Diversity in the Workplace Isn’t Enough: Inclusion Matters

Diversity in the workplace has multiple benefits for organizations. But diversity itself isn’t enough. Organizations need to demonstrate they value all employees. 

Diversity in the Workplace

Workplace diversity refers to intentionally hiring people of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and other demographics to create a varied and diverse workforce. 

Diversity in the workplace covers many different considerations:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Disability
  •  Religious
  • Sex/Gender

Real diversity means hiring and including people from many different backgrounds and groups. This means not just considering people from different races or ethnicities, but ages and sexual orientations, too. 

The Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Workplace diversity is not only good for employees. It’s good for the organization. 

There are multiple ways that diversity helps an organization be better:

  • Financial performance. A 2015 McKinsey report shows that more diverse companies financially outperformed others in the same industry better financially than those in the same industry who don’t.
  • Increased Creativity. Having employees from diverse backgrounds can provide a variety of perspectives. And creativity in your workplace is an asset.
  • Improved Problem Solving. Having team members from diverse backgrounds allows teams to generate more ideas and approach problems from a variety of angles for great problem-solving results
  • Better decision-making. Research shows that diverse teams make better business decisions 87% of the time.
  • Increased opportunities. A more diverse working group will identify opportunities that less diverse groups might miss. Diverse teams see areas of opportunity that aren’t obviously apparent.
  • Better company reputation. Companies and organizations who can demonstrate diversity benefit from the positive public perspective, and a positive brand. 

However, it’s not enough for organizations to hire someone who fits an oppressed demographic. This alone doesn’t mean that the employee feels welcome or safe. 

There are often behaviors that employees don’t intend to come across as offensive or hurtful, but can make workplaces seem hostile or unwelcoming. 

These behaviors are known as microaggressions. And often the people committing them may not even realize they’re behaving inappropriately. 

The Impact of Microaggressions

A microaggression is a behavior that reveals biases or assumptions about a specific oppressed group. Telling an Asian man his English is so good (it may be their first language), or telling someone they don’t look gay may be well-meaning, but it can be emotionally exhausting to constantly deal with these stereotypes. Asking someone with a disability “what happened to you?” may be well-meaning but is intrusive and disrespectful.

Years ago I worked in a predominantly male office. The female administrative assistant left during lunch each day. The executive staff asked that the few female employees take turns answering the phones while she was away.

Management didn’t understand that this might be perceived as offensive. 

These are interactions that might seem small but can have a big negative impact.

There are two types of unconscious micro-aggressions: micro-insults and micro-invalidations.  An example of a micro-insult would be telling someone with a disability that you can’t believe they’re married.An example of a micro-invalidation is when a man gets credit for a great idea a woman shared in a meeting. 

Micro-aggressions are harmful. They’re hurtful and have a negative impact on the subject. It can be emotionally draining to constantly deal with these situations at work. 

For example, someone who is gay may get unwanted questions from peers who mean well. But simply because someone is gay doesn’t mean they owe an explanation of their life story, when they came out, or other intrusive questions. 

Diversity in the Workplace Must Extend to Inclusion

Having a diverse workplace is a great start. But that alone isn’t enough. You may have checked some boxes to make sure you’ve hired people from different backgrounds, ages, and cultures. But are you creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and can contrubute equally? 

Have you created a space where everyone has the same chance to grow professionally? 

Have you created a space where people feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves? 

How to Ensure Diversity In the Workplace Means Inclusion, Too

It’s important to ensure your workplace is not only diverse, but inclusive. To do so, be intentional about creating a space that’s welcoming and supportive to everyone. 

Follow these tips to ensure diversity and inclusion in your organization. 

1. Know your bias. 

We often have biases toward or against one category of people. We may not even be aware of it. Pay attention to how you feel or behave around different demographics to see if this could be true for you. You could also take a test to give you insight to your biases. 

2. Support equality and respect differences. 

Create a space where people can show up as their full selves. 

3. Celebrate differences. 

In addition to respecting differences, fully embrace them. Find ways to celebrate the differences on your team. For example, allow team members to showcase cultural differences such as foods and holidays. If you have a culturally diverse team, you could have a potluck in which team members bring food from their country of origin. 

4. Have ground rules for interactions. 

If respectful communication is a problem on your team, get very clear on the ground rules for respectful communication. You may need to draft the rules and share them with the team so there’s no misunderstanding.

5. Understand microaggressions and be aware of them. 

Be sensitive to ways that questions or statements can be disrespectful. Before speaking, question whether something you say might actually be hurtful or demeaning. 

6. Inclusion through representation.

When creating powerpoint presentations with images, or other promotional or communication materials, show images of people from many different demographics. 

7. Professional Development.

Ensure team members have what they need to develop skills to not only perform their job. Also have training and development to help them grow in the company. 

8. Diversity Support. 

Ensure team members have what’s needed to be successful. If you have team members with disabilities, ensure they have what they need to work as successfully as they can. This goes for all different demographics, and can be as simple as asking what they need to be successful. 

9. Create a safe space for conversations. 

Ensure you’re creating a space that’s safe to talk about how team members feel, and to better understand one another. 

10. Hold honest conversations.

Open and respectful conversations help team members better understand one another. This can create a more supportive environment where everyone can contribute fully. 

11. Speak up. 

If you witness disrespectful or marginalizing behavior, call it out. It may be uncomfortable, but you’ll be playing an important part in creating a better workplace for everyone.

Summary

Workplace diversity and inclusion are important to creating an environment in which employees can grow and thrive. 

But it takes work to get there. Leadership and team members need to be intentional about creating and nurturing an environment that supports all employees.

And it may be an ongoing effort. 

But the results will be a great work environment where you have happy employees who bring their best selves to work.

You’ll attract top talent and retain star employees. 

And employees will be motivated to do their best work. 

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