By 2025 – just 5 years from now – millennials are predicted to make up 75% of the American workforce. This generation is the most diverse generation in modern American history, with 44.2% not identifying as White. This number is much larger when we realize that these statistics don’t include diversity in other areas such as gender, sexual orientation, education levels and so on. By 2044, this “minority” population is going to reach majority status. It is also a generation that defies traditional organizational culture and behavior models by pursuing their passions, looking for a sense of purpose, and by demanding wellbeing as an integral and necessary component of work, instead of conforming to the old 9-5 work-life separation ideologies. Along with a changing workforce, and a fast-growing gig economy, organizations also have to contend with a future that will be increasingly dependent on automation, autonomous processes and artificial intelligence. Having sustainable, inclusive organizational cultures is no longer a privilege afforded to just giant corporations with multi-billion-dollar budgets. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have become a necessity for businesses and companies of all sizes if they want to survive, retain a work force, and be profitable. At this point, there is enough tangible evidence that Diversity Equity and Inclusion is highly advantageous for innovation, performance, and financial profits.
But, this is still not happening at the rate or to the degree that it should. While 71% of companies feel that Diversity Equity and Inclusion is an important issue of focus, only 11% of companies currently track and measure their progress in it. We see the effect of this lack of attention in the 45% of employees who reported being discriminated against or harassed in the past 12 months despite having organizational Diversity Equity and Inclusion policies in place. The lack of genuinely inclusive organizational spaces has also been reflected in low employee engagement rates, low retention rates, and high attrition rates. As we close the books on this decade and look forward to starting a new chapter in a new decade, we have to realize that we need to do things a bit differently. In order to create truly sustainable, inclusive organizational cultures and workspaces, decision makers have to be extremely strategic, intentional and laser focused on creating an environment of belongingness. Here are 5 do’s and don’ts you should consider to move your organization toward sustainable, intentional inclusion.
1.) DO disaggregate your data past the surface level to learn about the intersectionalities and the invisible parts of your employees’ lived experiences within and outside of the organizational context. Most diversity, equity and inclusion data and metrics focus on standard constructs such as race/ethnicity, gender, and physical disabilities. Such data are aggregated to tell the diversity story of the organization, but, in doing so they exclude many aspects of diversity in employees’ lives, like invisible illnesses and disabilities, mental health challenges, and, the fact that lived experiences are impacted by the intersections of race/ethnicity, gender, (dis)ability and more. Disclosure related stigmas and the fear of negative repercussions further complicate and compound this issue.
But, employees who aren’t represented accurately don’t get the resources and accommodations they need to thrive. As a result they pay a high emotional tax – a heightened experience of being different from their peers at work and not being able to be as productive, effective, or as valued as these peers — one that has a severely detrimental effect on employee sleep and appetite patterns, stress, anxiety, wellbeing and other health outcomes, leading to lower engagement levels, lower productivity, higher absenteeism, and, lower loyalty toward the organization.
The bottom line is that if you don’t focus on understanding your employees as whole people, if you don’t acknowledge them as such, and, if you don’t create safe spaces where they feel empowered to bring their whole selves to work, you are hurting your organization’s revenues and profit margins.
2.) DON’T focus on just diversity. A cursory search on the internet shows thousands of articles on Diversity Equity and Inclusion; this makes sense considering the popularity of the topic in this past decade. The majority of the articles that give tips and suggestions, however, still focus on things like diversified recruitment strategies to hire diverse talent. These efforts are important but not at all sufficient to create real, sustainable inclusion. It’s like letting people into the lobby of a building but failing to unlock any doors past that point.
