Diversity is about building a stronger, more competitive organization. The workplace, like the nation and wider world, is made up of men and women of diverse racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, with varied lifestyles and approaches to life. Instead of trying to make everyone fit one mold, diversity acknowledges people’s differences and works with those differences to create a fairer and more productive workplace.
The notion of diversity integrates awareness of, and respect for, differences into the way people communicate and interact. It also makes your organization more responsive to the continually changing demands of the global marketplace by drawing on the cultures, talents, and ideas of a broader group of people
As leaders, our words and actions have a great impact on workplace diversity. A diverse workplace is a reflection of our changing world. The organizations that best manage diversity and teach employees how they can help create and support a fair and diverse workplace are going to be the winners in the 21st century. The following are several steps, outlined by diversity and inclusion experts Paolo Guadiano and Ellen Hunt, to integrate into your workplace that will drive inclusion, while boosting morale and increasing performance.
1. Give your time and attention to colleagues who want to support diversity.
One of the most frequent complaints we hear is from employees who feel that their ideas and initiatives about diversity and inclusion are not supported by their company’s leadership. If someone in your organization is making the effort to spearhead a diversity and inclusion initiative, no matter how small, take the time to listen and participate.
2. Balance the time you spend supporting others.
Whether it’s an impromptu discussion about a project, a performance review, or a mentoring session, check to see if you are inadvertently dedicating more of your time to specific groups of people, especially those who feel comfortable asking for your help. If so, make sure you offer help to those who may be reluctant to ask.
3. Spread responsibilities evenly across your organization.
As with the previous point, it is easy to fall into the trap of assigning more responsibilities and giving more visibility to those who are comfortable asking for it. Those who don’t feel they belong may be less likely to ask to do something, but equally likely to get it done if given the chance. Check that you are not inadvertently supporting this form of self-perpetuating bias.
4. Listen to all complaints about bias or discrimination.
If someone voices a complaint about bias or discrimination, be open-minded, listen carefully, and let them know that you care. And then make sure you follow up and take action as appropriate. Even if you think that someone is being hypersensitive, do not underestimate the courage that it takes to bring up an uncomfortable issue with a superior.
5. Take a stand against inappropriate behavior.
Even without someone voicing a complaint, if you witness someone say or do something inappropriate, don’t let it slide. Everyone in a room may laugh at a sexist joke, but that does not make it appropriate workplace behavior, and ignoring it can send the wrong signal. The slight awkwardness of dealing with it promptly will be more than made up by the improvement in workplace atmosphere.
6. Look for diversity beyond skin color and gender.
Just because someone’s skin color is different from yours, it doesn’t mean that the person is particularly different from you. And conversely, someone who looks exactly like you may feel different from everyone else because of economic status, gender identity, political inclination, religious beliefs or many other characteristics that are not visible.
7. Foster open, candid conversations with and among your colleagues.
One of the keys to embracing diversity is to understand that it can lead to some awkward moments. Although certain conversations need to be handled professionally, being open and inquisitive is a good thing, as long as it’s done in a candid and respectful manner.
8. Assume that you will need to educate the majority.
If you just hired your first team member from an underrepresented minority, chances are that he or she is quite used to being surrounded by people who look different. It’s the members of the majority that need help understanding how to make their new colleague feel welcome.
9. Educate yourself about unconscious biases.
Some biases are called “unconscious” because we don’t even realize we have them. Learn about unconscious biases, take an online test that can help you spot your own weak points, and be aware of the potential pitfalls – for yourself and for those around you. It’s a leader’s role to be aware of these biases and to know how to deal with them.
10. When unsure ask for help.
Whether or not you have received formal diversity training, you will encounter some difficult situations that you are not prepared to handle. Don’t be afraid to look for help! Look for internal company resources or consider bringing in outside help.