If it’s no secret that diversity is good for business, why are so many companies still so far off from reaching their diversity and inclusion goals?
The numbers don’t lie: Currently, only four Fortune 500 CEOs are black (and all are male). Although women make up around 50% of the population, they make up only about 25% of board seats at S&P 500 companies. The employment rate for people with disabilities is half the rate compared to those without.
While a wave of social movements — such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and #TimesUp — have sparked much-needed conversations and increased awareness about the need for equality, it’s clear we still have a long way to go.
If we’re looking at diversity only from the macro level, we’ll continue to miss the mark. For example, what I often see inside companies is what I call the “three countries” analogy: You’re not really diverse if your marketing department is all one group, your tech team another and your engineers another. For true diversity, you have to look at the micro-level.
Then, to actually reap the benefits of diverse teams — such as improvement in decision-making, increase in innovation and a boost to your bottom line — you have to go beyond numbers and put in the hard work to create cultures of inclusion and belonging.
What does this mean exactly? In a nutshell, diversity is when your organization has so many different people in the culture that you stop noticing because it feels natural. Inclusion is when diverse people feel empowered to share their input. But true belonging is when diverse people are not only encouraged to share, but their voice is also celebrated for its unique perspective and acted upon.
It sounds simple in theory, but I believe we’re not seeing change happen faster because it’s uncomfortable. It calls for each of us to really look at ourselves, to learn to recognize how our unconscious bias may be impacting who gets hired and who gets promoted, and how our daily interactions impact workplace culture. It requires leaders to communicate why inclusion and belonging are so important, to walk the talk, and to treat diversity and inclusion just like any other business goal.
We won’t get there overnight. But if we consistently take actions, both big and small, we can make it happen. Here are three ways you can begin to build workplaces where belonging is the norm, rather than the exception:
Enable conscious conversations. We’re typically not taught how to have difficult conversations at work. Interacting with those who might be different from you in gender, race, age, sexual orientation, ability or mindset can be uncomfortable, especially when you’re not seeing eye to eye.
In the face of difference, stay curious. Instead of trying to shut down an idea because you disagree with it, ask questions. Being curious about why the other person sees things this way helps your brain stay open to new information.
Also, don’t assume how other people are thinking or feeling. Ask for feedback instead. Asking for feedback helps bring these issues to the surface and allows you to work more collaboratively — and paves the way for spaces where different voices are heard.
Measure inclusive impact. In order for belonging to actually happen, it’s not enough for leaders to simply communicate that it’s a priority. To get a better idea of where you stand and where you need to go, you have to measure the inclusive impact.
One way to do this is by surveying your employees to gauge how they experience the workplace and compare results annually or bi-annually. You might develop the questionnaire with your employee resource group or a diversity and inclusion consultant, but here are some starter questions:
• Do you feel like your voice is being heard?
• Do you have the social support you need to thrive?
• Would you consider networking opportunities inside the company to be inclusive?
Make belonging a business goal. If diversity, inclusion and belonging are company priorities, then it’s key to align compensation and bonus structure to reflect that. Consider offering bonuses to managers who attract and retain diverse talent or who promote women or minorities. Financial incentives can speed up change.
Belonging at work isn’t good only for underrepresented groups but also for us all. When we have workplaces where everyone feels safe speaking up, we’ll hear better ideas and find better solutions. What are some steps you are taking to build belonging in your workplace?