Inclusion Provides Opportunities to Build the Strongest, Most Resilient & Creative Workforce for Future Success

By: Simone McCormick

Many companies are strategizing on how to diversify their talent pool, not only with new recruits but all the way to the top. These companies not only seek to minimize potential discrimination claims – they strive to bridge the gender gap, shatter the glass ceiling, and create a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, and all-inclusive employee pool designed to contribute to the future success of the business. While these aspirations are admirable, they are only a first step. 

Unfortunately, aspirations can be easily undermined by unconscious bias, the comfortable established underlying neurological pathways that dictate so much of our day-to-day snap decisions. It is these snap decisions that ultimately lead to hiring decisions and shape teams, allowing some employees to succeed while others are left behind. It is difficult to re-train these established pathways, in particular because business leaders have relied on them in the past. But a business can overcome the unconscious biases that are holding it back from becoming inclusive. By taking the following proactive steps, a business can create a place where everyone can thrive.

1) Study the Numbers

Numbers are indicators. Employee statistics about gender, age, ethnicity, etc. can assist the company in identifying progress, stagnation, and areas of improvement. Statistics show us who we are hiring, who we are promoting, and whose tenure is cut short. Numbers are only an indicator and a starting point for our analysis as to root causes, which can be numerable and complex. Statistics also aide in prioritization of areas within the company that indicate lack of diversity. This allows for targeted strategies to overcome obstacles and barriers to diversity and inclusion. For example, while some departments may be more diverse, others may be less so. Statistics can also identify that, while recruitment efforts have led to a diverse and balanced pool of hired talent, the issue may be retention. While the numbers highlight potential concerns, what follows is a deeper analysis of the cause.

2) Recognize and Overcome Unconscious Bias

One cause that has been recognized to hinder diversity and inclusion is implicit bias. Implicit bias is an unconscious attitude each of us has toward others that we are not aware of or conscious about. It is important to recognize that everyone has biases based on individual cultural background and personal experiences. Objectivity is an illusion and bias denial a dead end. Unconscious bias dictates what we believe smart and likely successful looks like, talks like, and acts like. Implicit bias guides us in making these determinations in snap decisions. It therefore shapes our interactions with employees, how we allocate resources, and whom we support and promote. The key is to acknowledge that we each carry biases and identify what they are, with the goal of actively overcoming them. In order to recognize implicit bias, a company may conduct unconscious bias training to help leadership personnel understand, identify, and overcome their own individual implicit biases.

3) Make Inclusion the Goal

While increased diversity invites women and minorities to the workforce, it often falls short to integrate them sufficiently for long-term success. They fizzle and drop out. Retention rates often plummet because these employees are not afforded equal opportunities. They may have lacked development, mentorship, resources, and overall, they were not given the opportunity to prove themselves and shine. Diversity, it turns out, is not enough. Instead, companies should strive to be inclusive, to integrate these groups into the fabric of success. Inclusion is promoting an environment where people from different cultural backgrounds are included. The difference is not only to allow people to be present – it is to make people feel that they have an equal opportunity to succeed at the business. It is a deeper level of engagement that makes the employee belong and become part of the culture. This in turn will increase the potential of long-term retention.

4) Inclusive Leadership Is About Transparent Equal Support

Businesses can promote inclusive leadership by educating leadership and managers about implicit bias and strategies to actively remove barriers to inclusion. One strategy is to take the time to evaluate facts and merits instead of relying on judgment alone, which can be tainted by implicit bias. For example, in hiring or promoting an employee, companies should focus on the facts and not impressions. Identify specific objective criteria that are applied equally to every candidate or employee to be reviewed or selected. Focus on proven skills, completed projects, or targets met. The key to this process is clarity and transparency in the expectations that have been set. Avoid snap decisions based on impressions, which travel the same established neurological paths that invoke our biases and favor the same choice time and time again. This raises barriers to inclusion.

Instead, companies should strive to foster an equal opportunity environment. One approach is to critically evaluate teams based on clearly defined objectives. Identify who speaks at meetings, who is encouraged to lead, and who receives challenging assignments, to name a few. Instead of providing opportunities to the same groups of people, companies should include others who are overlooked. Managers should make efforts to notice and reach out to those who are invisible, do not speak, or have not yet had the opportunity to sit at the table. Companies themselves have the power to remove barriers created by the dominant company culture or prevailing organizational preference. They can do so by purposely including others – those who speak differently, look differently, dress differently, and act differently. For these employees, too, can be great performers and phenomenal leaders if given the chance. It is the company’s task to unleash and discover this untapped resource. 

Companies can build relationships across these differences. They should invest in all employees by asking questions about interests and career goals, and by soliciting open, honest feedback. Companies that do this learn about obstacles, whether human or organizational, that they otherwise may never have known about or been able to correct. Solicited feedback is an often overlooked and undervalued opportunity to do better and excel as a company.

Overall, inclusion is about the opportunity to reach one’s full potential - for each individual employee and the company as a whole. Inclusion is so much more than a strategy to avoid liability – it is a win-win for all. 

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