Your Team Is Diverse, but Is It Inclusive?

diverse group of professionals working together November 21, 2016 By: Bettina Deynes

Achieving diversity on your staff is a significant accomplishment, but it's only half of the equation. Here's how to ensure the "inclusive" part of D+I on your staff team.

For decades, the term "diversity" has been intricately woven into the fabric of organizational cultures. It has heightened awareness that recruiting and hiring minorities, people with disabilities, and veterans is not only the right thing to do: It has been demonstrated clearly that organizations are immensely stronger and more productive after doing so.

But ensuring that an organization's workforce reflects the demographic characteristics of the world in which it does business is only half of the equation. As diversity and inclusion (D+I) expert Verna Myers recently told a meeting of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance!"

If the word "team" describes a cohesive group of people working together to combine their skills and competencies to achieve a goal, then inclusion is the glue that binds the group and ensures its success. People must feel that they fit in with a group to be comfortable and, therefore, productive. An inclusive environment is every bit as important to the success of an enterprise as a diverse one. But how to make that happen?

Understand Employee Perceptions

One of the most critical steps in creating an inclusive organizational culture is to objectively identify systemic barriers to employees' perception of inclusivity. Do all employees believe that their contributions are valued? Do they feel confident in speaking up at meetings or while working on teams? Do they believe they have an equal opportunity to grow professionally and succeed? If not, you need to know why not.

An inclusive environment is every bit as important to the success of an enterprise as a diverse one. But how to make that happen?

A good way to do this is to implement a series of informal cross-cultural workshops. These should be attended by all employees and structured for maximal engagement, with the goal of understanding the underlying nature of the cultures represented among your staff. Have employees from different backgrounds informally present information on their culture's customs and beliefs to help colleagues better appreciate and welcome each presenter into a more inclusive environment. Encourage an open and friendly discussion about how all members of your team envision an open and collegial workplace culture.

A natural extension of the workshop initiative is a clear commitment by leadership to an organizational culture that provides equal opportunity for development and advancement, candid and transparent communication, a compensation and benefits system that is equitable and responsive to demonstrated success, genuinely participative decision making, and a palpable dedication to employee engagement and happiness.

Seven Initiatives

At the Society for Human Resource Management, we recently completed a formal "Diversity and Inclusion Plan and Strategic Initiatives" document. In it, we have committed to seven concrete initiatives in support of the organizational inclusion goal, which is "to create a viable and sustainable culture that puts the concept of diversity into practice by creating an environment of involvement, respect, and connection for every employee—where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives can be optimized, in a workplace that is fair, friendly, and both professionally and personally collegial."

A sampling of these initiatives illustrates our strategy:

  • Design and implement effective training and development programs specifically focused on the cultural and personality characteristics of each diverse group represented on SHRM's staff, both currently and anticipated.

  • Design and implement regular social events open to all employees that emphasize and reinforce the strengths of the diversity present in the organization.

  • Urge senior management to ensure that SHRM's internet platforms emphasize the strongly inclusive nature of the organization's culture, so that when prospective employees perform their pre-application due diligence they know they will immediately be welcomed and included if they are hired.

To remain relevant and competitive, organizations must continue to regard diversity as one of their highest priorities. But successful inclusion initiatives must be an integral component of D+I endeavors in any enterprise. It cannot be the ancillary factor that gets lip service from leadership but no execution. At SHRM, we refer to this integral component as "the imperative of inclusivity."

Bettina Deynes

Bettina Deynes is vice president of human resources and diversity at the Society for Human Resource Management.