Diversity and Inclusion: Where HR Leaders Must Start

Gender parity is coming, but it’s still a long way off. Today, for example, female executives still lag behind their male peers in the workplace. A 32% global gender gap still exists, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Although many variables can contribute to the global salary gap, bias is a primary problem, especially during the hiring stage.

The Numbers Behind Diversity

Women comprised 47% of the workforce in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. A company is more than the products it sells, the services it offers, or the profit that it generates. Enterprises are defined by the people who work for the organization.

People – from the C-suite to the front line – shape your company’s culture, viewpoints, and mission statement. Ultimately, people are a reflection of a company’s hopes and dreams. It’s people who will drive your corporate mission forward. That’s why cultural diversity is essential in the modern workplace.

When you hire people from varying backgrounds, you bring the benefit of unique viewpoints and perspectives to your organization. By embracing cultural diversity, you allow employees who are typically underrepresented to enjoy a rewarding, satisfying career.

People who work for culturally competent organizations can resolve conflicts with a global and holistic mindset. Diversity is essential in the modern workplace, but there are challenges when it comes to making it happen. In some instances, companies fail to make diversity and inclusion a priority.

Technology Can Let You Know Where You Stand

Before you launch a diversity and inclusion initiative, it helps to know where your company stands. Technology can be your friend in this regard. Diversity and inclusion software can be used to analyze your company’s pipeline and internal workforce data. Data can shed light on historical hiring practices and illuminate unconscious biases that often permeate the hiring process.

The software will then help you score your organization based on your teams’ gender makeup and employee skills. Next, the technology will analyze staff members’ performance utilizing natural language processing (NLP) to screen for gender bias.

Now, you can use the software to generate recommendations for performance reviews, possible promotions, and salary raises. Finally, you can leverage the software to manage the ongoing performance of organizational personnel, by – for instance – tracking your company’s gender equity score.

Diversity Starts at the Top

Top management must be on board with diversity and inclusion initiatives. Staff members learn from the example of organizational leaders. An organization’s culture reflects the beliefs of senior management, and the views and experiences of your top leaders will make or break your D&I initiatives.

As an example of an exemplary D&I initiative, American Express holds mandatory training for executives, from the vice president on up. The classes cover the basics of diversity and inclusion and why it is so essential for helping organizations meet corporate objectives.

Amex HR leaders express that they have always focused on inclusion and that they are aware of the importance of it. As human resource professionals, they understand that they must go the extra mile to communicate the concept of inclusion to organizational stakeholders.

At other organizations, such as Merck & Company Inc., executives at every level receive training about unconscious bias. Unconscious bias happens when people make judgments based on their own experiences about gender, race, or other external characteristics.

Unconscious bias training helps executives to develop awareness about their own internal biases. Furthermore, it drives home the importance of inclusive behavior, which includes active listening, encouraging varying perspectives, and conducting fair performance reviews.

Accountability Is Key

Just because you’ve disseminated a written diversity policy, doesn’t mean that stakeholders have received your message loud and clear. You must compel employees to read and sign any amendments and handbooks. You should also hold mandatory company diversity training that covers company regulations and explains the consequences of not complying with D&I policies.

For example, you could demonstrate common diversity problems using role-playing. This kind of training not only communicates expected behavior but also teaches staff members how to express their concerns to management when they feel threatened or unsafe.

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You must back your policies up with consequences. Punishment may include disciplinary action – up to and including termination – for not complying with diversity and inclusion policies. You must also establish standard protocols and a process where victims can report abuse. This usually involves a meeting that includes both parties before issuing a written warning and possibly coaching the perpetrator.

If the unacceptable behavior continues, you must then escalate the penalty to a suspension or permanent dismissal, which usually signals the end of your professional relationship with that individual. Most companies will follow through with this type of discipline for the most blatant diversity and inclusion violations.

Diversity is Only Part of the Process

Under your leadership, you can create a diverse workforce that includes a variety of ages, ethnicities, religions, and worldviews. Pinpointing and hiring people from different backgrounds and characteristics is an achievement in and of itself. You should reflect upon this accomplishment with pride.

However, diversity is only half of diversity and inclusion. Now, you’re tasked with creating a culture where people are respected and appreciated. This will require a new level of investment in your time.

Often, HR leaders forget about the inclusion part of diversity and inclusion. The challenge here is to make all staff members feel included. You work hard to bring the right talent to your organization. Why not keep them happy and satisfied? To do this, you need to get inclusion right.

Inclusivity Can’t Just Be Policy

Inclusivity is about retention. Workers of color or the minority gender should feel included in broader conversations and events. Often mainstream conversations alienate people who have grown up with a different background and can’t relate.

As an HR leader, you can play a role in taking note of employees who seem to have lost the ability to join a conversation or who seem isolated and steer the conversation back to something everyone can participate in. Obviously, you can’t have your eyes and ears everywhere at all times, but larger company-sponsored events or meetings are opportunities to pay special attention to inclusivity.

Inclusivity is not just about creating a positive corporate culture. It’s about creating a safe, satisfying, and enjoyable work environment for everyone.

As diversity and inclusion attitudes change, and legislation continues to roll out in the United States, America’s corporate culture continues to evolve. As a human resource leader, you must understand every change that takes place in this regard. Meanwhile, you must continue to work with employees to help them understand the many continually evolving diversity and inclusion issues and resolutions.

Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, HR, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children. 

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