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How to Overcome the Barriers to Diversity in Your Organization

Published Tue Jun 23 2020


Social injustice and civic unrest have thrust a new spotlight onto workplace diversity and inclusion. Changes need to happen. But how can we ensure the emphasis on diverse and inclusive workplaces is a cultural shift and not just a temporary solution? How can we make sure this time is different?

When it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, most organizations understand the importance of diversity, yet they still struggle to become more diverse. The reasons you’d get might be along the lines of, “It’s just the right thing to do,” or maybe even, “We have diversity quotas that we need to meet.”

These responses are reasonable but don’t fully explain why diversity and inclusion is so important to businesses right now.

There’s plenty of research that says diversity is good for the bottom line, which could be reason enough to explain why it should be top of mind. A McKinsey study found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity on their executive teams are 33 percent more likely to have industry-leading profitability. The ROI of diversity and inclusion efforts can and have been proven.

In fact, DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast revealed organizations that are ahead of the pack with gender diversity are 1.4 times more likely to have sustained profitable growth. In these cases, women comprise at least 30 percent of leadership roles and 20 percent of senior-level roles.

But there’s much more to the “why diversity” discussion. In today’s business environment that is characterized by rapid change and transformation, organizations that don’t take it seriously are missing out. Diversity provides opportunities to unleash new and different perspectives about new and emerging problems and opportunities. Organizations continuing to rely on the same people with the same perspectives may find themselves at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

Companies that can quickly solve challenges and anticipate what it takes to continually transform have staying power. That couldn’t be truer in today’s fast-paced and complex business environment where there is a constant threat of disruption.

When it comes down to it, not taking diversity and inclusion seriously can certainly hinder an organization’s ability to thrive.

Two Kinds of Diversity

Until now, our view of diversity has typically been through the lens of demographic differences such as gender and race. While these are important, there are many other forms of diversity that are just as critical in today’s context. In The Diversity Bonus, Scott Page identifies two broad categories of diversity that organizations need.

There’s the diversity we are most familiar with: identity diversity, which includes demographics like gender, ethnicity, and age. The other is cognitive diversity, which encompasses perspectives and thinking that’s developed through different life, educational, and work experiences, and personalities. Both kinds of diversity are key to generating results. And both types of diversity are essential to an organization’s success.

Many understand the importance of both types of diversity in business, so why have so many struggled in meeting their diversity goals? It comes down to being able to uncover and overcome the hurdles that hinder diversity. But there is no diversity without an inclusive work environment.

There are three keys to creating a more inclusive environment:

  • Identify who is included or excluded in decisions and discussions. This requires leaders to ask themselves several questions. Is there diversity in the group? Are people excluded and why? Does everyone have a voice at the table, and how are differing opinions handled? Is everyone treated with respect?

  • Engage people by encouraging them to speak up. Give people a platform and encourage others to contribute new ideas then build on them. Seek out differing or dissenting opinions. Explain why you value and appreciate someone’s perspective.

  • Advocate for people to enable them to experience personal success. It’s essential to proactively identify development opportunities, an recommend individuals and groups. Provide coaching while seeking and sharing feedback on inclusive behaviors, while challenging devaluing behavior.

For more information and resources to take steps toward a diverse and inclusive culture, click here.

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