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5 Steps to Creating the Right Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for your Organization

Companies should reflect society in order to perform their best. In fact, a 2020 survey conducted by McKinsey revealed that diverse companies are consistently more profitable than their less diverse competitors.  Despite the numbers, only ⅓ of the companies served by McKinsey saw an increase in representation, with the vast majority making little progress and some even moving backward.

Put simply, a “diverse” workforce is one which incorporates people from varied backgrounds and represents different ages, genders, cultures, and ethnicities. As a leader in the Human Resources industry with more than 4 years of experience coaching and managing teams, I've learned some crucial lessons on the value of diversity and how to create an open and inclusive culture. These learnings are not only essential to maintaining a thriving company culture, but also to surviving in increasingly competitive industries.

Why is a DNI Policy Important? 

People who feel included feel valued — and people who feel valued tend to be more productive and loyal, resulting in a more positive performance. Incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion in your company’s DNA is becoming more important every day. Modern companies have continually demonstrated that DNI can not only help businesses achieve better results but also enhance talent acquisition and retention. People want to work for organizations and with individuals that make them feel comfortable, included, and secure. In fact, 57% of employees think their company should be doing more to increase diversity and inclusion efforts. Employee engagement is a huge marker of success, and listening to what workers are looking for is key to engaging them. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are no longer just buzzwords, but serious topics that professionals look for and value when determining their future. 

Experts have said that diversity is about counting employees, but inclusion is about making sure employees feel counted. Diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t just about filling roles with certain individuals, or categorizing where people within your organization fall. In truth, DNI really comes down to making the playing field more level (taking into account a person’s background and inherent biases present), and taking proactive, sensible actions to best reflect our society in a more balanced way.

Experts have said that diversity is about counting employees, but inclusion is about making sure employees feel counted.

Employees really feel that having different perspectives valued, being shown consistent respect, and being part of an accepting culture are key to diversity and inclusion. Work is where people spend the majority of their time and it’s crucial that people are happy in that environment — because that’s when they do great work. 

Proven Value: Inclusion Matters

Several studies have consistently revealed the value of diversity and inclusion for businesses. Predominantly, business leaders who focus on diversity and inclusion see better results than others. They enjoy benefits such as:

  • A 120% higher likelihood of hitting financial goals
  • An almost two-fold increase in innovation
  • Being 35% more likely to experience better financial performance

Additionally, studies show that diverse teams are 70% more likely to capture new markets, and diverse teams are 87% better at making decisions. The latest reporting shows a consistently strengthening relationship between a diverse executive team and the likelihood of strong financial performance. Some experts agree that this correlation stems from the “social listening” practiced by companies that have a focus on DNI. In these cases, leadership can be truly in tune with what employees want in their work environment, and how they can help align their personal and professional goals. Even companies that are already relatively diverse can benefit from taking a more proactive approach to DNI strategies and policies.

Actionable Methods for Creating a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

DNI is about so much more than policies. It’s about making sure that people can be their most authentic selves at work. Here are some tactics to explore within your own teams.

  1. Look at the numbers (and then go beyond them) - It’s important to understand the statistics within your own organization, but they don’t tell the whole story without additional context. For example, over the past decade, many organizations have claimed to focus on hiring more female employees and appointing them in leadership roles. Yet, less than 8% of Fortune of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Are people with diverse characteristics and abilities represented across all sectors of your organization? Further, what is the true sentiment around DNI within your company? This is where employee feedback becomes substantial. Tools like satisfaction surveys, Glassdoor reviews, and response sessions can prove to be invaluable for understanding how people are really feeling. It’s my belief that there’s a lot of value in just paying attention to the routines happening within your teams and how people treat each other.
  2. Consider the human element - A crucial aspect of inclusion is being able to be yourself. That can’t happen without a culture that’s cultivated from the top down. Communication and authenticity are important traits when it comes to an effective DNI program. Treating everyone equally and as an individual is important. We try to keep our team relatively flat and show the same respect to all individuals, whether they are an intern or a c-level. We make sure every person knows that what they have to say and contribute is valid, and focus on a culture where saying “thank you” for even small acts of assistance is common. Little things like just saying hello to someone in the hallway can make a big difference. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that everyone within an organization is a valuable person - with their own feelings, characteristics, challenges, etc. - and to treat them accordingly.
  3. Plan inclusive activities - One area businesses often struggle with is planning team-wide activities that are actually inclusive. For example, you might have some people who would prefer after-hours activities be centered on going to a pub - where someone else may consider that against their religion. Before planning activities, look closely at the makeup of your team. What activities might make everyone happy? Focus on those that are inclusive to everyone and allow everyone to experience team bonding, without feeling like they may need to decline. Finding activities that everyone can participate in will go a long way toward making the entire team feel valued.
  4. Cultivate an expressive culture - If your staff can’t talk to you and tell you how they’re feeling, it may be hard to implement and measure a DNI program. Create opportunities for conversation, both formal and informal. Don’t be afraid to ask people at all levels “How are you doing?” and promise to listen to what they have to say. In our teams, we like to have check-ins where we talk about not only how everyone is feeling, but how they feel the team is working together. We also take time to focus on positive attributes, such as what they are enjoying in their latest consulting project. What is going well and what can be done about the things that might be holding your team back from being their most authentic selves? Take the time to nurture an environment in which people feel comfortable expressing themselves. Additionally, look at your department structures and ensure that there are opportunities for relationships to be fostered and policies that will ensure these conversations occur.
  5. Appoint champions throughout the business - Most DNI programs originate with an HR team member, but they can’t carry the load alone. The truth is everyone in a company is responsible for fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. Though formal initiatives often begin with HR, it’s important to have ambassadors who care about this topic throughout the organization. Encourage people at all levels to consider DNI on a day-to-day basis in their normal activities. Participating in larger events or fundraising for certain organizations with a focus on DNI is great - but just as important is taking the time to be polite to everyone you encounter during the day. Making people feel welcome and being sensitive to different perspectives is truly putting a DNI focus into action.

In truth, fostering a diverse and inclusive environment isn’t just up to business leaders. It’s about a culture that permeates the entire company, from top to bottom. Today’s workers want to be part of more diverse, inclusive organizations - and those companies tend to thrive and be more successful than homogenous ones. For more insights on the latest trends propelling business success, make sure to follow our blog.