In a 1996 HBR (Harvard Business Review) article, they stated that companies adopting a radically new way of understanding and leveraging diversity could reap the real and full benefits of a diverse workforce.
25 years ago, sadly it was ‘radically new’ to be diverse and inclusive in the workforce. So how far have we come? Their follow-up 2021 study stated that organizations have failed to adopt a learning orientation toward diversity and are no closer to realizing its benefits. Representation remains poor, particularly at leadership levels, and top companies who pledged to achieve their target of appointing at least one ethnic minority director by 2021, did not. Merely increasing demographic diversity does not, by itself, increase effectiveness; what matters is how an organization harnesses diversity, and whether it’s willing to reshape its processes and structure to truly acknowledge and create inclusivity for all.
So, let’s take for example the new hire, often referred to as the ‘diversity hire.’ This phrase usually refers to an employee from an underrepresented group. This term is disparaging and bias implying the new employee was hired to tick the diversity box, not based on merit. Simply by using this term within the company, the individual might be singled out. They may be given tasks that fit a stereotyped view based on of their racial background, value system, traditions, religion, way of working etc. and be asked to promote the company as optical representation of the company’s diversity. Although diversity may have been created through deliberate hiring practices, inclusion does not inevitably follow and is not meaningful if those employees do not feel valued, respected, and heard.
To start the journey, leaders must embrace a broader vision of success that incorporates learning, innovation, creativity, flexibility, equity, and human dignity; and really examine the unconscious bias that exist within the company culture. These may be rooted in preconceived ideas about gender, ethnicity, education, sexuality, disability, and socioeconomic status. Be aware that a person can experience additional disadvantage due to the intersection of their identities and may experience multiple biases. Everything from language used, to what you perceive as professional attire, and name pronunciation or nicknames. Communicate to the team your personal views on the importance of a more diverse team and encourage each person to examine their own unconscious bias. Provide learning and development on race, racism, and allyship. Review company’s hiring and HR policies and systems, the company may be blinded to policies that adversely impact employees from ethnic minority backgrounds. Upon review, include a variety of people from diverse backgrounds to give input. If you don’t have representation within the company, reach out to customers, suppliers, partners, and community members to get perspective. Reiterate the benefits of innovation and creativity that comes with varied backgrounds.
By doing this you’ll create a psychologically safe workplace for all employees. This means an environment where people feel they can share unique ideas, freely ask questions, voice concerns, and make mistakes without worry. This inclusion and belonging has a powerful association with learning and performance in teams and organizations.
“For inclusion to be more than a mandate, it’s important that leaders and employees first understand the challenges that underrepresented groups face. So, it starts with education and making a commitment to an educational journey for all employees. This education is only a start, but it is what will lead to empathy and a desire to make a difference. Then beyond education, it’s about encouraging everyone to find ways to connect with individuals and groups from backgrounds and cultures other than their own, making efforts to build new relationships with people that are not part of their regular social circles. This is what breaks down stereotypes and exposes us to conversations, topics and inequities that exist and leads to spotting these inequities within our workplace policies, recreational pursuits, and questioning the status quo.” Chantal Milloy, Co-founder & COO Levvel Inc.
So, start early! You have an opportunity to build a strong sense of belonging before their first day. Ask about their needs and inclusivity in advance. If there are any accessibility needs (physical, such as private spaces or special equipment, as well as ways of working) so you can have these ready for the first day. Remember how you felt the first day of a new job? Now step into a new hire’s shoes, one who is underrepresented in the company. If they will be the only person of their race for example on the team or in the company, it adds a whole new layer of pressure to those first day nerves. They can feel the need to be a positive representative for their race and feel the need to disprove any negative stereotypes. There’s also the pressure to fit in and conform to majority ideals to avoid being seen or treated differently. Making your new hire feel heard, welcome, and included for who they are, and what they bring intrinsically, will have a significant impact on their engagement levels and happiness. This is where psychological safety is paramount.
Such companies willing to reshape their processes and structures to create an environment where all employees feel valued and respected give employees a real sense of power and voice within the company. All employees are more likely to take risks, think freely, and produce innovative solutions—all of which impact the bottom line.
“Ensuring a diverse workforce is what leads to diversity of thought and assures that we’re meeting the needs of the customers we serve, who obviously are also from diverse backgrounds that include several underrepresented groups. And imagine how many new customers we would gain, if we actually developed products and services that appealed to and served a wider target audience.” Chantal Milloy, Co-founder & COO Levvel Inc.
~Cherene Kambeitz, Marketing & Communications Director – Levvel inc. Reach out to Connect@levvel.ca