Today, more than ever, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a predominant discussion at dinner parties, in the news, and across organizations big and small. Many of us would be hard-pressed to work at an organization that does not see diversity and inclusion as a priority, as noted in a recent global survey by PWC. However, if D&I is seen as a priority, then why are so many leaders struggling to cultivate diverse and inclusive organizations? I see a few reasons that could be producing the lag between where leaders want to be in terms of D&I and where they are today.
Leaders tend to conflate diversity and inclusion into one bucket, which means that to them with diversity comes inclusion. But that is not necessarily the case. Diversity is about the mix of individual differences (such as race, gender, beliefs, age, skills, experiences, and so forth) across an organization; inclusion is about ensuring that the mix of individuals and their differences are valued and respected. While you need D&I in your organization, they are separate entities and have different focuses for developing them.
When looking at how to improve D&I, diversity tends to be of greater focus, and it can even appear to be easier to tackle because progress can be measured. Organizations can create strategies for improving diversity where leaders can see the progress made, in numbers of diverse hires, promotions, and retained talent.
Cultivating inclusion is not as simple as looking at the numbers. Inclusion is complex and goes far beyond just being nice to one another. It is an amalgamation of the workplace environment (policies, procedures, culture, norms), how individuals interact with one another, and how employees perceive the effect of the environment and interactions on them personally and professionally. These perceptions can be difficult to measure and often change within an organization.
Finally, the idea of creating an organizational culture where all employees feel included can be daunting. Many times, leaders just don’t know where or how to start, which means either nothing gets improved or the focus is in the wrong place.
After years of helping organizations develop diverse and inclusive workplace environments, I can share five key elements for fostering inclusion for leaders to focus on and give them a solid place to start.
1. Leadership Commitment: The most important element for cultivating inclusion is leadership commitment. Organizations that have leadership commitment for D&I have an environment of trust where employees believe that change is possible, which sets the foundation for cultivating inclusion. As an organizational leader, you need to be genuinely committed to cultivating diversity and inclusion. This is more than saying that you are committed; it is being ready to set expectations, model behaviors, support actions devoted to facilitating inclusion, and hold others accountable for advancing the organization’s inclusive values.
2. Respect: Create a culture where employees feel that their differences and uniqueness are respected and valued across the organization. Leaders can support employees in improving respect through diversity awareness training, empathy development, and understanding personal biases and their impacts in the organization.
3. Belonging: Employee engagement is strongly linked to their sense of belonging in an organization. Employees need to feel like they are supported at work by their leadership and colleagues. Leaders can facilitate belonging by treating employees in the organization as a community or family with a common goal where everyone has a valued role in being successful.
4. Empowered: Everyone wants to make a positive contribution at work. It is important for leaders to support an environment where each employee’s contribution is valued equally. Leaders can lead by example by showing from the top-down that everyone has a place at the table and should be given an opportunity to participate.
5. Progression: Development and progression are important parts of employees' careers. Along with feeling respected and valued in an organization, employees need to feel that they have an equal opportunity for career progression. Leaders can work toward ensuring that workplace policies, procedures, and programs are supporting the development of all employees and not creating barriers.
By focusing on these areas, leaders will have a solid foundation to work on closing the gap toward a more inclusive organization.