When you think about the workplace of the future, you might envision a lot of shiny new tech. And that’s key. But the real wave of the future is a truly diverse, inclusive organization where people from a wide variety of perspectives, cultures, and experiences come together to innovate and work together toward a common goal. Every organization strives to be more diverse, but statistics show that getting there isn’t as easy as wanting it. Let’s review some of the best ways to make your team more diverse and inclusive.
Understand the differences between diversity and inclusivity
“Diversity” and “inclusion” are often used in the same sentence to say something similar: we need our organization to be more reflective of society as a whole. And while the goals are similar, they’re actually two different things that complement one another. Diversity, in its most basic form, means bringing in people from different races, cultures, religions, physical abilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and genders.
Inclusion goes beyond that: it means making everyone feel like different perspectives are welcomed and respected, and that everyone is given equal access to opportunities to contribute to the organization’s success. Think of diversity as the what, and inclusion as the how.
Take a hard look at your company culture and environment
Ideally, your organization’s culture would welcome and respect every voice and contribution. In reality, we can get settled in particular grooves that (intentionally or not) exclude a range of employees from participating as fully as they might otherwise be able to. For example: is it common for people to do a significant amount of work outside of standard business hours? That might be boxing out parents or caretakers. Do you provide private spaces for employees to accommodate things like breastfeeding, meditation, or private prayer? If not, this could be alienating employees who need quiet spaces to attend to personal business during breaks.
Adopt an inclusive workplace model
It’s not really enough to say you support a variety of cultures, religions, or nationalities—you need to make people feel welcomed and respected. When employees feel like they need to hide some essential part of themselves because they’re afraid they won’t “fit in,” that leads to low morale and high turnover.
One of the most effective ways to foster inclusion is making your organization more multilingual. Having a common language (like English) is essential to making sure everyone can work together on a basic level. However, that doesn’t mean that there should be a common language to the exclusion of all others. Translation services can benefit employees who feel more comfortable speaking in a non-English language and can help overcome language barriers between colleagues. It’s also an opportunity to offer language learning opportunities to others in your organization and take a multilingual approach during common company events. For example, if you have a significant number of employees who speak another language, have speeches or announcements delivered in that language as well as in English.
Language diversity is also something you can hire for, seeking out multilingual candidates early on in the hiring process.
One way to make people feel safer in their multiculturalism is by honoring and celebrating different cultural and religious practices. This doesn’t necessarily mean having holiday parties for every possible holiday or singling out specific religious practices, but it does mean thinking about things like having “floater” holidays that people can use to celebrate their own religious holidays. Most organizations have already taken steps to make traditional Christmas parties more inclusive and nondenominational; this is just taking that to the next step and expanding the horizon to include other holidays that might be important to members of the organization.
Celebration also doesn’t need to be limited to religious holidays. Throughout the year, it’s good to spotlight different kinds of holidays or celebrations (like Black History Month or Women’s History Month) to help educate members of the organization and show how a wealth of cultural perspectives contribute to your company’s goals, your industry, etc.
Make sure your leaders are modeling inclusive behavior
In any organization, people look to the senior leadership to set the tone for day-to-day work. Take a look at the executives in your organization. Is there a gender imbalance? Do you have leaders who come from different religious or cultural backgrounds? What kinds of teams are your executives building? Do they reflect basic diversity as well?
If your upper ranks are looking a little too same-same, then there are ways to start changing that, without firing valued members of your organization. Make sure that your executives are trained on inclusivity and diversity and are made aware that it’s a major priority for your organization. And when hiring and recruiting, especially for senior-level positions, consider adopting “the Rooney Rule.” The Rooney Rule is an official NFL policy, started by former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney. It means that a certain number of interviewees for any given position need to be ethnic minorities, to help ensure that minority candidates are given a valid chance. It doesn’t guarantee diversity in hiring, but rather more equitable access to job opportunities. The policy has spread well beyond football coach hiring and is embraced by companies in many different industries.
There’s no magic point where an organization is magically “diverse enough,” or “inclusive enough.” It’s an ongoing goal—but one where you can take steps now to get the momentum moving in the right direction.