With last year’s wave of Black Lives Matter protests and a pandemic that has taken a particularly high toll on women and BIPOC, workplace equality — and diversity and inclusion — have been received renewed attention in recent months.
Social justice is good for employees and good for business. Studies have shown a correlation between financial performance and diversity. What’s more, “diverse employee populations bring unique perspectives and experiences to the workplace, which position companies to be more innovative and think outside of the box,” says Katie Brennan, an HR Knowledge Advisor at SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management). This gives companies a competitive advantage.
In addition, diversity, equity, and inclusion also improve employee engagement and retention. “When employees are truly included, they feel a sense of belonging and commitment to their organization,” Brennan says.
So how do you foster a diverse and cooperative workplace in which everyone feels comfortable and respected? Here are five ways to get started.
Review your hiring practices.
The first step in attracting diverse talent is to assess your hiring practices. “When employers begin to improve the diversity of their workplaces, they gain a reputation in the community of valuing diversity in their employees, thereby attracting diverse candidates,” says Brennan. Additionally, “as managers have more experience working with a diverse group of employees, they may be less likely to apply bias in their hiring decisions.” Potential recruits can come from nontraditional sources, such as specialized job boards like wehirewomen.com or disabilityjobs.net.
You can also build relationships with diverse organizations to tap into their networks and incentivize current employees by increasing referral bonuses for recommending candidates from underrepresented groups. Make sure that your job ads — and website and social media — send the message that your company supports a culture of diversity and inclusivity. When you evaluate resumes, consider removing identifiers from job application materials to avoid unintended bias.
Run the numbers.
The use of data and metrics can help you identify areas where you’re lacking and serve as a measure to achieve strategic goals. Does your employee base include individuals of different ages, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds, such as parents, disabled people, veterans, and LGBQTIA+ people? Are these groups represented in the leadership team? How do these numbers look when it comes to performance reviews? Do the same performance ratings result in different promotion or compensation rates for different groups?
New HR technology, such as Eskalera, can help you track progress through the use of analytics; identify and remove unconscious bias from hiring and promotion practices; and create more equitable compensation rates with the ultimate objective of creating better development and advancement opportunities for everyone.
To show your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, it’s important to make training mandatory for all levels of the organization, advises Brennan. A key component to employee education? “Use real work examples to demonstrate how unconscious bias can impact employment decisions, such as with performance management and recruitment efforts.”
The practical toolkits at Bias Interrupters and the “Flip the Script” infographics from Catalyst are good starting points; these guidelines offer common tendencies (e.g. groups perceived as less competent have to prove themselves over and over again) and ways to combat them (e.g. during an evaluation period, give evidence to explain and back up your rating; if you waive objective rules, do so consistently). Even with good intentions, words and actions can reinforce negative stereotypes and harm advancement. Awareness is the first step to interrupting the bias cycle.
Make sure you walk the talk.
“Training is moot if the concepts taught are not practiced in the workplace, so ensure that the organizational culture mirrors the lessons learned,” Brennan says. “One mistake organizations make is focusing primarily on diversity and neglecting to follow through with inclusion. Diversity comes down to numbers, whereas inclusion addresses how employees are welcomed, recognized, and valued in an organization.”
To that end, Brennan recommends establishing employee resource groups; encouraging the use of preferred pronouns; appointing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) committee or designating a DE&I officer; and being mindful of religious holidays. For example, rather than recognizing only Christmas in December, include other religious holidays or be more general with terminology.
Create a culture of trust.
Studies from SHRM show that employees’ fear of saying the wrong thing often prevents them from having honest conversations about personal and sensitive topics such as race relations. “It is natural for individuals to feel a little awkward in these discussions, but don’t be afraid to nudge employees to step outside of their comfort zone,” Brennan says. “Importantly, ensure that [this] is a safe space for them to do so.”
Providing other resources such as an employee assistance program and forums to discuss emotional societal issues can help create a culture that takes employee feedback into account so your company can continue to make strides towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.