By Debbie Plager
We’ve just experienced the most sweeping and sustained number of protests ever in the U.S. in all 50 states. Business leaders are also community members and are asking themselves – what can I do? Leadership teams are taking a deep look at their organizations and are working to strengthen their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace make for a stronger business. Study after study makes the point:
- 75% of companies with diverse and inclusive decision-making teams exceed their financial targets and outperform less inclusive counterparts by 50%.
- Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.
- Organizations with more diverse leadership teams see innovation revenue hit 45% of total, versus 26% for those without a diversity focus.
- 83% of millennials are more engaged if their employer actively fosters an inclusive culture.
It takes diversity, equity and inclusion
The problems are complex and no single playbook leads to the “right” solution. Having a more diverse workforce alone doesn’t produce great business results. Nor does it create the culture that sustains them. To make change happen requires equity, where everyone has access to the same opportunities. It requires inclusion, where space is created to leverage our differences. As cultural change activist Verna Myers puts it: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” And equity, some others have added, is getting to choose the music.
It takes a lot of work. Employers need to start by creating inclusive environments where diverse individuals feel safe to share their perspectives. What will hurt every inclusionary effort are exclusionary behaviors, intended or not. Think about a working team meeting where one member’s opinion is voiced, but ignored. Or where input is not asked for but should be. Such behaviors may be subtle, but have a big impact. Over time, these exclusionary behaviors compound and team members can “shut down” and stop sharing their perspectives. People may exclude others accidentally, but a concerted effort should be made to include intentionally. Not doing so risks disenfranchising the very people needed to be a part of teams to solve business challenges.
Promote allyship at individual and organizational levels
Allyship is important from the organizational and individual perspective. An ally is someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group but who takes action in support of that group. Support can be creating space for others’ voices, lending your own voice to theirs and speaking up against exclusionary behaviors. It can also mean providing physical support or safety to others.
On the individual level, those in “majority” groups must become educated on diversity, equality and inclusion. It requires changing mindsets and doing more than claiming allyship. It takes learning the issues, being aware of biases, owning mistakes, and dealing with it when that leads to discomfort. It also demands speaking out when injustices occur.
At the organizational level, company leaders are not only creating spaces and supporting the individual work of allyship, they are beginning to look at their workplace practices – how they hire, how they promote, how they provide opportunities for stretch assignments. Looking at these practices, and more, with the lens of creating equity and supporting an inclusive culture are some ways to bring about lasting change.
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