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Diversity and inclusion are more than just buzzwords

Eve Davies-Greenwald Mar 26, 2019 9:00:00 AM

Experts predict that 2019 signals a movement towards greater diversity and inclusion initiatives within workforces across North America. Much of this is driven by the need to attract and retain the best talent. As recruiters have gotten more creative about where they are sourcing candidates, employee diversity has flourished as well. The idea of remote teammates on the other side of the world or multiple generations in one team is no longer that unusual. With social movements also mirroring this call for more inclusion, society is shifting and taking the business world with it. A diverse and inclusive workforce helps organizations in many ways, including reducing turnover, increasing innovation, and supporting a competitive advantage in a global economy. It is up to every company to take steps to reduce bias in recruitment and hire candidates based on their skills and performance, and not on "gut instinct" which may screen out highly qualified candidates. 

Why are diversity and inclusion important at work? 

When 10,000 leaders were surveyed by Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, two-thirds said diversity and inclusion are “as important” or “very important” to business. Additionally, Deloitte research shows organizations that have inclusive cultures are 2 times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets. Combining inclusivity and diversity nets 8 times more positive business outcomes.

In fact, having an inclusive culture is critical to the sustainability of any organization. It’s not enough to simply hire a few candidates who are from diverse backgrounds (which could include gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or workers with disabilities to name a few). A company should focus on not only hiring a large percentage of employees from various different backgrounds but also on taking the time to embrace the value they bring to the table in terms of different ideas and experiences. Creating an environment where different opinions are welcomed helps employees feel more comfortable at work and leads to increased creativity and innovation. 

And don't just take our word for it. There are tons of examples out there of companies that have changed their policies and increased their productivity. One example is that of Nestle. Last year, Nestle made the Thompson Reuters 2018 Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Index. The American consumer food product company employees some 48,000 people around the U.S., but the brand is a world-known favourite. Nestle is described as, “an open and inclusive environment that provides accelerated career growth opportunities, excellent work-life balance and flexibility, and the ability to impact business results quickly.” And true to walking their talk, the company has steadily increased in profits and value since 1990.

Read more: Learn more about team dynamics and how they can improve your employee engagement

What does inclusion actually mean? 

It is important not to confuse the terms diversity and inclusion, although they are often used interchangeably. Diversity often comes first and is about getting the right mix in the workplace. It recognizes the need for different voices and viewpoints to be present within the company. Inclusion is more about what you do with that diversity once you have it on your team. Kayla Kozan, an HR expert at Ideal, describes inclusion as, “a collaborative, supportive, and respectful environment that increases the participation and contribution of all employees”. Another way to define inclusion is the extent to which all employees feel like they belong in the organization. Inclusiveness is often part of the overall corporate culture and it is built into the core values of the company. It should be noted, however, that a company can be both diverse and not inclusive. The goal is about striking the right balance between both concepts and working to create a consciously inclusive environment for all employees.

The signs of inclusion often include: 

  • All employees are treated with respect

  • All employees are given the opportunity to participate in decision-making or leadership roles

  • The company includes diverse teams who collaborate well

  • Leaders are developed across all levels of an organization from diverse backgrounds

  • Consideration and support is provided to all employees regardless of disability or ability

Getting started with promoting a more inclusive environment

Why bring in inclusion to your workplace? Well, companies are more productive, workers are happier, your employer brand benefits, and turnover decreases for starters. So why aren't all companies rushing to embrace diverse hires? To start with, the decision to become an inclusive company has to come from leaders of the organization and spread throughout every level. Colin Walsh, co-founder and CEO of Varo Money told Forbes,“Diversity and inclusion start at the top. For one thing, it’s aspirational. People need role models who look like them at the top of organizations so they feel they are represented and know there is room for them to grow and succeed at the company.” Without buy-in from the top, it's far harder to create an inclusive working culture. With it, however, the sky's the limit. If you're a leader wondering where to start, try taking stock of the company's culture by asking questions such as:

  • How do employees feel about their work environment?

  • Do employees need to monitor their language in order to fit in?

  • Do employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas with others?

  • How comfortable are employees when working with peers?

  • Do employees feel respected and welcome in the company?

But don't just leave things at asking a few key questions. Bringing inclusion into the workplace isn't easy and it goes beyond keeping tabs on culture. Gallup finds that, “90% of those [employees] who say they are not treated with respect report at least one of 35 different discrimination or harassment experiences at work.” This is a scenario that can quickly become problematic and toxic for marginalized employees. One way to avoid this is to appoint a Diversity Officer on your human resources team and make this his or her mission to ensure all employees feel welcomed, supported, and respected from the very first day of their employment to the very last. Recruiters can work in tandem with the diversity officer by sharing important data about diversity hiring efforts and feedback from new hires about their experience. By working together and having a guiding company strategy, finding diverse talent is not as hard as it might seem.

Pro-tip: Fight recruiter bias by first understanding it better

Adjusting hiring strategies to reduce bias

Recruiters are on the front line of increasing diversity and inclusiveness. Unfortunately, this means that they often inject their own unconscious bias when selecting candidates. This bias isn't necessarily malicious either. Bias comes in all forms from remembering the first and last candidates in an interviewing stream better than those in the middle or liking someone because they express a shared interest. Often it's hard to even recognize these behaviours because they are so innate. To avoid this bias and increase diversity, technology resources that source, screen, assess, and support hiring decisions based on skills alone can be leveraged. Once hired, employees can enjoy inclusiveness that is part of the corporate culture. 

Other ways that recruiters can adjust hiring strategies to avoid bias include:

  • Hiring from a wide variety of accessible sources and networks

  • Write better job descriptions that leave out jargon and terms that imply preferences

  • Use collaborative hiring practices so that candidates are evaluated by multiple people

  • Get training and self-evaluate on how their personal ideas influence bias

  • Increase the focus on employee referrals which can increase diversity

And don't forget the power of adding an assessment component into your hiring strategy. While bias training is very helpful for recruiting or hiring managers, you're never going to eliminate all bias (even Amazon's AI robots ran into it). Leveraging pre-hire assessments can help measure all candidates against a fair standard and, when used in conjunction with structured interviewing, can help ensure a uniform and consistent interview for everyone. Assessments take the bias out of recruitment and show a holistic view of an individual, including highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. It improves the odds of making the right hire and when used with inclusion in mind, can help hiring managers build a more diverse workforce.

It takes a lot of group effort for any organization to increase their diversity and inclusion standards. Don't fall prey to the idea that it will "just happen." Unless you're very lucky, it won't. Improving the diversity of your company needs buy-in from all levels of the organization but particularly from the top. It takes a structured company culture that supports and encourages inclusion, perhaps with HR staff dedicated to the initiative. And lastly, it takes a hiring program that uses the tools required to sort out bias and hire more fairly. Even with those three things, the road to an inclusive workplace might be bumpy. But persevere. Because if you do, you'll create a happier, healthier, and more productive company that welcomes all. 

McQuaig System

Topics: Corporate Culture, Talent Management

Eve Davies-Greenwald

Written by Eve Davies-Greenwald

Eve Davies-Greenwald is the Marketing Manager at McQuaig. With years of talent management experience, she blogs on topics related to retention, hiring, interviewing best practices, and leadership development.