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Diversity and Inclusion is not an option

Growing up outside of the US, I have acquired a utopian image of America. Symbolic ideas coming from movies, music-videos and shows of a country of democracy, opportunity, freedom, and prosperity. Of course, as someone who’s family faced continued persecution based on race and religion, I knew that racism has always been part of any society. However, recent events made me realize how deeply racial and ethnic inequities exist today, and how much they are a direct result of a whole system that supports and maintains discrimination. To bring justice and equality we must break that system. But how?


As a talent and leadership development manager, I often hear the phrase “there just aren't enough qualified minority talent out there” when it comes to hiring and managing diverse talent. Although, we start seeing companies taking public stances on racial injustice, speaking up or donating money is a great first step, but it is not enough. Companies have responsibility not only towards their customers and communities, but also towards, their most valuable asset - their employees.

Thus, stepping up on Diversity and Inclusion initiatives is more important than ever. We need to disrupt the existing system and stop thinking about it in terms of “how we can create equal opportunities”, and start thinking in terms of “how do we make sure we bridge the gap this system has generated”.

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) should be on the top of companies’ agenda. Attracting and recruiting diverse talent will not only bring justice and a societal benefit, but will also have a strong contribution towards business success. 

In this article I would like to share some of my thoughts and high-level ideas on the “why, what and how” companies can do to benefit from diverse talent, focusing on ameliorating the number of under-represented groups.

The “What” 

According to Gallup, diversity represents the full spectrum of human demographic differences -- race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status or physical disability. Diversity — both inherent (e.g., race, gender) and acquired (experience, cultural background) — is associated with business success and is directly correlated with increased business metrics like:

  • Innovation

  • Creativity

  • Performance

  • Revenue

  • Decision making

  • Employee happiness

However, simply having a wide roster of demographic characteristics won't make a difference to an organization's bottom-line unless there is an Inclusive culture.  Inclusion refers to a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging. It can be assessed as the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organization. Inclusive environment generates high engagement and performance.

The “Why”

Indeed, a company's ability to succeed comes only if its diverse teams are managed well. In fact, studies have shown that homogeneous teams yield average performance, while teams from diverse backgrounds may yield lower or higher performance depending upon how they are led.

When team members’ differences are ignored, suppressed, condemned or avoided then the result can produce lower performance. However, when team members’ and the leader's differences are understood, communicated and managed well, then diverse teams can be unstoppable! 

Thus, companies must implement holistic Diversity and Inclusion strategies throughout the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to succession planning. Here’s how.  

The “How”

Attracting and Recruiting 

As a job seeker (check out my previous article about unemployment) I came across many job descriptions which require an “MBA” degree. Access to such an elite and pricey type of degree can definitely be an advantage, but it doesn't guarantee outstanding success in the role. Companies should widen their requirements to allow people who didn’t have access to that kind of education to also be considered. Nevertheless, if a postgraduate degree is an important requirement for the role, it could be great to hire from HBCUs, HSIs, women’s colleges etc.. Another amazing long-term strategy could be funding scholarships for under-represented populations, like Visa and some other companies are doing.

In addition, hiring diverse talent can also be a good selling point. Candidates (myself included) are more keen on joining companies that have diverse workforce and publicly support anti-racism. 

Another important factor to consider during the hiring process, is Unconscious Bias. Unconscious Bias is a prejudice, generalization or a stereotype in favor of or against a person or a group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. As a result, it can hamper an organization's attempt at achieving diversity. The evidence is overwhelming to what extent Unconscious Bias impacts recruitment, in ways that can disadvantage people from ethnic minorities. When interviewing, a diverse selection panel will allow getting the Bias out of the way and allow fair opportunities. 

Onboarding

Glassdoor found that a strong onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82% and employee productivity by 70%. Onboarding is more than just processes and paperwork, and should go beyond the first day to at about 6 months in the role. Onboarding is a pivotal moment for making employees feel included. This is why building an inclusive onboarding experience where employees feel like they can be their authentic selves from day 1 - is so important.

