We joke around a lot on this blog. But one thing we won’t joke about is the need for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
I mean, obviously, we’ll joke a little, but not in any way that undervalues it. That’s because inclusion and diversity are no laughing matter.
The fight for equal opportunity and representation has been raging throughout American history, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that those in positions of power started taking actual steps to support it. In 1941 President Roosevelt (that’s Franklin Delano, not Teddy) signed Executive Order 8802, which expressly banned “discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin.”
And, sure, it seems like the last 80 years would have been a lot easier if he had left out the “in defense industries or government” qualifier (or mentioned something about gender or orientation), but when it comes to diversity every victory counts. Still, it wasn’t until the civil rights movements of the 1960s that anti-discrimination legislation started to become more widespread. Today, we live in an era where overt discrimination is strictly prohibited. Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between penalizing employers for discriminating and encouraging employers to make diversity and inclusion a focus in their business.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Are you ready? Are you excited? So are we. Get ready to dive into diversity, inclusion, what kinds of benefits each brings to the table, and how you can make them a central part of your organization. But let’s slow things down for a second. How about we start with a couple of definitions?
What Is Diversity?
Malcolm Forbes once said that “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.” That’s… that’s beautiful. It’s not — strictly speaking — correct, but it is a nice thought that highlights the importance of diversity in a team setting. Still, it might be getting a little too far ahead. Let’s go with a slightly more dictionary-friendly definition:
Diversity describes the characteristics, experiences, and individual distinctions that make one person different from another.
Everyone is unique. We’re all beautiful and one-of-a-kind (mean-spirited people ruined the word ‘snowflake,’ but you get the idea). And whether we’re talking about physical distinctions or those characteristics that are harder to see, it’s our diversity that makes us, us. And when you apply diversity to the workplace, it takes on additional significance.
Think of a team as a toolbox, with every member representing a tool. When faced with a project, you want to make sure that you have the right variety of tools to get the job done. That’s why toolboxes come with so many different screwdrivers, sockets, wrenches, etc. — so you can tackle any job that comes your way. But while having a hammer on hand can make a huge difference when you need to pound down a nail, having nothing but hammers in your toolbox is a bad strategy when it’s time to rewire a light socket.
It’s not too difficult of a metaphor to wrap a brain around. Teams depend on their members’ ability to draw from their own experiences and expertise to solve problems, plan strategy, and grow the business. And just like the toolbox full of hammers, a team that lacks diversity also lacks the diversity of talents necessary to meet a range of demands.
What types of diversity are we talking about? I can answer that question with a few questions of my own: What kinds of diversity are represented by your customer base? What range of skills do you need to understand and meet customer expectations? Most businesses don’t sell to just a single, rigidly-defined demographic. Connecting with a diverse audience in a meaningful way demands an equally diverse team. This includes (but is not limited to) diversity in:
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
Just to be perfectly clear, hiring for diversity isn’t so you can have a team that you can show off on the yearly holiday card. That’s called tokenism and it’s not doing anyone any favors. This isn’t about looking PC; it’s about giving your business the right human resources to accomplish more and perform better.
Diversity brings with it significant business advantages. Mckinsey reports that companies that rank high in gender diversity are 25% more likely to experience above-average profits, and organizations with ethnically diverse executive teams are 36% more likely to outperform their competitors. Gartner reports that hiring for diversity in age, ethnicity, gender, and other factors leads to improved employee productivity.
And that’s what diversity is — a fully stocked toolbox ready to match any circumstance.
So what about inclusion?
What Is Inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion are not exactly the same things, though they speak to roughly the same intention. A good inclusion definition for business is:
A work environment and culture where all individuals are shown respect, treated fairly, have equal access to opportunities and support, and contribute toward company goals.
Inclusion in the workspace is nothing like the tokenism mentioned above. Rather than using diversity in a superficial attempt to appear more progressive, inclusion gives traditionally-marginalized groups equal footing in the workplace — not just to be there and be visible, but to make actual contributions backed by understanding and respect. As such, inclusion is a very active term; it demands action and constant upkeep.
The reward, of course, is an inclusive environment where everyone is accepted, everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone has a hand in achieving success. Oh, and there’s also the benefit of increased revenue (if that matters to you). Inclusive companies have been shown to be 1.8 times more adaptable to change, 1.7 times more innovative, and see 2.3 times more cash flow per employee.
The Difference between Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion are both essential factors in creating a more respectful and effective workforce. But while diversity references the differences (traits, characteristics, backgrounds) that make individuals unique, inclusion is about taking action to make everyone feel welcome and ensure that team members receive equal opportunities and that diversity has what it needs to thrive.
You can think of diversity as the noun and inclusion as the verb (yes, I realize they’re actually both nouns; let’s not be pedantic). Diversity is what you want, but inclusion is how you get it.
Why Increase Diversity and Inclusion Efforts?
There are many advantages to prioritizing diversity and inclusion in business — for organizations and for employees. Here’s how:
In most cases, it’s up to the business itself to make diversity and inclusion a reality in the workplace. Thankfully, there’s good motivation to do so (you know, beyond the whole ethical-and-social-responsibility thing). Companies that get diversity and inclusion right tend to experience the following benefits:
- Improved brand perception. Among companies that have made effective progress in diversity and inclusion, 79% of executives agree that it has become an essential driver of company reputation.
