The need for workplaces to demonstrate that they value diversity and inclusion has never been more important. Senior managers have the mission, obligation, and requirement to lead in a way that creates an environment that is diverse and inclusive so that every employee feels intrinsically special and valued for their uniqueness and contribution.
Identifying and truly understanding the unique differences among people is challenging—but strongly worth the effort. So, the process of valuing diversity is honoring the differences in employees by hiring and employing a diverse group of people.
These employees have differences that vary widely by their gender, ethnicity, age, religion, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or physical disability, and have diverse characteristics such as talents, experience, lifestyle, personality, perspectives, opinions, family composition, education level, tenure, and worldviews.
Then, it is essential that you also find ways to help every employee add their own personal voice and value to your workplace. This is valuing inclusion. Inclusion is providing a work environment in which every employee feels valued and included in decisions, opportunities, and challenges. Each employee believes that their interests are valued equally with those of every other employee and that their voices are heard.
Hopefully, your organization is already traveling along this road of diversity and inclusion. No matter how successful you are, though, you always have the opportunity to improve the environment you provide for your employees.
Here are seven activities that can help promote an environment of diversity and inclusion.
Get Employee Feedback
Ask your employees how well you are doing currently in valuing diversity and inclusion. Make no assumptions. Depending on how much trust you have developed in your workplace, they may provide an answer, especially in small groups of supportive employees, or one-on-one with a trusted manager.
Foster a supportive and safe work environment by asking difficult questions, seeking honest, realistic feedback, and making tough conversations protected in order to build relationships.
In the interest of identifying your current level of success, consider that an anonymous survey might yield better information from employees. You will want to survey employees regularly to assess progress in your demonstration that you value diversity and inclusion and in your culture that you’ve developed with your employees.
Educate Your Senior Staff and Leadership Teams
Focus on educating your senior staff and others in leadership positions throughout your organization about how to value diversity and inclusion. Senior managers provide the framework and foundation for the cultural environment in which everyone else works. They must assess the current environment, design an approach, and lead the implementation of plans to increase diversity and inclusion. Their commitment must be unwavering and their constancy of purpose as they demonstrate respect for each individual employee in the organization must be visible every day.
The sense of psychological safety that employees experience is clearly associated with the actions and commitments of the senior team. It is also helpful if members of this team exhibit the diversity you say you seek.
A company’s senior managers need to prioritize workplace policies and norms that enable employees to feel that they can express the core of “who they are at work and that celebrate them for those attributes. When employees feel that they have to hide or mask core parts of themselves at work, it can impact motivation, engagement, and ultimately retention and turnover rates,” said Jeremy Mittman and Corey Singer at SHRM.”
Make diversity and inclusion a part of your cultural norms to keep your workplace happy, mentally healthy, and strongly functioning. Create a culture where every person can contribute their full potential—unafraid. Set goals and honestly assess and report on your goals, progress, and shortcomings when you discuss or report on diversity and inclusion with your workforce.
Consider Developing a Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Team
The diversity and inclusion leadership team would need to meet quarterly to discuss ongoing employee feedback and review survey results. Then, the team would supply feedback to the whole organization and senior management about progress, challenges, and ongoing needs for development and change.
The key component of their contribution is to set the expectation that change is needed, progress will be assessed, and the quest for equality, diversity, and inclusion of all employees will always continue.
Train Managers to Foster Diversity and Inclusion
Implement a training program for managers on the appropriate ways they can foster diversity and inclusion in their respective departments. You should start by building a consensus in your management team that your organization has some problems with diversity and inclusion. But what if some of your colleagues feel like there isn’t a problem? For example, according to Robert Livingston at Harvard Business Review, if “feedback is rising through communication channels showing that Whites feel that they are the real victims of discrimination, then diversity initiatives will be perceived as the problem, not the solution. This is one of the reasons such initiatives are frequently met with resentment and resistance, often by mid-level managers. Beliefs, not reality, are what determine how employees respond to efforts taken to increase equity. The first step is getting everyone on the same page as to what the reality is and why it is a problem for the organization.”