Raising awareness and educating about Diversity and Inclusion is the most incremental step to ensure an inclusive culture. Their programs should cover key D&I elements such as unconscious bias, addressing culturally sensitive issues and working with diverse teams. Completing D&I training programs should be mandatory and enforced by the leadership. 

Some companies, like Cisco, took a step further to support anti-racism with amazing initiatives, like “the history of racism in America” course and facilitating talks with executives about the inextricable link between capitalism and racism. Obviously, employees must have a safe platform to speak up if they experience or come across some injustice, harassment, discrimination, racism or offense.  

Other best practices for onboarding could be to pair with a mentor/ buddy from a different background and easy access to an Employee Resource Group.

Engagement

When Amy Cooper called the police on a black man bird-watching in Central Park, she was immediately fired from her company. Enforcing zero tolerance on any racist behavior should obviously be the norm.

However, when it comes to talking about racism and discrimination with co-workers, it makes people feel awkward. An Instagram poll conducted on by networking group Black & HR found 77% of respondents said their workplace had not addressed what had been happening in the black community. The situation might have changed since, but it shows that it took time for the company to address the issue.

However, the only way to create a safe, comfortable and engaging environment is if we step out of our comfort zone and address the issues the black community (or any other minority) is facing, listen to their concern and work together to build solutions to help thrive in the workplace. 

Retention & Promotion 

In 2018, Google reported that black and Latino employees left sooner and at a higher rate than their white counterparts. Other companies face the same issues. A 2017 report surveyed over 2,000 tech employees who left their jobs, and found 62% of employees would have stayed if their company had taken steps to create a more positive and inclusive work environment.

In response, the company took steps including hiring retention case managers to work with employees from underrepresented backgrounds.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to build the right company culture. Only one thing is certain, organizations need to take an employee - centric approach and challenge the assumptions about who is ready to be promoted, and assess whether growth opportunities are being limited to any one dominant group.

Furthermore, companies need to set measurable targets and actively work on promoting people from under-represented populations. 

For example, when an organization seeks to grow an employee, the promotion criterias should go beyond business opportunities and quality of work. Advancing people should be based on the exceptional value the person is bringing, their diverse perspective, ability to think differently, as well as on leadership's willingness to engage and retain their diverse top talent.  


Succession planning

 A 2018 study showed that only 34% of the Fortune 500’s board seats—are held by women and minorities, and from that pool - only 4 black CEOs. What’s more, is that the same study also showed that boards more frequently will pull from a pool of existing minority board members instead of bringing in new directors.  

To fix those numbers, firstly, companies must ask themselves what are the criterias that define the leadership pipeline, “high-potential” employees, and whether those criterias are inclusive. Secondly, take a step further and make efforts to tie managerʼs performance to the advancement of underrepresented groups.

 Finally, I recommend conducting a complete D&I audit of the existing organization-wide system to identify if/where/what groups are underrepresented. Setting specific measurable objectives to advance under-represented groups throughout the whole employee career lifecycle, and using appropriate technologies to enable this approach, will help companies insure that they are going in the right direction and enable them to demonstrate their progress towards building an inclusive and fair environment.

To conclude 

Driving the revolution of Diversity and Inclusion should be part of the overall global corporate strategy of companies. Allocating efforts towards hiring and growing under-represented workforce will help, not only to bridge the existing gap and bring societal justice, but also bring a sustainable, long-term competitive advantage. Diverse teams will yield higher ROI only if they are managed by an inclusive culture. Firms need to implement targeted measurable strategies to hire, engage, promote and retain diverse employees. Moreover, it is important that in every step of the way there is a space to have proactive and honest conversations about discrimination. As Daniel Coyle, published in Culture Code, “While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”  Diversity and Inclusion is not an option, it’s a must!

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