Diversity in the workplace has been an uphill battle for companies and organizations across the country for years. On the surface it seems a simple enough task. I mean, how hard could it be to get a melting pot of employees when we’re living in the biggest melting pot in the entire world?
The answer: harder than you think. And harder than anyone thought. Otherwise, we’d be there already and we’re not.
The biggest obstacle came with understanding what exactly it meant to have a diverse workforce. Did it just mean gender diversity — having more women working alongside men in the workforce? Did it mean racial diversity — having more people of color in the workforce? Well, a diverse workforce means all of this, and then some.
Achieving workforce diversity means achieving diversity across a number of categories. This includes race and gender, of course, but also, national origin, religion, age, and sexual orientation.
And companies have to take it further than just hiring people that check these boxes. They have to make sure they can retain them. This means that the environment in which they work has to be an open and inviting one. There is no room for bias or discrimination in the workforce that would otherwise make people uncomfortable and force them to leave.
It’s also important that they are afforded the same opportunities as their white male counterparts. They need to be considered for the same benefits, promotions and perks. It’s not just good to have a diverse pool of employees at the bottom level — they need to be mixed up and down the company ladder.
And it’s not just about hiring and retaining diverse employees, but changing perceptions so that this diversity can continue and that people don’t feel like outsiders. It’s all about culture and the community a company fosters. If they foster an open, honest, and inviting community and culture, then diversity should come more naturally. But it is definitely a task that needs to be championed at all levels of a company’s structure.
There needs to be a push to find these employees, hire them, keep them energized and motivated while also making them feel safe and accepted. There needs to be open lines of communication across groups and up and down the organizational ladder. There needs to be accountability and constant improvement. Diversity and inclusion in the workforce really is a full-time job, but it’s one that will do the company a world’s worth of favors.
Over the next few years, as these conversations about gender, race, religion, sexual preference and other social issues continue to become more mainstream, diversity will increase. But companies still need to take action and hold themselves accountable for pushing for diversity now as opposed to waiting for it to happen.
Successful companies recognize the importance of diversity, and are ready to put time, money, and energy into reaching these goals and achieving a more diverse and equal playing field. If you’re an executive, business owner, or employee looking to take the lead and make diversity in the workplace a priority, here are a few things you can do.
Workplace Diversity Initiatives
One of the best ways to increase diversity is to create resource groups for employees that they can use to talk about issues in the world, issues in the company, and ways they think their teams can improve. This can be for networking and socializing purposes, or for building business growth and development. By creating these inclusive groups, you’re giving your employees a safe space to share ideas, experiences, and opinions. This will lead to more diverse teams within the labor force.
A good example of these are the Women in Action ERGs created for increasing gender diversity and women in the workforce which has afforded many women more opportunities within organisations.
Another really helpful initiative for employees are sponsorship and advocacy programs. By giving your employees someone to check in with, look up to, and shadow in a way, you are giving them hope for what their future could be. You’re also putting them in contact with valuable connections that could help them advance their career and help boost morale, leading to business growth and development.
These are different from traditional, structured mentoring programs because they are more catered to the individual and they involve more time, effort, and commitment. There is also more at stake with sponsorship and advocacy programs that doesn’t exist with some mentoring programs.
But enacting these programs is a great way for increasing diversity and people’s feelings towards their diverse counterparts, forcing them to put away their differences and come together on common grounds.
It is also important to open up a line of communication with your employees. Having regular discussion about diversity and inclusion, talking about hot-button issues when they arise, and getting feedback from colleagues is helpful for strengthening the bond between peers and instills confidence in the company itself. If your employees feel that you care about their feelings and respect them, they will respect you.
Diversity training isn’t just about diversity. It’s about culture. It’s about human experiences and perceptions. These aren’t something that can change overnight and you can’t expect them to, but opening up lines of communication, giving people a safe place to express themselves, their opinions, and their fears, and ensuring everyone can have this openness with each other is vital to a diverse workplace. Cultural diversity training is just as important.
It’s important that your company continues to push the diversity goal as often as possible. Many times, new hires will have to take a quick online course or attend a seminar on diversity and that is the last time it’s brought up. This is no way to handle diversity which is a topic that is always evolving. Have quarterly seminars. Send out emails and interact with employees when something happens that makes headlines. Keep your company engaged every chance you get. Diversity isn’t something that you can fix with a bandaid. It’s a fluid process that is constantly changing and expanding. Your efforts should be too. Companies have to make a diversity initiative a priority in the work force.
There are a number of benefits to having a diverse workforce, the first being the competitive advantage you have over fellow competitors. When you have a diverse workforce, your team is working harder, faster, and more fluidly to drive business growth and value. And if you’ve achieved, or are working hard to achieve, a diverse workforce then you are wasting less time trying to get employees on board, and more time working together to reach your business goals.
Diverse organization see lower turnover rates as well. Employees feel respected and cared for. They are being promoted to leadership positions and given more responsibility. When you make racial diversity, gender diversity, ethnic diversity, and tolerance for sexual orientation and age a priority, your employees see that. And it makes them want to be a part of what you’re trying to achieve.
You’re also opening up the door to more diverse thoughts and opinions. A diverse workforce means that all individuals are bringing their vast array of opinions and experiences that drive new business opportunities.
This also means that problems are solved much quicker as there is a larger pool of diverse team members ready to jump into action. Just like everyone has different thoughts, opinions, and experiences, how people adapt to new problems is different. And you need new eyes, ears, and voices if you want to start overcoming the new challenges headed your way.
Another benefit of a diverse work force is the integral way teams work together. When you have a diverse workplace, people are putting aside differences and working together. It’s not about race, ethnicity, gender or age. It’s just about what value you bring to the table. Companies with effective diversity training have teams that work together seamlessly.
There is also an increase in productivity and creativity due to the focus on work and less on what keeps team members separated. When you’ve got a pool of individuals from all walks of life, they can share what they’ve learned and use it to drive business. They feel comfortable sharing their own creative thoughts. They feel respected enough to give work their all.
This leads to innovation, which is driven by diverse teams and organizations.
If you’re an individual or organization looking for a competitive advantage, and mutual respect within your company, diversity training is something that can take you to the next level. But even without the tangible benefits, knowing that you are making the workplace a better place by increasing diversity is enough to make your feel like you’re doing your part. Diversity in the workplace is an issue that will take years to correct, but by getting in the game now you’re setting yourself up for success in the future.