As companies of all sizes grapple with the urgent and complex issues brought on by the pandemic, such as employee and customer safety, revenue slowdowns, business delays, and employee downsizing, their commitment to workforce equity, including ongoing diversity and inclusion programs, often tumble to an ancillary consideration of very little importance. But, during these challenging times, there may be a growing divide among various employee groups as businesses pivot amidst changing circumstances. In the new virtual environment, now is the time for champions of diversity and inclusion initiatives to be more deliberate about connecting with, advocating for, and developing diverse talent. Leaders must balance the speed of decision-making, which is critical in these times, with the need to include the voices that represent the full spectrum of talent within the workplace. Diversity matters because it brings a broad collection of experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, and viewpoints to the discussion, and that leads to better decision-making.
It’s increasingly clear that a commitment to equity is not just the right thing to do, it is smart leadership and good business. Research has proven over and over again that leaders at organizations with advanced diversity and inclusion strategies are more likely to feel highly loyal to their company, engaged in innovative work, and dedicated to top performance. Today, a strong commitment to diversity signals an exceptional work environment – where each employee contribution is valued and all employees are provided every chance to succeed. That kind of organization promotes achievement, encouraging people throughout the organization to reach for their best because they are valued based on their performance. Not only does that kind of environment drive productivity, but it also cultivates employee satisfaction – and when satisfaction rises, so does financial performance.
Diversity definitions have now expanded to include less visible characteristics like parental status or religion. But, today, leaders are not only focused on embracing the strengths of a diverse workforce, but they are incorporating inclusion strategies as well, clearly demonstrating their drive and commitment to engage the unique qualities and abilities that every single employee can bring to a job.
Inclusivity is all about maintaining core diversity values of equal opportunity, but shifts focus to look less at groups of people than at individual persons, less at racial and ethnic backgrounds than at unique skill sets. Inclusivity shows people that while diversity may appear to be about groups, it is actually about every person in the organization being treated as an individual. It’s about individuals being able to break out. The inclusivity formula can empower everybody in the organization to have the opportunities they deserve. The pace of complex change in business demands that corporate America leverage all relevant talent in each and every member of its workforce – no matter what his or her background.
Importantly, inclusivity breeds employee support, builds morale, and nurtures employee loyalty – even down through line operations where the message can still too often can get lost. By focusing on individual abilities, and rewarding exceptional performance, the company can engender the sense of fairness and just rewards that diversity and inclusion were always meant to instill.
Further, if organizations are not actively renewing their commitment to eliminating overt, or subtle, discrimination, they can expect to see inequities grow more insidious as companies face challenges in the coming year. Both women and minorities of all genders suffer from unequal pay practices, lack of advancement opportunities, and implicit and explicit bias at work – and at times of acute stress and pressure in a corporate environment, these inequities can be amplified. This is a time where an organization’s investments in diversity and inclusion initiatives can yield significant rewards, and eliminate inequities, as we all adapt to a new working environment, due to the global pandemic.
So, how do you unleash talent, and ensure that your organization has representation from multiple points of view, and can leverage diversity and inclusion practices as a sustainable competitive advantage for your company? Here are a few key considerations for your business
- Understand who you want to be as an organization, and how you want to be known as an influencer in your industry.
- Once you’re clear on the reputation you want to have as a company, clearly communicate how you expect your leaders to behave to create and sustain a healthy and dynamic culture collectively.
- Create clarity around what success looks like for your organization and communicate expectations, creating frameworks of accountability to ensure that all leaders live up to those ideals.
- Commit to a journey that embraces diversity and inclusion, both inside and outside the organization, clearly signaling your commitment to diversity and inclusion, and reflecting the values of the organization to your customers, stakeholders, and prospective employees.
- Acknowledge where you’ve fallen short and make the bold choice to ask for the resources to help with the learning journey, making investments in diversity and inclusion, and involving your employees in the future that you are aspiring to create.
- Understand what your success signals are for your company, ensure that you are making meaningful strides toward an equitable workplace, integrating the feedback from your employees about your progress toward creating an equitable workplace.
- The judges of whether or not your company operates as an inclusive organization are your employees, so ask them regularly to report on their perspective. Conduct focus groups, issue engagement surveys, and create other feedback mechanisms.
- Demonstrate and live your values of embracing diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency by integrating that messaging both inside and outside your organization, being transparent about your commitment, your progress and the work yet to be done.
As the pandemic shifts economic realities for many companies and forces businesses to pivot dramatically, the needs of their workforce will also continue to change. Smart leaders will use this time to understand these needs and re-configure diversity and inclusion programs to meet the changing work environment. Savvy leaders will position diversity and inclusion programs as strategic assets in both good times and bad, crucial to the ongoing financial performance of their organization.
Your diversity model can set you apart – and offers a significant recruitment edge for your company. Your organization can cultivate a reputation as offering a fair and equal playing field when it comes to career opportunity. That message provides a sustainable competitive advantage for your company – and it breeds industry excellence. It motivates every kind of talent in your business, supports external relationships with vendors and customers, and it enhances your competitive position in the industry. Now more than ever, it defines the kind of corporate America that has always been the engine of U.S. innovation, effectiveness and success.
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