Although diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives have made tremendous strides in recent years, companies are still looking for ways to strengthen D&I in the workplace. When the goal is to help people from different cultures and backgrounds work together harmoniously and to understand and respect one another, where does an organization start?
Let’s first dispel the misconception that diversity is only about race and gender. Diversity encompasses sexual orientation, religious affiliation, ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic status, age, and personality traits. The list can go on. A recruiter or manager interviewing a candidate must understand that hiring decisions can have a major impact on the success and direction of the company. Studies have shown that hiring people who represent different backgrounds can have a much greater—and more positive—outcome than hiring people who look and act the same as everyone else. According to McKinsey & Company, “For companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, ROEs were 53 percent higher, on average, than they were for those in the bottom quartile. At the same time, EBIT margins at the most diverse companies were 14 percent higher, on average, than those of the least diverse companies.”
Every year Fortune publishes 50 Best Workplaces for Diversity, which ranks those organizations that are making D&I a priority. It recognizes the companies that understand we live in a multicultural world and that D&I is increasingly a big key to success in business. The top 10 companies for 2016 are Texas Health Resources, Delta Air Lines, Navy Federal Credit Union, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Ultimate Software, Miami Children’s Health System, Marriott International, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Quicken Loans, and USAA. See the full list at http://for.tn/2nFKTwc.
I am proud to say that I work for a company that also encourages diversity and inclusion. I am of Puerto Rican and Italian ethnicity, our CTO is a Guyanese man, our HR director is a Dominican woman by way of Toronto, and our vice president of business development is a Jewish woman from New York City. This is just a list of our top executives. The diversity in the company goes beyond just gender and race; we have a diverse group of employees that includes people with veteran status, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people. The owners of the company have created an environment where all voices are heard and all opinions are valued and considered. And that diversity extends into every department. Every day, more companies are breaking down these same barriers and investing in diversity efforts.
WHAT'S THE GROUND GAME?
It’s imperative that the drive for inclusion comes from the top. Once upper management has established workplace diversity and built a solid foundation based on differences and not similarities, what does inclusion look like on the ground? Senior leaders should participate in and encourage engagement with activities like those listed below for the development and success of the D&I committee or team. This support can cultivate commitment, motivate employees, and fuel innovation.
- Create a D&I committee: This committee will oversee the efforts made by the company to align the business strategies and priorities of D&I in the workplace.
- Plan discussion sessions: Making space for the conversation is a fundamental starting point. Employees benefit from the creation of a forum for voicing D&I concerns and the actionable items that result, and committing collectively to resolving these obstacles can generate cohesion because employees must work together toward a common goal.
- Implement Lunch & Learns: An offsite lunch allows for team building in a less formal setting. It also affords the opportunity to offer educational or training meetings in which employees can learn either from each other or from an outside consultant.
- Engage in philanthropic activities: Once the team decides which cause they want to support, choose at least two people to oversee the effort. An annual company-wide volunteer day can be scheduled, and documentation and recognitions can be coordinated in advance.
- Create a book club: Choose books that are either motivational or related to your industry. Book clubs give people the opportunity to express their divergent opinions or give insight into how they would handle certain situations. All of this feedback leads to healthier communication and better understanding of team members’ thought processes.
- Host a game night: Depending on how the office is structured, the employees can play board games or video games. This is another way to get people who wouldn’t normally socialize to come together and have fun in an informal setting.
- Participate in a scavenger hunt: They can be set up around the office or somewhere offsite. This type of activity provides tools to better communicate, trust, and strategize, and it enhances camaraderie.
- Game on: Sports teams have forever been known to bring people together. Everything about team-based athletic activities fosters the skills needed to work together toward a united goal. Employees can participate in pools and root for their teams or, even better, create their own team or league to join together and play themselves.
- Paint and sip: Instead of the usual happy hour, organize your employees to come together over a creative painting and sipping activity. Have the artist guide the team to recreate the artwork in a laid-back, comfortable environment.
- Family fun day picnic: Company picnics help bridge the gap between employees in a relaxed setting while allowing their family members to have fun and feel like they are also part of the team.
When senior leadership creates fun, engaging activities, employees have a chance to see each other in a new light and collaborate with team members they wouldn’t otherwise meet. D&I doesn’t grow where it’s an afterthought or minor initiative. Though these aren’t the only activities geared toward building positive, innovative momentum around D&I, they are a good start to contributing to an organization’s D&I success.