“We should try to leave the world a better place than when we entered it.”—Michio Kaku
Inclusiveness, diversity, and belonging in the workplace have become essential parts of a ubiquitous, ever-present ideology for organizations. Diversity and inclusion are quickly moving to the top of organizations’ lists of priorities because of the value they add. Not only do they contribute to creating a happier, more discretionary, and productive workforce, they also improve the organizations’ financial performance, as multiple studies have reported.
Still, one of the biggest challenges we face today is creating a diverse and inclusive environment for the workforce. Achieving true diversity and inclusion takes more than a training video or a session about being polite to coworkers. Many reputed organizations have been taking measures across multiple fronts—including hiring, promotions, opportunities, behavior, and more—to instill, improve, and constantly monitor these principles. Awareness of the business case for inclusion and diversity is on the rise. While social justice is typically the initial impetus behind these efforts, companies have increasingly begun to regard inclusion, diversity, and belonging as a source of competitive advantage—and more specifically, as a key enabler of growth.
What Are Inclusiveness, Diversity, and Belonging?
Let us start by defining some principles of inclusiveness, diversity, and belonging within the context of the modern workplace, as I describe in Table 1.
Table 1—The principles of inclusiveness, diversity, and belonging
Inclusion comprehends people’s involvement and empowerment. When people are included, their worth is recognized and respected.
Employees are at their best when they are their own authentic selves. To be one’s authentic self, one must feel included.
Diversity encompasses the full range of human experience in the workplace—including race, class, color, community, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, culture, and more.
It requires the elimination of all biases and hiring based only on merit.
Belonging is the feeling of security and support that results when an employee has a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity with a certain organization, group, or place.
It is the feeling of being respected, acknowledged, and included in the workplace that manifests in the way employees perceive their reception among their colleagues and their inclusion for appropriate opportunities, events, and more.
For all employees to feel that they belong, the workplace must be a diverse and inclusive place. Diversity in the workplace is about the mix of different kinds of people at a company, while inclusion deals with whether people feel a sense of belonging, feel heard, are engaged, and have a safe space in which to express themselves authentically. All three of these concepts: inclusiveness, diversity, and belonging are inextricably linked and must coexist to create the best employee experience possible.
Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter
Organizations always want to improve employee productivity and expend a lot of resources toward that end. Research has conclusively found that diversity and inclusion can unlock new levels of productivity because they contribute to building a happy, willing workforce. Multiple studies have revealed that organizations that practice these principles tend to perform better financially. According to McKinsey and Company, such companies generate up to 30 percent higher revenue per employee and greater profitability than their competitors. According to one report, companies in the top quartile for gender inclusivity were 21 percent more likely to generate above-average profitability. For companies practicing ethnic diversity, profitability increased to 33 percent. For every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity among a senior-executive team, the earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) tend to rise 0.8 percent. According to Gartner, teams with a diverse composition can improve their productivity by 30 percent.
Companies that are committed to diversity and inclusion, as depicted in Figure 1, are more successful.
Inclusiveness helps foster employee engagement, and it is no secret that there is a positive correlation between highly engaged workforces and strong employee productivity and business performance. Employee engagement measures the emotional commitment employees have to their organization, as well as its goals and objectives. The outcome of high engagement is employees’ contributing discretionary effort to their work. They go the extra mile, push themselves a little bit harder to achieve goals, and do just about anything to better the organization. The collective impact of these bursts of discretionary effort can lead to a noticeable increases in productivity and performance and better business outcomes.
Leading for Diversity and Inclusion
Organizations that are serious about diversity and inclusion have identified commitment, courage, cognizance of bias, curiosity, cultural intelligence, and collaboration as the six traits of an inclusive leader. These companies include these capabilities in their leadership-assessment and leadership-development programs.
To embed diversity and inclusion in their organization, leaders must enable changes to processes and systems. Managers should be held accountable for their teams’ outcomes, as well as their own behavior. Research shows that one source of bias at the organization level has been a lack of thought heterogeneity. Leaders and managers benefit by listening to people who think differently, because these people often contribute some of the team’s most innovative ideas.
