The workforce has grown increasingly diverse in recent years. In 2019, for the first time, most new hires of prime-age workers (ages 25-54) were people of color. The Latinx population is expected to make up more than 20% of the labor force by 2028. Census data indicates that the United States will become “minority white” in 2045.
That the United States is becoming a more racially diverse nation is one reason businesses, including smaller ones, should be working to incorporate more diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into their cultures and practices.
Another reason workplace DEI has never been more important is that the workforce of the future will demand it. Gen Z workers – those entering the job market today – place a priority on aligning with companies that are working to address social issues.
Research from global marketing agency LEWIS shows that most of this demographic would refuse to work for a company that isn’t gender or racially diverse. While 41% would work for such a company, they would do so only if the company had a strong DEI program.
Axcet HR Solutions Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Workplace workshop for Kansas City employers featuring guest speaker Loretta Summers.
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Insights from a DEI Professional
Loretta Summers, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, principal of The Summers Advisory Group, recently led an Axcet HR Solutions-hosted client workshop that advised attendees why DEI is so critical for small businesses. Summers pointed out that:
Diverse companies have better bottom lines.Gartner research, for example, shows that, through 2022, 75% of organizations with diverse and inclusive decision-making teams will exceed their financial targets.
Diverse groups working together bring a greater variety of perspectives to challenges.The ideas and solutions they generate therefore are more creative and tend to improve the products and services offered to customers.
Diverse companies are better able to recruit talent.In a late 2020 Glassdoor survey, 76% of respondents reported that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. Almost one-third (32%) of job seekers wouldn’t even apply for a job with a company that had a non-diverse workforce.
While change can be affected at any level in an organization, Summers contends that leadership-led DEI initiatives have the greatest impact. Employees typically look to management to establish cultural priorities and are most apt to engage in DEI efforts if they trust that management is committed to, or at least open to, these endeavors.
How to Promote Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace: 10 Steps
To that end, Summers offers 10 steps small business leaders can take in their companies to encourage DEI-related changes.
Step #1: Learn About Others' Values
Learn about the values and beliefs of others in the organization. Be alert for biases and stereotypes.
People come from different cultures and have different life experiences. What may be perfectly acceptable in a certain culture – not being time-driven, for example – may not translate well to workplace expectations. Making a point to understand how these cultural differences may play a role in workplace performance and focusing on teaching moments, rather than on heavy-handed chastisement, is a much more effective approach to align leadership and employee expectations with one another.
Management needs to be willing not only to have conversations with employees of different cultures, but also to search independently for culture-specific information.
“People from other cultures shouldn’t always be the ones explaining it to us,” Summers said.
Step #2: Continue Your Education
There may be a learning curve when you’re working to understand cultural differences among your employees. Seek out information from varied sources – online; in books, magazines, videos, movies and conversations with people of other cultures; and through training. Avoid confirmation bias, which comes from only reading information that supports what you already believe. Take a position only after you have reviewed broad input on cultural differences.
Step #3: Value Uniqueness
Identify ways to value uniqueness among colleagues. When leaders are open to perspectives and views that differ from their own, it becomes easier to value those differences. That doesn’t necessarily mean reaching a point of agreement but reaching understanding about how the other person thinks and why. It’s even possible that getting acquainted with other ways of thinking can make leaders better at solving problems and connecting with others outside the organization.
Step #4: Watch for Relationship Changes
Watch for changes in employee relationships. Being aware of how colleagues are interacting gives you a chance to correct exclusivity or discriminatory behaviors before they escalate. Even in a culture that values DEI, tensions sometimes surface. Is there hostility among co-workers? Is someone being excluded? Are unconscious biases coming into play? Address the problem or get help quickly from Axcet HR Solutions if these situations arise.
Step #5: Communicate Your Commitment to Diversity
Communicate and practice commitment to diversity and inclusion often. Without consistency, DEI initiatives can come off to employees as the “flavor of the month.” Weave ongoing conversations about DEI into all-hands or staff meetings. Include DEI training in your onboarding practices. Create opportunities for people from different cultures to share their backgrounds and customs with colleagues. Give supervisors the tools and training they need to interact effectively with people they manage who are from different cultures. Leaders don’t have to manage every person the same way, but they do have to manage everyone fairly.
Step #6: Practice Empathic Listening
Even when people think they’re listening empathically, they often aren’t. Empathic listening is about one thing: making the other person feel heard, seen and validated. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with the person’s viewpoint, but it does require suspending judgement so you can focus on creating an authentic connection.
Step #7: Reinforce Diverse Work Practices
Reinforce diverse work and employment practices, including diversity of thought. The questions included in interviews, the way you discipline employees, and the way people interact at your place of business all can be affected by cultural or lifestyle differences. Someone from an Asian culture, where the focus is on “we,” not “I,” may have a hard time answering a “tell me about your greatest accomplishment” interview question. In some cultures, males don’t take instruction from females or, out of respect, people don’t look others in the eye. While these may not be customary practices in the American workplace, they feel natural for people who have grown up with these behavioral norms.
The differences aren’t bad. They’re just different – and they will seem less pronounced over time if employees from other cultures or lifestyles are respected and supported.
Step #8: Educate Your Workforce
Educate your workforce on the business value of diversity. As you infuse DEI thinking into your company culture, remind employees that these initiatives deliver a positive business ROI on multiple levels. As a 2019 World Economic Forum article points out, “the business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming.”
Loretta Summers presents at the Spring 2022 Axcet HR Solutions Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace employer workshop.
Step #9: Create an Inclusive Environment
Create a welcoming, inclusive environment in which to conduct business. Each of us naturally connects with some people more than others. In a smaller business, this may turn into a certain group of colleagues always getting lunch together or a small team that becomes insular and rarely asks for opinions or advice from other teams. As a company leader, it’s important to remind employees to be intentional and mindful about reaching out to people outside their usual circles. When colleagues interact more frequently, they typically become more comfortable with each other, which leads to greater openness and inclusivity.
Step #10: Lead by Example
Lead employees by example. Walk the talk. Make sure your support for DEI extends beyond your words to your actions. Companies often misstep here. They may say they’re open to diverse thought but shoot down ideas that don’t line up with management’s thinking; or they may tell a diverse team it’s empowered to achieve a certain goal but then shift direction when the approach isn’t what management thought it would be. Employees will see through a stated commitment to DEI that doesn’t result in changed processes and behaviors. To successfully integrate DEI into the fabric of your company, leadership actions need to demonstrate a true, ongoing and visible commitment.
Implementing diversity, equity and inclusion in your workplace may not initially feel like second nature. But Summers reminds business leaders that the benefits of DEI outweigh the challenges of the change effort. Staying consistent and moving forward with DEI initiatives will pay off in an improved culture, more creative and innovative problem solving, a better bottom line and happier employees.