There’s been a lot of conversation surrounding issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace in recent years. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that inclusivity and diversity are values employers, workers, and consumers alike enthusiastically embrace.
But how do you know if your workplace is truly one where diversity is welcomed and where employees feel safe, accepted, and valued for who they are, where they come from, what they have experienced, and what they believe? This article describes strategies business leaders and HR professionals can use to develop an authentically inclusive company culture.
Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter
Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace is about far more than serving some lofty ideal. It’s also a benefit to the bottom line.
Incorporating employees from a range of backgrounds significantly increases the cognitive diversity of the organization. That means your company gets to reap the benefits of a diversity of skill sets, life experiences, and individual and cultural perspectives. There’s perhaps no better antidote to groupthink than that. Likewise, there is perhaps no more effective way to connect with and serve a large and heterogeneous client base than by cultivating a workforce that is similarly heterogeneous.
The Importance of Education
HR specialists understand perhaps better than anyone in the business world how critical education is to an employee’s success. As the famed poet Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” But growing is predicated on learning. We cannot do better when we do not know better, hence the incredible importance of education.
This is why the first and perhaps most significant step in creating a truly inclusive workplace culture is instituting robust employee education programs centering on issues of diversity and antidiscrimination.
These training programs, for instance, can help employees recognize and address their own unconscious biases. The programs can also better equip employees to identify and prevent microaggressions, stereotyping, and discrimination, both tacit and explicit, in themselves and others.
As a result of this proactive and informed approach to inclusivity and diversity, employees who have traditionally been marginalized, devalued, and misjudged will at last be given the opportunity to thrive.
Revising Recruiting and Management Practices
When it comes to cultivating an authentically inclusive environment, educating your staff is a necessary but not sufficient first step. The odds are, as an HR specialist or business leader, you’re going to need to rethink your recruiting and management practices.
For instance, you may have historically resisted accepting applications from candidates with a criminal history, regardless of how educated or experienced they may have been. However, it is difficult to espouse an ethos of diversity and inclusion when you reject otherwise highly qualified candidates because of a status they cannot change.
Widening your candidate pool to include applicants with a criminal background, though, is only half the battle. Integrating this demographic into your workforce means learning not only to accept but also to leverage the unique experiences and perspectives this labor pool will bring to your organization.
For example, employees who have served time in jail or prison may have a variety of visible tattoos. Rather than compelling them to cover their ink with makeup or subject themselves to often painful, expensive, and time-consuming tattoo removal procedures, why not put into action the inclusive ideals your company espouses?
Consider revising the company dress code, for instance, to allow your tattooed workers to do their job, including interacting with clients, partners, and stakeholders, without having to cover up. Not only does this reflect the celebration of difference that is the heart of diversity and inclusivity programs, but it may also well enhance your company’s capacity to connect with others.
After all, tattooing is increasingly popular and prevalent among all age groups and demographics. By allowing your employees to own their own experiences and express themselves in the ways they see fit, you are building an organizational culture of tolerance even as you build teams that better reflect the realities, norms, and values of 21st-century America.
Inclusivity has been on the lips of political pundits and business leaders in recent years. However, the concept is far more than a social justice buzzword. Savvy business leaders and HR professionals alike recognize that diversity is, indeed, a strength. By cultivating an organizational culture that embraces and celebrates differences, you are unleashing the manifold talents, perspectives, and experiences of a heterogeneous workforce. Moreover, such diversity in the workforce enables companies to more closely mirror, align with, and connect to an increasingly globalized marketplace and an ever-more diverse consumer base. Authentic inclusivity in the workplace, though, requires HR and business leaders to be proactive and committed. In tangible terms, this means instituting robust employee education programs and revising recruiting and management practices to better serve and lead more heterogeneous teams.
Katie Brenneman is a Guest Contributor at HR Daily Advisor.