Don’t focus your training heavily on weeding out unconscious bias and diversity and inclusion problem identification. Instead, turn your attention to the actual, specific actions managers can take in their daily management coaching and interaction with employees that will foster feelings of belongingness, diversity, and inclusion in their workgroups—for every employee.
Conduct Team Norms and Team Building Meetings
Hold effective team meetings that practice team norms and team building so all employees feel heard out and listened to. One of the key ways to develop a team that demonstrates to employees that it values diversity and inclusion is to ask each team to develop a set of norms or guiding principles that will govern their actions in their group. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), whether the team is your department or a project workgroup, “the most successful companies have figured out that it makes the best economic sense to draw talent and ideas from all segments of the population.” The EEOC adds that inclusive hiring and promotion practices bring segments of the workforce into the organization that may provide a competitive advantage in the increasingly global economy. However, systematic exclusion of these segments denies these resources to the organization and lessens the chances of eventual success.
Review Your Application and Selection Process
Review your recruitment and hiring process to make sure you look for ways to diminish unconscious bias and bring in diverse candidates. All people have unconscious biases, so recognize prime opportunities during interviewing and candidate selection to minimize their effect. A prime example is looking at the language you use in your job postings to make sure it attracts applications from both males and females.
Remove identifying information from resumes before allowing managers to review them to minimize the difference in names chosen by one race or another whether White, Black, or Hispanic. Hold systematic interviews to minimize the difference in the information obtained from each candidate so you can easily compare responses. Consider developing a work sample test so that you can fairly note the work of one applicant against that of another.
The primary goals of reviewing and refreshing your recruiting and hiring process are to:
- Make sure diversity and inclusion are reflected in your company brand via the content of your website and the diverse images you include in your employment outreach.
- Develop a reputation as an employer that values diversity and inclusion by encouraging employees to share their experience on social media and with candidates.
- Recognize that the face you present to the world when recruiting defines your workplace environment.
Celebrate Employee Diversity Through Events
One of the more outgoing, tangible ways to demonstrate that you value diversity and inclusion is to celebrate employee differences—and similarities—as part of your ongoing company events, celebrations, and employee get-togethers. Recognize that seasonal company celebrations must value the diversity of your employees and honor their background and heritage. Your event planning teams must include broad representation from diverse employees who bring who they are to the meetings. In this way, you will ensure that any events or celebrations you offer for employees will appeal to the broadest number.
Consider such events as a summer picnic or a potluck luncheon where employees bring a dish that is part of their heritage to share with each other. Schedule brown bag lunches where employees can share information about their unique cultural heritage or religion.
Create a multi-ethnic company calendar to which employees can add all of the days that they celebrate each year. Schedule your internal celebrations around a cross-section of the days.
Encourage employees to dress for and decorate their work area to promote their personal holidays and milestones. For example, in one workplace, to celebrate his Polish heritage, an employee brings Pączkis to work on Fat Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the day to indulge before Lent begins. In another company, employees have a window-decorating contest for Thanksgiving and represent many cultures and traditions.
Make certain that your events do not exclude diverse employees. For example, do not schedule a company dinner on Ramadan; do not serve only pork hot dogs at your summer picnic thus alienating employees who don’t eat pork or who are vegetarian. Your sensitivity to the diversity of employees will be evident as you avoid holding Christmas parties and other events that are tied to religion or ethnic preferences.
In some companies, multi-ethnic resources and groups are formed to meet the needs of employees. Women, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and employees with disabilities can create social and professional employee networks across the office. In others, special groups are considered to be exclusive so know your employees and workplace culture. Again, ask your employees.
As an employer, you have the opportunity to provide a workplace culture that demonstrates to all employees, potential employees, and customers that you value diversity and inclusion. To show that you walk your talk, you should:
- Foster a supportive and safe work environment by asking difficult questions and seeking honest, realistic feedback.
- Hold effective team building meetings so all employees feel heard out and listened to.
- Review your recruitment and hiring process to make sure you look for ways to diminish unconscious bias.
- Celebrate employee differences—and similarities—as part of your ongoing company events.
- Make diversity and inclusion a part of your cultural norms to keep your workplace happy, mentally healthy, and strongly functioning.