How To Implement And Prioritize Diversity And Inclusivity In The Workplace

March 15, 2021

From small local businesses to high-stakes boardrooms across America, companies everywhere are waking up to the fact that diversity matters in the workplace.

Business leaders aren’t just asking whether they should prioritize diversity – they’re wondering why it took them so long to get on board. It’s not only a fair and equitable practice, but it also has a positive impact on the bottom line and longevity of businesses across verticals.

Methods and strategies vary from one organization to the next, but the message is clear: diversity of culture, color, gender, and background all make for a more resilient and future-proof business.

Let’s take a look at how current CEOs and leaders make it happen.

Seek New Perspectives

When everyone in an organization has a similar background and mindset, there isn’t much room for out-of-the-box thinking. Businesses are realizing the value of bringing on employees with unique life experiences and who can see the world from a different angle.

If a company is suffering from “echo-chamber” syndrome and repeating the same stale ideas over and over, it’s a clear signal that they should prioritize diversity.

“Diversity makes for a stronger workforce – having a diverse team is not only the right thing to do, but it also leads to better outcomes and results,” said Awesome OS CEO Eric Gist. “As the CEO of Awesome, I value employees that bring different perspectives and ideas and I take this into consideration when building my team and my entire organization. When evaluating talent we not only look for the right skills, but we also look for the right personality and culture fit. By integrating inclusivity directly into our business practices, our overall company has a stronger company culture and better employee performance.”

As more businesses get with the diversity and inclusion agenda, we’re likely going to see new ways to solve old problems and other forms of innovation that push organizations – and our world – in a better direction.

Ensure Equality

Hiring from a diverse talent pool is a powerful practice in itself. There are way more options to choose from, and HR departments are finding promising job candidates from universities and training programs everywhere they look.

Bringing on a diverse staff is just step one, however. Companies need to recognize the importance of equal opportunity as those entry-level employees aim to rise up in the ranks. This means helping newcomers to carve out paths to the top in a tangible way.

“Inclusivity in a workplace should always be one of the first things a business takes into consideration,” said Lezlie Karls, CEO of Mid-Day Squares. “Allowing employees to have the opportunity to grow within the business is important because everyone deserves the chance to earn a promotion. You would think this is a no-brainer, but there are many companies today that still struggle with accomplishing this goal. At my company, we strive to make our workplace with as much diversity as possible to ensure that every employee equally has a spot at the table that will improve employee performance as well. This starts with the executives at the company displaying a diverse group of hires from all backgrounds.” 

The organizations that embrace diversity and inclusion in every aspect (all the way up to the C-Suite) are bound to benefit more in the long run from these initiatives.

Take an Active Approach

Given the traditional college-to-corporate pipeline, many companies are drawing from the same resources for young professionals year after year. In doing so, they’re missing out on diverse superstars from alternative backgrounds and programs they might not be familiar with.

At first, diversity practices might require a bit more active effort, but once these organizations tap into the wealth of talent they’ve been missing, they will realize the payoff.

“If you haven’t hired a team of people who are of color, female, and/or LGBT to actively turn over every stone, to scope out every nook and cranny, to pop out of every bush, to find every qualified underrepresented founder in this country, you’re going to miss out on a lot of money when the rest of the investment world gets it,” said Arlan Hamilton, Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital.

We’re already seeing a new generation of diverse employees, managers, and executives across the economy, and there will be no shortage of opportunities for up-and-comers in the future.

Restructure Foundations

It’s one thing to talk about buzzwords and pay for training seminars. Actually doing something about the issues at hand? Way more important.

Many businesses are still dragging their feet when it comes to implementing these measures. It’s time for them to act.

The bare minimum is not enough, and tokenism is not the answer. There needs to be a structural change to company values to make a lasting impact for generations to come. Thankfully, more businesses are recognizing this and making moves.

“When it comes to supporting BIPOC workers and creating a diverse and inclusive work environment, the change needs to start from the ground up of the company’s core values, company culture, and the hiring process,” Dr. Robert Applebaum, Founder and CEO of Applebaum MD. “It is not enough for a company to talk about the present-day issues of race and systemic inequality but not take on any active initiatives to fight against it. It is crucial to develop systems of inclusion and go above the minimum standards that have existed for decades yet haven’t pioneered any change. It is time to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. The only way to truly make an impact is to dig deep into the foundations of companies and redevelop the frameworks that guide them in their daily operations.” 

There isn’t a cookie-cutter solution to solving these problems, of course. Companies need to look internally and make adjustments rather than taking a cut-and-paste approach.

Apply Life Lessons

The best executives are naturally compassionate and know the power of being judgment-free in order to run agile, accomplished businesses. They understand the value of diverse perspectives and opinions about how to best move forward on a project or task.

With that said, not all players at the C-Level are going to see eye-to-eye with more progressive thinkers. It’s often just one or two people in an organization that set the tone for change and create a ripple effect that leads to positive outcomes across the board.

“I learned from an early age that everyone is equal,” said Artie Baxter, CEO of Paperclip. “That part has always been a given to me. I don’t hold judgment on anyone which in return has made life easier. My company doesn’t do a lot of internal hiring as we have a core set of hires that seem to be holding the job down fine. But we do make sure that all of our models are diverse in order to promote inclusivity. We are aware that our models not only showcase our product but also play roles in representation.”

As with any cultural or social movement, there needs to be a sense of urgency, but patience is also required from all parties. Luckily, we’re seeing things move in the right direction sooner than later.

Have Tough Conversations

Awkward moments and uncalibrated comments are going to happen when dealing with these types of issues, especially when there’s big money at stake and the pressure is on. Rather than skirting around the subject matter, it’s better to tackle it directly and make real progress.

There must also be room for redemption. People take time to realize their faults, especially those who have been in the boardroom for decades or more. Trusting the long-term process is key to overcoming the challenges of today.

“We all have the ability to promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion — and that is something I believe every leader has a responsibility to do,” said Global Financial Services Expert Inga Beale. “It starts with having a dialogue until we are all comfortable and no longer have the fear of saying the wrong thing.”

Rethink Hiring

How do companies hire in a world with endless online applications? The process is usually mechanical and harsh, which is something that more businesses are second-guessing in this day and age.

Perhaps the most prestigious credentials and university names are not the most important factors, after all. At the end of the day, action and ability matter more than surface-level showcases.

Watch how companies change their approach to hiring to prioritize a different set of requirements and gain a competitive edge.

“Our mission at Boundery when it comes to hiring is to pick the best talent; the most qualified candidates always get the job,” said Jason Akatiff, Co-Founder of Boundery. “At the same time, we recognize that having a diverse team of different genders, races, ages, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations and education is to our advantage. It is extremely important that each new employee matches our company’s core values but also offers a completely new set of unique skills, perspectives, and experiences. The beginning stages of developing a system of hiring that is heavily focused on diversity and inclusivity is the most challenging part of the process. Furthermore, moving from the design stages to implementation can cause resistance within the organization. It is not an easy task, but the benefits outweigh the efforts.”

The goals of diversity and inclusion have been established, and some companies are further along on the mission than others. Implicit bias can lead to discriminatory behavior when it comes to hiring a diverse workforce. Still, the business world is moving the yardstick in the right direction and not looking back.

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