We hear all the time about how important it is to have diverse and inclusive working environments, which has given way to more and more organizations putting into practice Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) that “evens the playing field” for everyone. The World Economic Forum cautions against organizations allowing the current crisis to put diversity in the backseat; rather, they state that it is now more important than ever to pay attention to employees’ diverse needs and challenges. However, what exactly is D&I, and how do you build an organization that is both diverse and inclusive?

Diversity and Inclusion

“Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to dance!”

~Verna Myers, Diversity and Inclusion Expert~

Diversity is a mixture of individuals in society, while inclusion allows that mixture of individuals to exist and work well together. Diversity recognizes that everyone is different; some differences we are born with and cannot be changed while other differences are adapted as part of our unique identity. Inclusion recognizes that our differences are necessary and valuable; it is the intentional practice or policy that provides for equal access to opportunities and resources to those who might otherwise be marginalized.

In many organizations, a diversity and inclusion policy exist, however, little is done to create the understanding that more needs to be employed in order to develop a truly diverse work culture where inclusion becomes the fabric of the organization. In other words, D&I is not simply about checking off the boxes in order to meet EEOC quotas or legal requirements to say that an organization includes people from diverse backgrounds. It is about recognizing and taking to heart that diversity and inclusion are necessary in order to grow as an organization. It’s about being intentional in the effort to attract, hire, and retain the best people from different backgrounds and cultural experiences. Innovation occurs where D&I live because the people that organizations bring into it have varied gifts, talents, abilities, and thoughts that can be cultivated to achieve the greater good. It’s about creating space for people to been seen as value-added, grow in their careers, and be part of the journey to organizational growth, which leads to a sustainable organization and culture.

Before any organization embarks upon a D&I endeavor, it must first understand what biases may exist and confront them.

Discovering Biases and Where True D&I Impact Can Be Made

Bias is defined as prejudice in favor of or against a person or group compared with another that is usually considered unfair. To some degree, we all have biases. We tend to prejudge something or someone based on what we have heard, seen, or experienced. Our biases may show up in what we think about those who are different from us and the decisions that we make about them despite their ability. Bias can show up in how we speak to people and the words that we use to describe them. Here is a point to ponder, “if you were on the receiving end of what you just said, would you be happy with it?” The leaders in an organization can influence others to open their eyes and judge the content of one’s character (integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, and moral courage, etc.) as well as their abilities.

Here is an example of bias. I spoke with a woman once who described that in her D&I council at work a gentleman made a comparison between two employees from different backgrounds, one was male and the other female. What was in question was the male’s ability versus a woman’s ability to do the same job. Both were up for a promotion, having the same training [from different schools], skills and abilities yet the statement made was that “she’ll never use the training in her role; she’s just won’t be capable.” While the statement about the male was that “he’ll do well in the role and apply his skills right away, he’s a real go-getter.” Not only was the woman well-trained, but she also used the training she had received, applied it to her current role, and was considered a top performer. The woman pointed out to the council member that the statement demonstrated a bias against women because it is typically a male-dominated role.

The point here is that we must check our own biases in order to make sound decisions as to whether one can do the work for which they are hired. As human beings, we can influence others’ thought processes by checking our own biases and ask the hard and fast questions that ensure bias does not get in the way of sound analysis and decision-making.

D&I Best Practices

Organizational leaders are responsible for creating diverse and inclusive organizational cultures. This means fostering D&I through partnerships with D&I leaders and communication teams to drive organizational D&I strategies for attracting, recruiting, hiring, retaining, and promoting employees. It also means developing and participating in organizational diversity councils, ad hoc project teams, and employee affinity groups. For example, organizations like Citigroup have employed a robust process for D&I that includes D&I councils, affinity groups, and a full process in its performance and promotion practices that ensures not only diversity and inclusion but equality in the execution of its D&I practices.

Organizations must also be intentional about the language used to describe others – ensuring that communication is reflective of a diverse and inclusive mindset – words matter.  Leaders must also use their ability to influence right thinking, speaking, and acting when it comes to D&I, challenging the status quo in order to disrupt it while ensuring that teams are comprised of diverse people who are included in meetings, decisions, training, and promotion opportunities. And finally, make sure that performance, learning, and development embed D&I as a cultural practice that is tied to the organization’s values, vision, mission, and culture.

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