Individuality within an Organization: How to Foster a Balanced, Diverse and Inclusive Workplace
“Today when I think about diversity, I actually think about the word 'inclusion.' And I think this is a time of great inclusion. It's not men, it's not women alone. Whether it's geographic, it's approach, it's your style, it's your way of learning, the way you want to contribute, it's your age - it is really broad”.
Look around at the individuals in your workplace, those with whom you interact on a daily basis. What do you see? Do you see men, women, young, old, white, black, Christians, Muslims, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited and queer? If so, you might think that you belong to a very diverse organization, right?
Mass immigration has altered the makeup of western societies and the general population is becoming more diverse. Nowadays, more women are getting hired, people are open about their sexual orientation and many contemporary organizations claim that are constantly seeking to change their policies to embrace people’s differences, individuality, and authenticity. It seems like a new global trend and mentality of the 21st century as the days of taking a one-size-fits-all approach are over. More and more workplaces are expected to build a harmonious and heterogeneous workforce, which nurtures self-expression and new ways of thinking. But, despite their claims, not all workplaces have the structures or the tools to encourage a diverse and inclusive workforce. Unfortunately, this kind of environment does not happen accidentally.
Although the importance of diversity has been constantly discussed, because it allows business to grow and prosper, however, diversity is not only about hiring individuals from a wide array of culture, sex, ethnicity, and religion. It goes beyond these attributes. Diversity means that we recognize that different age groups and individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds have different experiences, perspectives, cognitive style and skill set to share. And diversity would mean nothing without inclusion, which is related to how fairly we treat individuals and give them the chance to bring their ideas to the table.
So, how can organizations create a culture that embraces a balanced, diverse and inclusive workplace?
1. Empower HR professionals.
HR professionals are responsible for the whole recruiting and hiring process.Their decisions have the biggest impact on a business. And this is the point where diversity and inclusion starts. However, if they are restricted in their choices and are looking for candidates with a particular repertoire of skills, attitudes, background, then the concept of diversity and inclusion fails. HR professionals need to feel empowered to post jobs on different websites that will attract diverse candidates. They need not only to be behind their computers and passively select candidates, but they should approach professional organizations and recruit diverse members. They need to be aware of their unconscious biases and not excluding candidates just for the unfamiliar name, ethnicity, religion sexual orientation, identity or gender. The primary focus of an HR professional should be the candidate’s knowledge, skills, abilities and experience. Don’t go to the same 10 websites or media every year. Look at different options and be open to candidates that might use different resources to find a job. Support your HR professionals to look for new innovative ways to lead your organization’s cultural change.
2. Turn your own employees into organization ambassadors.
No matter your recruiting process and measures, the recruiting process should be a common effort. And who can be a better brand ambassador for new candidates than your own employees, who experience the company’s culture daily from the inside? Ask your employees from underrepresented groups to share with a wider audience their experience in the company, to reflect on the company’s values, to explain why they chose this job, what was it about the general environment that made them apply and what they like the most. Did they feel welcomed, respected and valued? Did they have any awkward moment during their hiring process that made them feel excluded? Can they openly express their opinion even if it is against the company’s policy? Share these viewpoints in your company’s blog, social media and platforms and all possible events. Have some pictures of your own workforce that reflects how diverse they are not only based on their skin color and gender but also attach some personal stories of their background. Diversity and inclusion go beyond your HR people, hiring process and policies. It needs to be a common and shared goal of the whole company, from the lower level of the hierarchy to the higher.
3. Determine who your customers are.
Do you want to have a global marketplace with a diverse market of customers or you want to have customers with particular demographics? If you plan to have customers from all over the globe, your workforce needs also to reflect that. The business reputation flourishes when it demonstrates a strong commitment to diversity, fair employment practices and appreciation for their workforce skill set and background. Moreover, when you have a diverse workforce, you can better respond to customers’ needs as your employees can give a good insight on how to deal with the expectations of people from different cultures. Additionally, you can easily attract a wider pool of qualified applicants.
4. Develop unconscious bias training.
One of the biggest roadblocks to diversity and inclusion is the unconscious biases that people hold. Unconscious biases are hard to overcome as they have been shaped outside the individual’s conscious awareness. An unconscious bias can affect decisions regarding performance, promotion or management reviews. For instance, it might be that you tend to favor applicants or opinions that are coming from your own familiar background or although you believe in gender equality, you might choose a woman as a leader because women indicate higher empathy and people skills than men. By developing a training focusing on all different types of biases you expose and make your employees aware of ideas, images and words that are related to negative stereotypes. Educate employees on how to challenge their decisions and help them understand how their biases influence their perceptions of their fellow workers.
5. Seek out different viewpoints.
If you want to set a new goal for the business or to change policies or values consider seeking ideas from employees that you mostly would never ask. Believing that some employees are good at only certain things and cannot influence things in your company will keep you from fully leveraging your team’s full intellectual capital. It is imperative to an inclusive environment to have an open-door policy where anyone can express his or her ideas, even if he or she is on the lower level of the hierarchy. If you acknowledge every employees’ contributions and you make them part of the decision-making process you make them feel valued.
If you have to push a boulder up a hill, do you want 10 people or 100?
If you weed out color or gender, you get 10.