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How to make workplace diversity happen with big benefits

One of the many factors that the best and brightest weigh before accepting your job offer is the level of diversity in your company. The candidates you want most on your team understand that the highest performing, most engaging companies are some of the most diverse. And that’s where they choose to work. In trying to resolve the key issues around attracting and retaining the right people, you need to consider how strong your commitment to diversity is, and whether it aligns with your other values.

As Stephen Covey emphasized, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” This piece of wisdom should be your guide in developing recruiting and retention strategies, defining your culture, and measuring your performance. We need to step out of our comfort zones and quit hiring only the people who look, talk and think like us. Every business needs people from diverse backgrounds, with diverse opinions, in order to solve today’s increasingly complex issues.

Think of diversity in its broadest sense. It’s not just about gender and ethnicity, although that’s what’s killing most companies in the news. Diversity also encompasses age, personality, religion, sexual preference, experience, education and more. You want it all! Diversity is the competitive edge that you’ll see reflected in every area of your business, from employee satisfaction and retention to higher quality products, to customer service.

Sharper companies / smarter teams

You don’t have to look far to discover the benefits of workplace diversity. You can find them touted in McKinsey, Harvard Business Review, the New York Times, Forbes and many other reports and journals. Over and over researchers find that companies committed to diversity:

  • Are better able to win and retain top talent, giving them a competitive edge
  • Adapt more easily to fluctuating markets and customer demands
  • Make better decisions, based on a wider range of perspectives, knowledge, and approaches
  • Capture more of the market by relating more effectively to diverse customers worldwide
  • Execute more effectively, resulting in higher productivity, profit and ROI

And that’s not all. McKinsey researchers found that working with people who are different challenges individuals to think more broadly, creating sharper team performance. Diverse teams were found to:

  • Focus more on facts, leading to greater accuracy
  • Upend entrenched thinking that can blind people to key information
  • Process information with greater care
  • Increase innovation

Instilling a diversity mindset

There are a number of steps you can take to ensure that diversity is a driving force in your recruiting processes and cultural values. That’s not to say there won’t be challenges to overcome as well. For example, differences in language and perceptions can cause communication issues. And a “we’ve always done things this way” mentality is a great excuse for resisting change. With commitment and perseverance, diversity will prevail over obstacles.

My suggestions for attracting and retaining diverse talent:

  • Make diversity recruitment a deliberate part of your strategy, building a reputation for valuing differences and creating a discrimination-free workplace.
  • Set realistic, but meaningful, targets for diversity. (“Targets” rather than quotas that can block hiring the best person for a particular job.)
  • Hire diverse people at every level, and especially in leadership where inclusiveness should be modeled and fostered.
  • Define or redefine what it means to be a “cultural fit” in your organization and incorporate the definition into candidate interviews.
  • Ensure that interviewers reflect the diversity in your workforce and that representative employees are available to talk about their experiences working for you.
  • Recognize and reward managers who look outside their usual “just-like-me” networks to build diverse teams.
  • Offer candidates a range of perks and benefits that show you value diversity. Ping pong tables may not win over nursing mothers.

My suggestions for creating a more inclusive workplace culture:

  • Recognize that diversity initiatives require a long-term commitment and the ability to quickly pivot if reasonable targets aren’t successfully met.
  • Make certain that your leaders and managers are 100 percent on board with your diversity objectives. Their attitudes and support will filter downward.
  • Draw from a wide and representative range of employees in formulating and executing diversity initiatives.
  • Foster an attitude of openness, encouraging employees to express their ideas and opinions.
  • Use diversity training throughout your organization as a tool in shaping policy and values.
  • Regularly assess and evaluate the challenges and obstacles to diversity as well as your successes and put a timeline on any adjustments you need to make.

We know intuitively that diversity matters. It’s also increasingly clear that there’s a compelling argument for greater diversity from a purely business perspective. And yet, most organizations, especially in terms of leadership, do not even come close to representing the diversity of our workplace populations. We have a lot of work to do. And the good thing is, everyone wins!

In considering where your organization is relative to diversity, I’ll leave you with one last thought from Neil Lenane, of Progressive Insurance. In an interview with Ekaterina Walter in Forbes, he said, “If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.”

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