ServiceNow, a leader in IT Service Management, is a pioneer in fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace. With their employees’ interests at the forefront, they conducted research and surveys and came up with a five-point plan, as follows:
workforce training—This means building inclusive skills and mindsets among all employees and leaders. Training focuses not only on identifying potential areas for bias but also on teaching managers to lead conversations about collaboratively developing solutions with staff. Managers learn about different types of biases and where they might appear.
equity for all—Achieving this requires creating and evolving equitable processes, policies, and practices.
giving employees a voice—This requires fostering a sense of belonging and space for dialogue.
lobbying for good—This means advocating for change by providing support and taking direct action, both locally and systematically.
recruiting and career advancement—This requires increasing representation and inclusion across all levels.
ServiceNow recognizes that putting inclusive behaviors at the core of its operations and making gender equality a priority has benefited not only the women they employ but also the organization as a whole and the clients, customers, and communities they serve.
Where Should You Start?
Achieving diversity and inclusion requires a concerted effort on the following fronts:
Place top leadership at the forefront of changes. Share data regarding the values of inclusion and diversity and build consensus at the organization’s highest levels. Then you must hold top leaders accountable, relying on metrics and transparent reports on diversity in promotion, hiring, and compensation.
Use technology and data to identify problems and measure progress. Analytics can help identify patterns of bias, disparities in compensation and rewards, and bias in hiring and promotion. Use tools to anonymize resumes and remove any potential for bias.
Think beyond Human Resources (HR). Building diversity and inclusion cannot be limited to your HR department. It is a business-wide responsibility, and the onus is on everyone to practice these values. Everyone must scrupulously practice these mandatory principles across all levels of the organization, as part of the corporate infrastructure, similar to compliance, information technology (IT), and security.
Account for local differences. Inclusion and diversity challenges vary widely from region to region, so the interests and concerns of employees in different regions of the world would likely differ as well. You must develop your strategies accordingly.
Comparing the Old and New Models
As organizations increasingly take diversity and inclusion more seriously, old perspectives are being challenged and making way for new perspectives and methods. Table 2 compares the old and new models.
Table 2—The old and new models of diversity
Diversity was a reporting goal that was driven by compliance and brand priorities.
Diversity and inclusiveness are CEO-level priorities and all levels of management throughout the organization consider them to be important.
Diversity was defined by gender, race, and demographic differences.
Diversity is defined in a broader context, also addressing people with autism and cognitive differences.
Leaders were promoted on the basis of merit and experience.
Leaders are promoted on the basis of merit, experience, and their ability to lead inclusively.
Work-life balance was considered a challenge for employees to manage.
Work-life balance and family and individual wellness are considered part of the overall employee experience.
Diversity and inclusion was a program of education, training, and discussion
Diversity and inclusion go far beyond education. The focus is on the process of eliminating bias and holding leaders accountable.
Companies reported progress on diversity measures.
Companies hold managers accountable for creating an inclusive culture, using metrics to compare them against one another.
“When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become a wiser, more inclusive, and better organization.”—Pat Wadors, CPO at Procore Technologies
A positive, wholly inclusive environment embraces diversity, engagement, and belonging. Inclusion in the workplace is increasingly becoming an ever-present ideology across many organizations. Achieving diversity and inclusion worldwide is a big, complex challenge that organizations cannot achieve overnight. Turning this dream into a reality requires serious commitment and sustained, organization-wide effort, but the outcome is well worth the effort. The benefits are mutually beneficial—happier, more productive employees and a prosperous organization.
With more than 15 years of experience in the field of technical communication, Samiksha has developed documentation for various business domains, including telecommunications, media and entertainment, banking and financial services, information technology, and healthcare. She is a certified Scrum Master with a penchant for improving existing business processes to optimize performance. Samiksha holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science. Read More