Having a diverse workforce isn’t enough in today’s business environment. Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand, and companies need their employees to feel included in decision-making processes to experience the full benefits. As a leader, you can reinforce efforts to establish an inclusive culture within your organization. Employees who feel that they have a voice in the company’s direction are more likely to embrace change and stay with the company long-term. Even if their opinion differs from yours, employees are more likely to buy into change if they were included in the decision-making process.
Studies, including a 2013 paper by Princeton University’s Marta Tienda, have shown that having a diverse workforce results in more innovation and productivity, but only if it’s inclusive. In an ideal world, every company would already have a diverse and inclusive culture with leadership setting the tone at the top. As a leader, you can help ensure that your employees feel included in formulating and executing the company’s strategy and mission.
Actively explore potential ways to improve policies and procedures, and ask your employees—including those you may have been excluding—about their perspectives to see where you are being exclusive and how you can be more inclusive. Carefully examine areas of unconscious bias.
Whatever level of leadership you are, this will take a huge time investment. You’ll have to question your assumptions and change your habits. But having a diverse workforce is ethical and also contributes to your company’s bottom line.
Most of the finance team at my employer, AvidXchange, is in Charlotte, N.C. I’m the only employee on the general-ledger team in Salt Lake City, Utah. During meetings, I often felt excluded. The most frustrating aspect was that I felt like they didn’t care about my insights.
When I would visit Charlotte, my manager noticed that I had valuable knowledge across departments but rarely shared it. She asked me why I wasn’t participating in meetings. I explained that it was because I didn’t feel included.
One of the biggest factors was the lack of training on our web conferencing technology. If there was a technical issue during meetings, there wasn’t time to stop and fix it. The meeting would continue, and I wouldn’t be able to participate.
This oversight made me feel as if my presence in meetings wasn’t valued. Yet they weren’t trying to exclude me. They invited us to provide feedback in every meeting. It was the process of how meetings were conducted that left me feeling excluded.
In response to my feedback, we scheduled time to learn how to operate the video conferencing technology. Now they make sure to ask me specifically for comments if they notice I’m not saying anything. Small changes made a big difference.
AVIDXCHANGE'S D&I PROGRAM
My colleague, Liz Costa, senior director of teammate communications, is an example of a leader who realizes how essential diversity and inclusion are to an organization. Liz helped me to understand that improving in those areas will help the organization attract and retain the best talent in addition to helping to mitigate or prevent a public-relations disaster.
In 2017, AvidXchange began the process of implementing a formal diversity and inclusion strategy. As AvidXchange’s top executives pondered ways to achieve their goals, they realized that they couldn’t overcome the challenges that the company faces, seize market share, and continue to grow without addressing diversity and inclusion.
Their thought process, as summarized by Liz, is:
- To best reach our goals, we need to build our business to deliver on a larger scale than we ever have before.
- To do this, we need the best talent in our organization. To find this talent, we need to cast a wider net.
- To attract and retain this talent, we must be inclusive of very diverse demographics. As many ethnic groups as possible must feel invited to come and welcome to stay.
AvidXchange is still in the early stages of implementing the process. Senior management members are actively scrutinizing all areas where they may be exclusionary or discriminatory, with a focus on eliminating unconscious bias. They facilitated focus groups to identify areas of improvement. Every leader was required to read Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald. And managers are being trained with the intent that everyone walks away having learned something that they can change to become a better leader.
WHERE TO START
The first step in creating a more inclusive culture is to have an open discussion with your employees. Create a safe place that encourages open dialogue. Ask your employees how you can improve as a manager. Ask what problems make their jobs more difficult. Based on the feedback, consider how you can change your own behavior and the instructions you give to your team.
Millennials and Gen Z-ers want to work for a company that looks like them and represents their values. These are the future leaders of your organization. As a Millennial myself, I can testify to the truth of this. I was drawn to AvidXchange because the company’s diversity and culture matched what I was looking for in an employer. I was welcomed by people at all levels of the organization.
Where and how is exclusion affecting your business? Are you unintentionally not embracing diversity? As a leader, it’s up to you to change the processes, policies, and assumptions that make your employees feel excluded in the decision-making process. It’s up to you to make your team feel included in the company’s direction and mission. If you’re successful in doing so, then you and your company will reap the benefits.