Embracing Workplace Diversity
Of all the challenges an HR department runs into, diversity tops the list as one of the most discussed and most well-researched…and one of the most misunderstood, sensitive and anxiety-provoking.
Diversity is constantly in the news and on social media. We continually see the diversity of our country in heated disagreements and trolling strangers with cruel comments. So, what does it mean to work toward a more diverse workforce and inclusion when the world is so unsettled?
Let’s start with a simple definition: Workplace diversity is the acceptance and inclusion of all employees of all backgrounds in leadership, on teams and in decision-making, etc.
What kinds of people need to be considered when companies are thinking about diversity? In the past, discussions of diversity almost always revolve around women and race. There is much more to consider:
- Gender identity
- Religious backgrounds
- Socio-economic status
- Sexual orientation (LGBTQ+)
- Career experience and education
- Generations (Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, Gen Z)
- Learning styles (visual learners, auditory learners, etc.)
- Interests (career goals/corporate ladder climber vs. paycheck)
- Personality types (DISC types, or introvert/extrovert/ambivert, etc.)
- Disabilities (physical and mental neurovariations, including autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, Tourette syndrome, etc.)
When you think of a diverse workplace, that’s a lot of differences to consider. Research shows objective and measurable benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workforce. The benefits go beyond having different perspectives on how to solve today’s problems.
“Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers.” - Josh Bersin, global industry analyst and author focuses on the global talent market and trends impacting business workforces around the world
So, Workplace Diversity Has Benefits—Now What?
Proving there are benefits is just the first step toward realizing those benefits. Now comes the real challenge: Bringing all these diverse individuals together, managing them, and empowering them in a truly inclusive workplace. How do we begin viewing differences, not as an obstacle but as an asset?
To help companies do just that, HSI released a white paper entitled "Preparing Organizations for the New Age of Diversity," It serves as a crash course in the basics of diversity: What it is (and isn't), why it is needed, and how to begin meeting this key challenge.
We saw the important need for such a guide when talking to HR professionals about diversity training. The majority understand the importance of workplace diversity, but many have questions about the most effective ways to bring inclusion to their companies in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Some companies never think of diversity beyond the hiring process. Some do, but only to provide anti-harassment training for compliance reasons. Still, others are interested in topics such as leading diverse teams but do not know where to find the most up-to-date content. Some companies go as far as creating a scorecard to track gender diversity in leadership roles and executive teams, along with the ethnic background of job seekers. HR recognizes that having an inclusive work environment can positively affect the company’s reputation.
It’s HSI’s hope that our whitepaper, "Preparing Organizations for the New Age of Diversity," fills those knowledge gaps, giving companies a handy starter guide for thinking about their diversity initiatives. Here’s a sample of some of the recommendations we offer:
Work Towards a Diverse Workplace with Mutual Respect
While diversity feeds innovation and creative problem solving, it can also create differences and misunderstandings among employees. Getting teams to be their best requires fostering mutual respect and understanding. For example:
- People with different communication styles will, naturally, communicate priorities differently, which may cause a mismatch in setting goals and managing workflows. Find ways to standardize how priorities are communicated, such as a project management system, like Teamwork.
- People from different ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds might have different assumptions when it comes to workplace policies and expectations. Make sure policies and expectations are stated explicitly and make this part of your onboarding process.
- Employees might come to the table with preconceived notions about various ethnicities, genders, or sexual orientations. Train employees in workplace respect, effective collaboration, and active listening. Leadership teams can model this behavior and make it a priority in their language and actions.
Listen to Employees’ Perspectives
Your existing employees are a wealth of information when it comes to building an inclusive culture. Survey a sample of employees with different backgrounds. Invite a group of employees with diverse backgrounds to participate in a focus group to share their thoughts and ideas on the company culture.
You may find that some may have felt uncomfortable as a minority, and this has negatively affected employee engagement. There may be friction in your company that has not been brought to the attention of leadership. You may already have allies in your company sympathetic to a more diverse workplace, but they are not sure how to proceed.
