce because you feel it's the right thing to do? Do you want to be seen as an "employer of choice"? Are you trying to increase the diversity of your customer base? Once you know your goals, you can develop strategies to help you achieve them.
If you're starting from scratch, you may consider recruiting from underrepresented groups or partnering with organizations that focus on diversity. There are even ways to partner with your competitors on initiatives to create diverse workforces; it can be a way to elevate the perception of your business as a leader in employee programs. You can also look at your current employees and find ways to retain and promote them.
I hope that hiring a diverse workforce is considered table stakes at this point. Although I know there is still much work to do - we should be thinking bigger and fostering the now MUCH more diverse workforce we have established. But diversity is much more than a hiring practice. For example, suppose you stopped with hiring. In that case, you'd then have a workforce with no history of leading diverse teams, leading with the intent to create a culture of inclusion and diversity of ideas, styles, and expectations.
To ensure that your workplace is truly inclusive, you must look at your policies and procedures. Do you have any policies or practices that could unintentionally exclude certain groups? For example, If you have flexible hours, are you making it possible for people with childcare obligations to take advantage of that flexibility? Alternatively, do you have events that are focused on a single group? Women, for instance? How about events that might require late nights or after-hours commitments?
It's also essential to create an environment where people feel comfortable talking about diversity, an environment where people feel they can have an open, honest conversation about what diversity means to them and how they think about it. Leaders should also be aware of the different types of diversity, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, disability, and veteran status.
It's complicated, and you can easily over-rotate by taking well-intentioned actions that result in negative outcomes that could impact your team's potential. Here's a common one: holding an internal "women's empowerment" event, for example. It might seem like a good idea to promote and inspire women in the workplace, providing a focused event, but in actuality, if this event ONLY includes women, then it's improbable to be effective or meet the overall objective of creating an inclusive workplace - in fact by definition it is the opposite.
Further, it can go wrong if it includes activities like yoga or cooking classes (ugh!) and courses like "how to communicate effectively." These aren't bad ideas, but when promoted and only available to women in your business, it could be interpreted that women need to: "relax, and we'll teach you how to communicate with the rest of us." When through of like this, it likely makes you roll your eyes at least a little - women only, how to communicate and yoga? Reconsidering and ensuring you have a clear line of sight to the outcome you're after and potentially consulting a diversity, inclusion, equality,y and belonging expert could be a good idea.
A much better approach would be to choose to incorporate and sponsor attending some events external from your company that focuses on the individual goals of groups. Then ensure that you nominate a diverse group to attend them. There are many great women's leadership events; there are several great ones for companies to consider: Executive Women's Forum, Simmon's Leadership Conference, and Grace Hopper, for example. Nominating leaders and individual contributors from diverse segments of your business, of course, but including those from the largest part of your workforce; that might need to develop skills to work with diverse groups should be TOP on your list. These events will go a LONG way in shining a light on the incredible value gained with a focus on diversity, promoting inclusive workplace practices, and building a community of action.
A strong diversity and inclusion program should be a top priority for any organization. By incorporating an executive leadership coaching program, your key leaders can learn how to build inclusive teams that recognize and value the unique contributions of each employee. This type of coaching can help your leaders create a workplace where everyone feels heard and respected, and innovation is encouraged. Over time, this will lead to higher levels of employee engagement and satisfaction and a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
Embrace the hard stuff!