Diversity isn’t enough: What your D&I agenda is missing

Why every diversity initiative needs to be paired with inclusivity efforts

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By Nicole Schreiber-Shearer, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat

Workforce diversity is no longer an HR-only priority. Building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce is now at the top of every stakeholder’s radar, with 43% percent of CEOs counting it as high on their list of challenges.

Many organizations are releasing statements and scorecards that detail the actions they’re taking to diversify their workforces. While these are undoubtedly important first steps, efforts can’t stop there. To cultivate a sense of belonging and create workplaces that are truly equitable, diversity initiatives must go hand-in-hand with inclusivity strategies.

Promoting inclusivity comes with its own set of challenges. Unlike diversity efforts, inclusivity can’t be easily measured and reported. Yet, no matter how much you focus on diversifying your workforce, you won’t be able to create an equitable workplace without addressing inclusivity.

What do diversity and inclusion mean?

While most strategies pair diversity and inclusion (D&I) together, the two terms have distinct meanings. Here’s how they differ:

Diversity refers to the variety of different perspectives represented on a team. Race often comes to mind when diversity comes up, but the term is broader than that. Diversity represents a broad range of experiences, including gender, sex, socioeconomic background, age, ability, upbringing, religion, education, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, and life experience.

Inclusion means that individuals should not be denied access to career development opportunities, training, or promotions based on what makes them unique. It’s about empowering all employees and recognizing the unique skills and experiences that everyone brings to the table.

Both aspects of D&I are important. Without inclusion, diversity can result in a toxic culture. Some employees may perceive your efforts as tokenism, suggesting that your organization is only hiring people from underrepresented groups to prevent criticism. Your workforce will feel out of place and unsupported if your diversity efforts aren’t paired with a focus on inclusivity.

The benefits of an inclusive workforce

Inclusion benefits organizations at all levels. In addition to being the right thing to do, there’s also a strong business case for prioritizing inclusivity, including the following benefits:

Better performance
Employees who feel like they belong at your organization will be empowered to do their best. A study by industry analyst Josh Bersin found that highly inclusive organizations generate 2.3x more cash flow per employee, 1.4x more revenue, and are 120% more capable of meeting financial targets.

Improved engagement and decision-making
Similarly, it only makes sense that when all employees feel included, they’re also more engaged in the work they’re doing. In turn, your people will be more likely to make the right calls at work, as evidenced by Korn Ferry Research that reveals that employees at inclusive organizations are 87% more likely to make better decisions.

Greater innovation
Bringing together people with different perspectives and empowering them to share their ideas is going to generate more breakthroughs. The same Korn Ferry research found that diverse and inclusive organizations are 70% more likely to capture new markets and 19% more likely to see higher innovation revenue.

3 Steps leaders can take to promote workplace inclusion

If you’re looking to maximize your D&I agenda’s impact, it’s time to start focusing on the inclusivity component. Here are some steps you can take to get started:

#1. Democratize access to opportunities

Employees won’t feel included if they’re not on a level playing field. At many organizations, subjective criteria like likeability or networking determine who gets access to development opportunities. In contrast, inclusive companies take an objective approach to talent management based on employees’ skills and experiences. Many of these companies utilize talent marketplaces to ensure internal mobility is determined by competencies and ambitions, rather than subjective factors that will count some of your people out without recognizing their potential.

#2. Recognize bias

Unfortunately, bias will always be present, even in an inclusive workplace. Humans are inherently biased, and there are always factors that will subconsciously sway our decisions. While it may impossible to entirely remove bias from the equation, inclusive organizations go the extra mile to minimize it.

Leaders at these companies understand that bias can play a role in hiring and promotion decisions and they put systems and tools in place to prevent it from taking over. Since talent marketplaces use ethically constructed AI with multiple built-in safeties, many organizations are leveraging these platforms to help make decisions virtually bias-free.

#3. Prioritize mentorship

Inclusive workplaces set every employee up for success by removing the boundaries and barriers that have traditionally held some people back. Mentorship programs are a powerful initiative that can help employees expand their networks and hone the skills they’re looking to build, creating that level playing field that all-inclusive organizations have in common.

The most impactful mentoring programs pair employees based on the competencies they have and those they wish to learn, not job titles or levels of seniority. While it may be difficult to manually match mentees to mentors, AI-powered talent marketplaces can seamlessly align employee aspirations to maximize the benefits of mentoring for everyone involved. And since the platforms generate matches in a matter of seconds, it will be much easier to scale your mentoring program for your entire organization, so that all employees are included in the initiative.

While every organization is now prioritizing D&I efforts, only companies that understand and address inclusivity will be able to real strides towards achieving equity.

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