Listen to what your co-workers are saying or sharing. You’ll be amazed what kinds of insights you will get, and they will point you toward where you need to start on your path to diversity and inclusion. HSI has an Anti-Racism: Learning to Listen and Listening to Learn course that takes a deep dive into this.
Start Building a Shared Language
Even today, conversations about diversity can make people nervous. Not only are they being asked to understand and include people they might not know well (or even have a bias against), but they may be put off by perceived “political correctness,” or preconceived ideas about what diversity even means and entails.
Go slow, define key terms, and start building a new way of talking about these issues. Finding a shared language helps cut through those preconceived notions and equips both managers and employees to engage each other thoughtfully and respectfully.
A great place to start in building this shared language is with your company’s own core values. For example, companies can promote their company values by posters in the office or as screen savers. Core values typically are messages like: “Respect for the individual,” “Trust one another,” and “Honest communication.” My team and I try hard to incorporate these values in all we do. By talking and thinking about our interactions in terms of our values, we make it easier to “be on the same page” when it comes to diverse teams.
Help Train Leaders Who Can Lead Diverse Teams
Do your leaders understand and foster workplace empathy among team members? Do they know how to improve employee social awareness through workplace empathy? Do they understand how biases work and are they expected to gain awareness of their own bias? Do they take the time to understand the diversity of their teams? Are they taking training on topics such as active listening, non-verbal social cues, and conflict management?
Help your managers learn how to embrace the diverse cultural backgrounds and life experiences of all employees. Work with human resources to cast the hiring net a little wider to attract underrepresented groups, people of color, and other minority groups. Make more of an effort to attract more diverse candidates.
Work to Increase Employees' "Diversity IQ"
Inclusive behaviors don’t come naturally to everyone. People typically group together with people who are similar to them. That leaves the “onlys” feeling excluded. For example, the only woman on a team or the only person of color will likely be left out when the rest of the white males on the team run out for a quick lunch. All employees should be taught about their unconscious bias so they can step out of this unintentional exclusive behavior.
You can begin to change behavior through the right kinds of employee training. Here at HSI, we talk about a person’s “Diversity IQ” as a way of recognizing that people are in different places when it comes to navigating workplace diversity. Inclusion can begin to happen when it is intentional.
Diversity, Equality & Inclusion Training
We hope that HSI’s white paper, "Preparing Organizations for the New Age of Diversity," will help your company begin to think of diversity in a new way and take those first few critical steps toward it.
According to a Gartner survey, a key 2022 HR trend is increased pressure to improve equity and inclusion within organizations.
“D&I needs to be something that every single employee at the company has a stake in.” - Bo Young Lee, diversity, equity and culture transformational leader
HSI’s off-the-shelf content library can help you build a tailored course of study to increase your workplace’s overall Diversity IQ. A sampling of courses covering DEI, unconscious bias, leadership, and communication skills include:
- Communication Styles
- Overcoming Unconscious Bias
- Anti-Racism: Maintaining Momentum
- Anti-Racism: Colorblindness Doesn’t Work
- Equity in the Workplace: Equality vs. Equity
- LGBTQ in the Workplace: Coming Out at Work
- Neurodiversity: Working with Neurodiverse People
- Anti-Racism for Leaders: Evaluating Your Organization
- LGBTQ in the Workplace: Understanding Pronouns
- Working Well with Everyone: The Power of Inclusion
- Anti-Racism for Leaders: Diversity-Focused Recruitment
For a course preview, explore some of HSI’s LGBTQ and diversity training videos.
Remember..."A lot of different flowers make a bouquet". - Islamic Proverb
- Improve Employee Social Awareness Through Workplace Empathy
- Benefits of LGBTQ Inclusion in Diversity Training
- Anti-Racism in the Workplace: Start a Conversation
This post was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated to reflect HSI’s new DEI trainings, an updated white paper and new workplace diversity statistics.