Human beings need to belong to their communities and groups in order to thrive. This is human nature. In order to belong, it is not enough to let people into the building, or even into a room. Belongingness only happens when people not only have a seat at the table, but they also are given the space to be seen, heard, valued and appreciated. Anything short of that is not inclusion, and that is where our current work culture stands. We know this is true because there are more men named David in leadership positions than there are women in leadership positions in the entire country. Furthermore, while women of color make up about 34.7% of the workforce currently, they only make up about 4%-5% of leadership positions. These are crystal-clear indicators that current efforts don’t work, and that this is a false growth mindset that is being perpetuated and reinforced; while diversity has been the focus, inclusion has been forgotten.
3.) DO focus on your existing diverse employee population, by conducting period “temperature check interviews” to see what their growth needs are, and, to understand how you can make them be more visible and valued. This entails intentionally identifying, developing and leveraging your internal talent and boosting them up into higher levels of leadership so that their diversity is included in higher-level decision-making spaces. It means heavily investing in personal development initiatives instead of mandatory organization wide informational sessions that only serve to check off some diversity boxes on paper, and that employees only attend begrudgingly. It also includes understanding the unique needs of your diverse population at all levels and creating initiatives and spaces that empower them to thrive BECAUSE of who they are as people, and not just as siloed organizational employees.
Finally, those lower in the organizational pyramid face most of the challenges and burdens because of the lack of inclusion. Yet, they may not feel safe to voice their opinions or ideas on improvements, hurting the organization’s growth, success and profits. Make sure you create spaces that include them in decision making conversations, and, make sure you align initiatives with their needs, and not just on dated theories and best practices that were inherited from a different world back in the last century.
4.) DO revisit your policies, procedures, protocols and processes at least once a year to make sure that the language and intent of the organization are inclusive enough to employees to let them thrive. When you do this, it is crucial to make sure that there is employee participation and buy-in on any changes suggested or made to the language of policies and procedures, especially if these policies may marginalize any particular segment of your workforce in any way. This is one of the best ways to stay ahead of diversity, equity and inclusion pitfalls and ensure that you are positioning your organization and your leadership in a future-sighted perspective from which you can leverage your employees’ insights and experiences to ensure continued success.
A more important and practical reason to revisit your organizational policies, procedures and protocols annually is to ensure that your metrics – especially your performance, growth and promotion metrics – are equitable to the employees. This would first mean that you deeply examine if your organization’s resources are being allocated equitably based on employee needs. If they are not, then evaluating employees on standard performance metrics is actually inequitable. It is somewhat akin to the use of “standardized” IQ tests in the early 1900s that declared African Americans and foreigners “mentally retarded”. Committing such mistakes of inequity and unfairness in this day and age lead to drastic reductions in employee engagement and productivity, and possibly to lawsuits. By revisiting these metrics and your policies annually, you can make sure to avoid these mistakes.
5.) DON’T neglect the importance of creating a culture where inclusion is a mindset and not just an organizational goal, and where mental wellbeing is the foundation, and not a measured outcome. If you want to create a genuinely sustainable, authentic inclusive culture that has high productivity, high engagement, high loyalty and retention, and high profits, then it is imperative that you make your employees and their belongingness and thriving the topmost priority. Inclusion and personal empowerment should not be an afterthought; they should be the norm. They should not be a goal; they should be the foundation upon which all other business goals are built. This guarantees the creation of spaces where mental health concerns are addressed, and individual employee needs to thrive are met. When employees see that their organization and their leaders do genuinely deeply care about them, they transform from being mere cogs in the wheel to being proactive agents of progress, productivity and efficiency.
While all of these tips may seem abstract superficially, they are strategically laser targeted to address the long-standing needs of the employee marketplace, and, they are implementable, cost effective and profitable in the long run. At AJ Rao, LLC, we specialize in custom tailoring these initiatives and more to help organizations create inclusive cultures from the top down and from the bottom up, simultaneously, to move organizations from cursory diversity check boxes, to creating healthy, thriving cultures and workspaces. We also specialize in custom tailored individual personal, professional and leadership development programs to help you develop your employees, leverage them, and retain them. Schedule a call here to discuss your organization’s unique needs and find out how we can help you get there.