Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Why Does It Matter?
Over the past year, diversity and inclusion in the workplace has become a hot topic, with customers, investors, and employees alike calling for more equitable, just employment opportunities. As a result, many companies have revisited their recruitment, hiring, promotion, compensation, and company cultural practices. Much remains to be done, however, in terms of building truly diverse and inclusive workplaces. One of the first steps is expanding our understanding of what diversity and inclusion in the workplace mean and why they’re important.
What’s the difference between diversity and inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion are closely related concepts, but there are important differences between them. Diversity refers to the make-up of a company and to what extent people of different races, ethnicities, religions, sexual preferences, gender identities, and physical and mental abilities are represented. Inclusion refers to whether or not the perspectives and contributions of these different groups are heard, acknowledged, and valued within a company.
It’s entirely possible, and very common, for a company to be diverse without being truly inclusive. For example, if 50% of a company’s employees are women but there are no women represented in senior leadership, that company would be considered diverse but not inclusive because a significant group (female employees) are not involved in positions of authority or decision-making. A truly inclusive workplace is one in which employees feel represented in and supported by all areas of the business, from leadership to HR to finance.
Why do diversity and inclusion matter?
Truly diverse and inclusive companies recognize and encourage the unique perspectives and potential of all their employees. And this brings strong benefits, not just for those employees but for the organization itself.
Numerous studies have shown a strong business case for increasing diversity and inclusion. More diverse recruitment and hiring practices mean a company can access and draw on a broader talent pool. Bringing in people with a wider range of experiences often leads to more creative ideas and greater innovation. This makes companies more competitive in the marketplace and more attractive to outstanding prospective employees, thus creating a virtuous feedback loop of further innovation and growth.
Diversity and inclusion also bring strong financial gains. Research has shown that companies with higher levels of inclusion in terms of both gender and ethnicity outperform less diverse companies. These companies see higher revenue growth and increased profitability. These findings hold especially true when companies increase their diversity and inclusion at the senior management and C-Suite levels.
Organizations that value the input of all employees also tend to have higher retention rates. Employees who feel that their company’s leadership can be trusted to respect them and consider their needs experience higher rates of job satisfaction and are in turn more likely to stay with a company.
How can leadership —and employees — foster diversity and inclusion?
Ultimately, the key to genuine inclusion is ensuring that all employees feel safe, valued, and like they belong day to day. The companies that are most successful at encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace do so both from the top down and from the bottom up.
At the top levels, executives and managers should build diversity and inclusion into their company’s core values and business goals. This includes regularly revisiting company practices and cultural attributes to ensure that no one group is underrepresented or left out of positions of authority or opportunities for growth. Consider forming some kind of Employee Resource Group or Diversity and Inclusion Council to ensure that employees’ concerns are recognized and any necessary changes in company practices are discussed. Things like open door communication policies and transparent paths to promotion and raises also play a big role in making employees feel they can trust their organization’s leadership.
Employees themselves also play a crucial role in encouraging and enhancing a sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace. The most important action you can take is to be respectful of your colleagues’ differences. Take the time to learn about the different religions, cultures, and backgrounds that are represented in your company, and be open-minded to ideas and experiences that may differ from your own. Stand up against discriminatory behavior by speaking up if you hear an inappropriate joke or comment. Take part honestly and openly in employee engagement surveys, Employee Resource Groups, and other platforms your company uses to gather employee feedback. Finally, commit to learning and growing, be willing to apologize if you make a mistake and inadvertently offend someone, and be open to feedback.
By making the commitment to diversity and inclusion, companies and employees alike can help build stronger, more successful workplaces where everyone feels safe and valued.
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