Diversity and inclusion at the workplace are CEO-level issues these day, but what is diversity and inclusion?
Top companies around the world see diversity and inclusion as more than, when put together, a comprehensive strategy that's woven into every aspect of their office cultures to enhance employee engagement, improve their brands and drive performance. We no longer live in an era in which diversity is a box that needs to be ticked.
Rather, diversity and inclusion, today, are recognized to make workplaces healthier, more productive, more progressive and more forward-thinking places. And a lot of companies realize that diversity and inclusion not only benefit employees, but they also benefit the companies themselves. An inclusive culture that doesn't discriminate against gender identity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, race, religion, age and disability and, instead, expresses a commitment to diversity is one that thrives.
Except not all companies are there yet. Some still need some work in that department.
“Women and minorities no longer need a boarding pass, they need an upgrade,” said R. Roosevelt Thomas, who was one of the first diversity consultants to Fortune 500 companies. He went on to say, “The problem is not getting them in at the entry level; the problem is making better use of their potential at every level, especially in middle-management and leadership positions. This is no longer simply a question of common decency; it is a question of business survival.”
Thomas made this statement back in 1990 for an article in the Harvard Business Review. Twenty-eight years later, effectively managing diversity and inclusion in companies continues to be a critical topic. With attention on leveraging different thoughts for company innovation, while creating an inclusive environment where all employees, regardless of background, feel like they belong.
As an employee, how would one know if diversity and inclusion matters to the company? Here are five signs that your company does not support diversity and inclusion.
If your company’s leadership is obsessed with increasing diversity numbers through recruiting initiatives but not identifying ways to create an inclusive environment, they are operating in the past. Historically, diversity efforts at the workplace focused on Affirmative Action laws, dating back to the John F. Kennedy administration. This law was intended help underserved populations gain access to employment opportunities and protect them from discrimination in the workplace. Increasing diversity numbers is only one element of diversity and inclusion. More than ever, companies create strategies to support an inclusive environment and a diverse workfoce, where people feel like they belong and can contribute to the company.
Look around your office and see if your company has a diverse group of people (on the surface) and if the people seem to have different backgrounds, as well. Or are they all from the same socio-economic status or educational systems, or do they exhibit the same personal characteristics? Diversity is not just about race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity or culture. Diversity is much broader, according to scholars. It also encompasses two additional concepts: situational diversity and behavioral diversity. Situational diversity includes the current factors in an employee’s life, such as age, marital status, family stage, economic status, geographical location and other things that can be perceived as differences. Behavioral diversity refers to the subjective characteristics of an employee such as work style, problem-solving styles, specific needs, desires and values.
If your company approaches diversity and inclusion with a vague statement then you may have a situation in which no one knows what diversity and inclusion means at the company. Instead, the company should explicitly define them and broadcast that message internally within the company and externally within the community. Is diversity and inclusion a strategic business imperative because different mindsets contribute to innovation? Or does the company support their diverse customer base by providing a product, content or services that resonate with the varying needs of the consumer? Whatever the diversity and inclusion focus is, your company should be clear about it.
You can’t have diversity without inclusion, and you can’t have inclusion without diversity. For example, when you walk around your office, do you feel like you belong? Do you feel like others (regardless of how similar or different they are to you), treat you with respect, kindness and aim to understand you? When you’re in a meeting, does everyone pay attention to the loudest person in the room or do your colleagues make an effort to encourage participation from everyone?
Who are the executives in your organization? As R. Roosevelt Thomas once said that there’s not an issue of women and minorities at entry-level positions, but in your company, who are the ones who’ve been given an “upgrade” and advanced into the higher levels in the organization? And on that note, what types of people are usually getting promoted in your department or company? Do they resemble the leaders who are promoting them or do they have a diverse background, skill or experience? If the former, there may be a problem in how people advance into leadership.
The next time you are in a meeting, walking around the office, or interviewing at a company, be sure to take note of whether or not you notice a diverse group of people in the mix. Equally important is whether or not you feel like you belong. When you feel included, you don’t spend time worrying about fitting in. Instead, you focus on your best ideas and making positive contributions.