Cultivating diversity is vital in the modern workplace. While it was once seen as an optional feature, evidence has shown time and again that a truly inclusive workplace has the potential to outperform homogenous businesses in terms of everything from profitability to innovation, as well as attracting top talent from all backgrounds.
However, even businesses committed to diversity can find cultivating it a challenge, and it’s a complex issue to tackle. Something with this much importance needs to be approached carefully and thoughtfully so as not to cause unintentional problems.
Here are five methods that can be used to create an inclusive environment for employees:
1. Take control of your culture
Both attracting and retaining diverse employees requires cultivating a welcoming company culture. A business without this risks diverse talent either avoiding to apply for its jobs, or failing to settle in after starting work due to a hostile environment. With employee experience becoming increasingly important, managers need to consider how their teams appear to outsiders, especially to those from different backgrounds.
Research suggests one of the best ways to develop a culture is to craft a clear company mission or purpose that employees can look to. This makes their jobs feel more important, and leads them to take the mission seriously. Building diversity into that purpose can help craft an inclusive company from the top-down.
2. Start a conversation
While leading by example is extremely important, a business will struggle to truly cultivate diversity unless all of its employees understand and agree with the idea. Most workers will agree that increased tolerance in the workplace is a good thing, but may dislike being ordered around or get offended at the implication they’re prejudiced.
The way around this is to ensure diversity is part of an ongoing conversation. For example, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recommends making inclusion relevant to people at all levels of the business, and employee resource groups can be an effective way to achieve this.
3. Discover and address existing barriers
Sometimes, research is necessary to understand what exactly is stopping a business from being inclusive in the first place.
Eli Lilly and Company tackled this by surveying its large employee base to understand the current barriers that prevented diversity from being cultivated within the firm’s workforce. Their research revealed employees of Asian descent felt valued for their technical abilities but not for their leadership, while African-American employees had a greater need for psychological safety. By identifying these barriers, Eli Lilly was able to put measures in place to remove them.
4. Consider intersectionality
Intersectionality refers to the way different identities combine to create greater challenges for those who occupy them. For example, a caucasian Christian woman and an African-American Muslim woman will both have to deal with prejudice and obstacles due to being female, but the latter will likely also deal with those surrounding her race and religion.
It’s crucial to understand how different demographics intersect when it comes to cultivating diversity. For example, millennials are more likely to deal with financial stress than older generations. This will be intensified for millennials coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, and this is an area in which factors like race also come into play. It’s important to understand the whole picture before putting any measures in place.
5. Examine and tackle biases
An unconscious bias can be a real barrier to embracing diversity, leading to people not realizing they’re prejudiced and taking actions that negatively impact a workplace’s inclusivity because of this. Leaders examining these biases is key to developing a top-down diversity strategy; without first understanding them, they can be impossible to tackle.
Various tests, such as Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, are available to measure unconscious bias. Once these are identified, there are a range of ways to tackle them. The Diversity Journal recommends being exposed to other cultures and backgrounds through media, thought leadership and even podcasts.