More Than a Diversity Quota: How HR Can Foster Real Inclusivity at Work

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May 22, 2020

With most workers physically disconnected from the office and working remotely due to COVID-19, creating a culture of inclusion –– where employees feel connected and valued –– is more important than ever.

That’s where HR teams can make a difference.

From introverts feeling overlooked in team meetings to employees who abstain from alcohol feeling left out at Zoom happy hours, HR teams are struggling to connect diversity with inclusion. Given that nearly three-quarters of working Americans would consider leaving a company for one they believe is more inclusive, it’s time for HR to move beyond the diversity quota and foster real inclusivity.

Diversity goes beyond numbers

Diversity refers to the innate characteristics of an employee, including race, gender, age, and sexual orientation. Inclusion, on the other hand, speaks to the experiences employees actually live and the way they’re accepted by your company.

At your organization, inclusivity is the way you support your workforce. And in an open, welcoming company culture, all employees can flourish  –– no matter if they’re working from home or in the office.

There’s no question that quotas can usher in new workers to your company with diverse backgrounds and points of view. But organizations that simply mark off diversity checkboxes can also cause substantial inclusion issues. We’ve seen this play out with many companies and their older employees. Workers at or approaching the typical retirement age of 65 are the fastest-growing workforce segment, but only 8% of companies include age as part of their diversity and inclusion plans. This kind of disparity makes it easier for ageism to occur in the workplace, and HR teams must be aware of the way this demographic may feel working at a predominantly younger company. Acknowledging these potential disparities among your workforce is key for building a successful inclusion strategy.

In the end, diversity and inclusion are more than just numbers. The strategies you implement with your workforce show how your organization welcomes and supports all employees. And the benefits can mean even more for your company — organizations that found success with their diversity and inclusion practices also had higher cash flow per worker, boosted financial outcomes, increased employee performance and productivity, a more engaged workforce, and more innovation.

Taking action with inclusivity

Building an inclusive organization starts with HR teams acknowledging gaps in their company’s culture. Once you’ve considered areas to improve, your inclusivity strategy can take flight:

1. Reconsider quotas

Diversity quotas, even those with good intentions, can result in feelings of tokenization among your workforce. However, many companies have found success by completely eliminating quotas and implementing inclusive practices that provide better support for diverse groups of employees. Take McKinsey & Company — the consulting firm holds female-focused networking and career development events, and implemented policies to help this group of employees balance their families and careers. These practices have aided the firm in its recruitment and retention of women talent, void of gender quota stigmas, and can be easily digitized as the world continues working from home.

2. Create safe (digital) spaces

With so many people currently working from home, consider creating safe digital spaces by including pronouns in your email signature or establishing Slack channels for specific communities and employee resource groups to interact. Establishing safe spaces on a physical and digital level can help foster inclusion no matter where your employees work in the long run.

3. Create a culture of continuous feedback

Regular 1-on-1s help build trust and open up conversation between managers and their direct reports, especially now that most are no longer physically working side-by-side. The chance to honestly communicate feedback or concerns is essential to making employees feel heard and appreciated. Employee engagement tools also enable your team to gather anonymous feedback from workers who aren’t comfortable sharing certain actions or observations in person. Companies forced to work from home can institute more frequent 1:1s to ensure employees still feel heard while they work remotely.

4. Broaden your social offerings

Social activities are crucial for building a strong, inclusive culture, but happy hours don’t work for every employee. Many employees are pregnant, don’t drink for religious or personal reasons, or have evening family commitments. The same scenario extends to a remote workforce, as many employees currently need to care for their children at all hours or have other responsibilities at home. Round out your social offerings to be more inclusive of all employees. Invite guest speakers to present remotely over lunch or encourage groups to give back to local organizations together. You can also create opportunities for meaningful conversations with company-wide book clubs or movie screenings that highlight diverse voices and stories.

5. Recognize and reward your workforce

A great way to make your employees feel seen and valued –– especially as we all work from home –– is to simply recognize their efforts. Work with your company leaders to give kudos at team meetings or on all-company email messages, use engagement platforms for employees to send each other praise and encouragement, and reward great work. Be sure to showcase employees who might not get much visibility or recognition from your senior leaders, such as introverts, junior team members, and interns.

6. Rethink and retool

Inclusion is an ever-evolving practice that requires continuous evaluation to succeed. Consistently survey your workforce to gauge sentiment and consider opportunities for improvement. And if your strategy is falling short, take time to learn, change, and grow.

Hiring a diverse workforce is just the first step for HR teams in building a culture that supports every employee — no matter their sex, race, gender, age, religious background, physical ability, or sexual orientation. Establishing inclusive practices and creating a safe environment — both in the office and remotely — ensures everyone in your organization has what they need to succeed.