Building a diversity and inclusion strategy means nothing if you don’t believe in it. To truly challenge systemic barriers, we need to face the mirror and reflect on how we are currently acting to cultivate a diverse and inclusive environment and, more importantly, where we are lacking. At the end of the day, we want our team as well as our management to reflect our actual society, which goes beyond gender, age, race, color, religious beliefs, etc. Without de-emphasizing these particular factors but to understand the depth of what diversity really means. By being open to other dimensions, such as socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, physical or cognitive disabilities, we can, with more of an open mind, better understand the complexity of it. This means we can then avoid the trap of achieving a restricted form of diversity at the expense of diversity itself. But until we walk the talk, all that remains is simply just empty words.
With that said, let us walk you through important steps towards building a diversity and inclusion strategy that lasts.
Diversity is nothing without a solid inclusion strategy
There’s no shortcut to assimilating a transparent space where everyone feels empowered and valued. Changing structures and implementing a long-term inclusion strategy requires an ongoing effort that involves acknowledging and changing internal behaviors, biases, and attitudes and evaluating the current company culture.
Here is what Vendela Ragnarsson, the Co-founder of ReRobe and a recognized leader within the Swedish field of Gender Equality, has to say about why this particular challenge requires strong leadership:
“There is some interesting research showing that individuals find working in mixed groups extremely hard. When they are asked to review the quality of the group’s performance, they often underestimate the performance. The conclusion is: even though diverse groups out-compete less diverse groups in performance, people find it hard to collaborate with individuals that are unlike themselves. The challenge for managers is not to find diversity – but to keep it. A first good step towards a proactive mindset on diversity is to actually be aware of this phenomenon about group performance”
How do we actually incorporate a solid diversity and inclusion strategy into our workspace?
Learn from Etsy! A few years ago they introduced a scholarship for talented women in technology and managed to grow their number of female engineers by almost 500 percent in a year. They didn’t just manage to cultivate a diverse team, they approached it by getting to know their target audience and the challenges they’re facing. Hear the thoughts of David Khabbazi, COO and diversity strategist at The Social Few, on the importance of knowing whom you’re aiming to reach:
“To increase diversity we need to increase and measure our perspective density from within and out. Data and insights are a central part of the work – insights into opportunities and challenges regarding the people we want to engage, attract and recruit. It is also important to dare to adjust your target audience and ratify internal processes, recruitment channels, and not least your communication from an inclusive perspective.”
So, who is currently invited to your table? To collect insights from the variety of people we want to hire, it’s vital first and foremost to identify the voices that are heard and those that aren’t. This is something that can’t and shouldn’t be done just through the lens of your own management, but also through an intersectional perspective coming from people outside your knowledge zone. Tobias Franzen, CEO of The Amazing Society, says it perfectly:
“Your own ability to remain objective is worse than you think. Most of us know that we unconsciously tend to like people who remind us of ourselves, but the challenge here is to really understand how deep this goes. Always include others than yourself in the decision-making – and make sure that these people are different from yourself.”
Using inclusion as part of your company branding without actually integrating it into your everyday culture might work as a short-term solution, but hiring just for the sake of it has the capacity to ruin you and undermines the whole purpose of pursuing diversity in the first place. Because, let’s face it, no one wants to stay in a work environment where they feel unwelcome and disrespected.
To eliminate the underrepresentation of certain groups and mean it, we need to make sure the hiring process is conducted in the right way and that everyone is committed to putting in whatever effort it takes to source a diverse candidate pool. Having a pool containing just one underrepresented group amounts to doing pretty much nothing because the chance of that one person getting hired is statistically none.
Hear Isatou Aysha Jones from LeNoir Agency on what this means for her:
“In order to recruit for diversity, you actually need to focus on recruiting for competence. Don’t get me wrong, diversity is still important, but the problem usually lies with the way companies approach the issue. To promote diversity, companies need to use new methods to hunt for competence in places they haven’t tried before. Otherwise, they are just taking affirmative action, which in the long run comes with the risk of diluting competence.”
In order to be inclusive, you need to know whom you are including. Who are your employees and what are their preferences? Get to know them! Your inclusion plan should always be based on who they truly are, rather than your idea of who they might be. So, what could create an open, transparent environment, where we appreciate and respect each other’s differences, mean action-wise?
Here are 4 tips that will help your diverse and inclusive mindset to thrive!
- Food and beverage preferences
Get to know your people! One can’t underline this more. Keep track of your employees’ food and beverage preferences and be sure that there are always options available for those with health conditions, food allergies or sensitivities, and preferences due to religious beliefs. For example, not everyone drinks alcohol or eats pork, so always have alcohol-free options at your weekly after-work or replace a Christmas ham with beef or vegetables at your yearly Christmas party.
- Embrace cultural differences
For instance, make it the norm to allow employees to take days off according to their religious beliefs/holidays. Ensure that different backgrounds regularly meet to help your employees to expand their cultural awareness and have an opportunity to share their personal stories. We need to meet in order to break down misconceptions and to grow a sensibility towards different cultures. A diverse team means a wider range of skills, different viewpoints and perspectives and, when that team is accommodated by strong leadership, creativity and innovativeness increase, and opportunities are limitless!
- Accommodate those with visible and invisible disabilities
No matter how many people are affected or the severity of the disability, show interest, curiosity and care about your people in all matters. Talk to your people! They surely know better than anyone else! Is your office physically accessible for everyone? Are regular breaks implemented? Are there quiet spaces to work from or possibilities to work flexibly? Give your employees equal opportunities to perform at their absolute best!
- Make sure everyone has a say in meetings, not only those who talk most
Accommodate your employees’ preferred communication styles by, for example, using an online voting system, or giving your employees the opportunity to offer input by email, or by setting up a 1:1 conversation, as alternatives to giving feedback in group meetings.
Encourage leaders to be attentive to your people’s preferred communication styles and personalities and recognize behaviors that might steal the limelight or make it difficult for other important voices around the table to be heard. Even body language plays a huge role in whether people feel comfortable speaking their minds or not. Leaders are responsible for making everyone feel heard and valued and one way to go is to educate your leaders on how to facilitate inclusive meetings and create awareness around it.
See these tips as starting points for considering baseline components and the first steps towards building your customized, long-term diversity and inclusion strategy. Changing structures doesn’t happen overnight and it might still require you to outsource external resources, such as management or data-driven tools, which can assure quality and longevity when achieving and retaining an inclusive workplace.