Most companies now-a-days have some form of diversity targets in place. These targets focus typically on gender and ethnicity, sometimes including religion and sexual orientation. Diversity metrics are really important but creating a diverse and inclusive culture goes far beyond having a tick sheet to fill in when you sign your contract. This measurement is a start but only a start.
To be a truly successful company, you need your employees to give a lot of themselves. This is something employees will only do if they feel valued and respected. You will also need the people working for your company to understand your consumers. The more diverse your employee base, the more consumers you can start to understand and access effectively. For this reason if no other, companies need to make sure they’re creating an environment of inclusivity. A place where all their employees feel welcome.
Unfortunately, it’s far too easy for corporations to build a ‘one size fits all’ culture. Messages spread amongst employees like: “if you want to be successful here, you need to be aggressive” or “Do you play golf? The manager will love you if you play golf.”. You may be told, if you want to build relationships, that the pub is the place to do it. Great if you like the pub; a bit excluding if you don’t.
There was an episode of the Sitcom Friends in which Rachel decides she needs to start smoking in order to be invited along to an event. It’s funny, and it’s largely funny because it’s relatable.
This development of a fixed culture gets exaggerated by the immediate-needs recruitment approach we’re all familiar with:
“Does anyone know anyone that can start next month?”
It was from experiencing this whilst working at MTV, which led Pip Jamieson to start The Dots:
“we were just so time-poor… primarily, I ended up hiring all the creative staff through word of mouth. That’s absolutely fine for a while, but then we had this hilariously homogenous workforce. Everyone went to the same University, everyone was from the same background. We had no diversity of ethnicity, no diversity of skills” – Pip Jamieson
Diversity and inclusivity tend to be bucketed together and while they complement each other you could achieve one without the other. Diversity is easier to address as there are very measurable, practical steps you can take to implement it. Positive discrimination being an effective one. It allows you to force a shift in approach. Employees have to look wider to hire, and HR departments have to be more proactive in where they bring in new talent from.
This also helps tackle “like-me bias”, which is when we assume people who are similar to us are better, or will be more effective in a role.
Once you’ve successfully started to shift the diversity of your employee base, it’s critical you make your minority employees feel they are working for a company they want to stay in. Otherwise all that progress will quickly be undone. You need to work with these people to understand how the company can become a more attractive place to other minorities. And then how you might be able to get on the radar of those individuals.
Creating a truly diverse culture, isn’t just about race, class or gender, it’s also about interests and personality. This is where it starts to shift into inclusivity.
When it comes to inclusivity, you need to impact culture, and as demonstrated by Uber a few years ago, that is something which needs to be established at the top. Everyone wants to move up and impress their bosses so everyone responsible for management needs to understand what it means to create an inclusive environment. An environment in which every single employee feels they can be authentic.
We are all multi-dimensional, and truly brilliant leaders know this is where our strength lies. If people feel as though only certain elements of their personality or background are welcome in their work environment, they won’t reveal their full potential.
I’ve found most companies I’ve worked at missed a lot of what it meant to make employees feel valued. Leaders taught us to ask one another: “How was your journey?”, or, “How do you take your coffee?”. These questions are conversation starters, sure, but they don’t indicate genuine interest in you as a person. Remembering how much milk someone has in their tea doesn’t mean a lot compared to helping them leave on time to make it to Hockey practice, for example.
To be inclusive, a company needs to nurture an environment in which individuals don’t feel isolated. Where they don’t feel uncomfortable asking questions or expressing their opinions. My cousin moved schools recently largely because she’d felt embarrassed asking questions. What a serious issue in a classroom! Well, the same can happen in the office.
An environment of true inclusivity, where diversity is celebrated, is delicate. One bad apple will rot a barrel, as they say. So if there is anyone within your company who doesn’t believe in the value of this, or promotes otherwise, keeping them is fatal. Whatever value they bring from a skill perspective, will never outweigh the impact they have on other employees by being dismissive or narrow minded.
To really create a culture of diversity and inclusivity means to celebrate the individual and only employ those who will do so.