- Increased revenue. On average, organizations that increase their number of female leaders by 10% also increased revenue by 10%. Research also suggests that companies with diverse management teams see 19% more revenue than companies with below-average leadership diversity.
- Better talent acquisition and retention. Deloitte found that companies with inclusive cultures enjoyed higher employee retention and more success recruiting new employees than companies without inclusivity.
- Increased market share. Companies that make it a priority to actively promote a diverse workforce are 70% better at capturing new market audiences.
Is what’s good for the goose good for the gander? Well, regardless of what a gander is, we can say with confidence that when it comes to diversity and inclusion, what’s good for the company is great for the employees. For example:
- Increased job satisfaction. Workers who don’t think that their employees are doing enough to prioritize diversity and inclusion sit nearly 10 points below the average on the Workforce Happiness Index.
- Decreased risk of burnout. Employee burnout is (or should be) a major concern for every company, and employees in traditionally marginalized groups are more likely to experience burnout as a result of biased workplace experiences. A greater focus on equality eliminates many of the practices and situations that lead to employee burnout in minority groups.
- Improved organizational culture. Approximately two-thirds of job candidates prefer companies with diverse workforces. Why? Because a more inclusive culture is, by definition, nonexclusive. It’s welcoming and open-minded, and that creates an organizational culture that allows employees of all groups to enjoy their work and perform at their best.
And naturally, these company and employee benefits also translate into customer benefits. Improved productivity leads to increased innovation and better service, and a more diverse workforce creates insights into understanding greater and more varied audiences.
Phew. Those are a lot of good reasons to prioritize diversity and inclusion… So how do you go about doing it?
Tips for Increasing Diversity and Inclusion
It probably goes without saying, but it takes more than lip service to achieve true diversity in a business. For your inclusion practices and initiative to be successful, you need to start from the ground up to build an inclusive work culture. Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
Unfortunately, workplace bias is well established and deeply ingrained, and in many cases, it’s simply not something that can be just ‘turned off.’ To help employees and company leadership recognize and eliminate the partiality that stands in the way of diversity and inclusion, start training. Formal diversity training helps bring exclusive practices to light, provides trainees with specific actions and goals to promote inclusion, and helps formally establish the importance of diversity within your company.
Use Inclusive Language
The English language developed naturally over the past thousand or so years, and during most of that time it was firmly rooted in caucasian male superiority. As such, many of the words and phrases we use on a daily basis demonstrate some form of bias. We’re not going to provide you a wordlist here (some of these terms are ones we’d rather not have show up on a Google search result), but we will suggest that as part of your trainings you address common biases and discuss how to improve language in your company to be more inclusive.
Release an Executive Statement
Want to drive home the point that diversity and inclusion are a major focus for your business? Get public backing from the C-suit. An executive statement that addresses the importance of diversity, maps out inclusion initiatives, and establishes metrics and goals will ensure that everyone in the company sits up and takes notice.
Establish Employee Resource Groups
A lot of the push for diversity will come from company leadership — but not all of it. Employee resource groups (ERGs) are employee lead, completely voluntary groups that exist to promote inclusion within a company. Show support for these groups and encourage your employees in establishing them. With ERGs and C-suite executives all pushing for diversity from different ends, you’ll be more likely to meet in the middle.
Improve Your Hiring Practices
Your workforce is only as diverse as the candidates you hire. Be inclusive as you write job descriptions, eschewing gender-based language and industry jargon and instead just focusing on the job itself. Make the career page of your website welcoming and accessible to all candidates. Create a standardized interview process and establish interview panels from a diverse range of genders, ethnicities, etc. Remember: Inclusion starts with inclusive talent acquisition.
Be Inclusive in the Holidays you Celebrate
Christmas is a big holiday — one of the most widely celebrated in the world. But it’s not the only holiday, and it’s not even the only important religious holiday to occur in December! As you determine which holidays you should include in your paid time off (PTO) plan, be respectful of the different preferences and cultural backgrounds of your workforce. This may mean offering PTO for holidays that sometimes get overlooked in traditional business. Better yet, consider offering floating holidays that allow your employee to decide for themselves when to celebrate.
Publicly Promote Diversity
We mentioned earlier that inclusion goes beyond tokenism. Hiring a diverse workforce just so you can flaunt them on social media or your company website undermines real inclusion efforts. But that doesn’t mean you should keep quiet about how your business approaches diversity. Make true diversity and inclusion a key aspect of your brand. Discuss it often. Share your inclusion initiatives and celebrate their successes. Simply put, as long as you follow through and are fully committed to inclusion, being public about it is a great way to inspire others.
Business is supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy, valuing and promoting ability over other, less-relevant considerations. But for this ideal to become a reality, organizations in every industry have to take more responsibility for providing equal employment and advancement opportunities for marginalized groups. When they do, they’ll discover that the business benefits of diversity are essentially limitless. So open up that toolbox and start driving for diversity.
TL;DR? Make diversity and inclusion a priority in your business — your customers, employees, and bottom line will all thank you.
Ready to put your employees’ wellbeing first? Talk to a Gympass wellbeing specialist today!
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The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.