While decades of research has effectively made what might be called the business case for greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it seems many companies still struggle with identifying pathways to achieve more inclusive workplaces. This article will provide an overview of some of the many channels through which progress might be made.

Research shows that inclusive, diverse workplaces are more successful.

Are Inclusive Workplaces Really Better?

The short answer is YES. A great deal of high-quality research over the past several decades has more the proven there is a very solid business case for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Here’s a quick run-down on some of the more recent research that documents the business benefits of inclusive workplaces:

  • Less turnover: Better retention is seen among companies with greater gender diversity and those that have HR policies that focus on it (source).
  • Less bad behavior: Companies with strong diversity climates see less discrimination (source) and interpersonal aggression (source).
  • Greater job satisfaction: 65% of employees feel the respectful treatment of all employees is a very important factor in their job satisfaction (source).
  • Less harassment: More equal gender representation across job levels can reduce workplace harassment (source).
  • Greater trust and engagement: When employees see their employer as supporting diversity practices, they feel more included (source).
  • More innovation: Companies with diverse management earn 38% more of their revenue from innovative products and services (source).
  • Increased productivity: When a company’s workforce mimics the diversity of its customer base, the company’s workers are more productive (source).
  • Better decision-making: Diverse teams solve problems faster (source). Board-level diversity results in more creativity brought to decision-making (source).
  • Better financial performance: There is a strong direct correlation between more diversity and better financial performance defined as profitability (source).

This is literally just a smattering of the most recent research extolling the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. For an infographic take on the subject, check out The Facts Support the Claim: Diversity Matterson the Catalyst website.

Pathways to More Inclusive Workplaces

When it comes to actually creating inclusive workplaces where diversity matters, there are a number of different channels through which companies can make progress, including the following:

D&I Trainings

Diversity and inclusion has become relatively commonplace across corporate America. The question is whether or not the training is any good or if it just induces eye-rolls and yawns among your workers who would rather be doing anything other than attending a mandatory compliance training of any sort. See my previous article, Does Diversity and Inclusion Training Work? for more information on the issues that plague D&I training and ways to make it more effective.

Inclusive Meetings

Although many companies would do well to reduce the number of meetings that happen in the workplace, they will remain a primary feature of corporate life. They also play a major role in shaping company culture. For this reason, they are the perfect place to model inclusive workplaces. Keep the following in mind:

Minority meeting participants (whether gender, racial/ethnic, and so on) often feel uncomfortable trying to make themselves heard, and are at least twice as likely to be cut-off or otherwise interrupted during group dialogue. The meeting leader or facilitator has the responsibility to make sure all participants know in advance that they will be heard and should be ready to speak up – and then make sure their meeting leadership is used to maintain an inclusive climate. At the start of the meeting, welcome each person by name and reinforce inclusiveness with an explicit announcement that dissenting opinions and viewpoints are welcomed and that no one need fear any kind of retribution or retaliation.

Set any and all ground rules to effectively conduct the meeting and stick with them. Don’t allow any one person or “in-group” control the discussion or drown out other voices. Codifying inclusive meeting practices in this way sets a great example that will begin to show up elsewhere in the company. As the meeting facilitator, adopt a clear zero-tolerance policy for interruptions. It is your duty to interrupt the interrupters and bring it back to the speaker who was interrupted.

Inclusive meetings begin in the planning stage – have you included everyone who has a stake in the topic(s) to be covered? Then you must model inclusive practices during the meeting. Ask for feedback after the meeting (make it anonymous) to learn what you’re doing that works and where you can improve.

If you want to learn how to lead meetings like a pro in ways that are both inclusive and effective, the single best resource I’ve ever seen on the subject is the Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making from Jossey-Bass by Sam Kaner.

D&I Recruitment and Hiring

Does your company have any explicit HR policies or strategies around actively recruiting and hiring a more diverse workforce? If not, then now is the time to make that happen. An essential aspect to this is beefing up the diversity elements of your employer brand. Make your company’s diversity commitment clear on the careers pages of your website. Mention your efforts and any awards you’ve received for diversity. Share all of this on a regular basis to your social media pages where potential candidates are checking you out. But be careful not to overplay your hand. If your company doesn’t have much in the way of diversity yet, don’t make it look like you do or you might be seen as disingenuous. In this case, you simply have to talk about it in a more aspiration way that still gets across your diversity commitment.

Solicit Feedback Frequently

The more your company’s employees feel heard, the more included they will feel. Are there plentiful opportunities for workers to voice opinions, provide feedback, and raise issues and concerns? If these channels exist but aren’t used, people may have concerns about speaking up. This could indicate there is serious work to do around improving your workplace culture. In other cases, employees stop bothering to provide feedback because they never see any action taken, or are never provided with any kind of follow-up on how the feedback was or was not used and why. Closing the communication loop with follow-up about input and feedback is essential. Without it, people will just become increasingly disengaged.

Does your company have any explicit HR policies or strategies around actively recruiting and hiring a more diverse workforce?

Create an Inclusion Council

This can be a very effective pathway to inclusive workplaces if you get the right people to serve on it. The council’s charge is to document the current state of inclusion and figure out ways to boost it. For any real change to come about, however, the composition of the council must be carefully considered. It needs to have enough “power people” on it who have the clout to affect policy and make things happen. They should all be people who have a passion for inclusion and are excited to do the work it will take to improve it. And of course it needs to be as diverse as possible – by gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, and so on – including representing different departments of the company. Aim for at least quarterly meetings.

Celebrate Differences

Hold events that highlight the different cultures within your workforce, such as potluck meals featuring relevant ethnic cuisine. Make sure there is a “reflection space” in your workplace where people can go to pray or meditate if it’s an essential part of their religious or spiritual practice. Inclusive workplaces are ones where people feel they can bring their “whole selves” to work each and every day.

Benchmark and Measure

You have to have a sense of your starting point if you want to know you’re making progress, and the old adage of what gets measured gets managed applies here. But how do you measure workplace inclusivity? First, understand that it’s different from diversity. Diversity is about the demographic blend of your workforce. Inclusion is about facilitating harmonious interactions among a diverse workforce to achieve business goals. Measuring inclusion can be more than a bit tricky, but a great starting point is Quantifying Workplace Inclusion by Nurur Rahman.

Making a conscious effort to hire a more diverse workforce at your company is in and of itself a good thing. But it might not have the intended effects and benefits if it isn’t also accompanied by conscious inclusion efforts – hence the reason for D&I, diversity AND inclusion. Creating inclusive workplaces is the only way to leverage diversity into everything it can potentially do for your company.