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Is Diversity and Inclusion Culture Coming Up Short?

Is Diversity and Inclusion Culture Coming Up Short?

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Diversity and inclusion has been, and continues to be, a hot topic. Businesses are strategically spending millions of dollars to design more diverse and inclusive workplaces, but are their efforts to improve diversity and inclusion really working?

Our Need for Inclusion

Each of us as human beings has a primitive and fundamental need: to feel included. What’s often overlooked in the organizational conversation of diversity and inclusion is, actually, inclusion itself.

Diversity and inclusion as a topic is so often lumped together, most people forget how to differentiate the two. If you’re not completely certain you know how to distinguish them, Verna Myers, a noted diversity advocate, shares how she thinks about it with the Harvard Business Review: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, skin color, or faith, we all want to belong. Think back to your early days in elementary school. Can you remember that joy of being a part of your tight knit group of friends? And, on the other hand, can you recall that pang of being excluded from the school’s most popular clique?

While many organizations are striving to address their diversity component, the topic of inclusion is often completely left out.

For example, Paradigm for Parity and CEO Action have a platform for businesses and organizations to broadcast their diversity goals and make their initiatives public. You may hear bold and confident predictions from institutions like, “We’ll be 50/50 by the year 2020.” But what about inclusion?

Where is inclusion in this discussion, and how does inclusion factor into the equation?

Finding My Seat at the Table

For many years, I worked for several high-profile brands within the golf industry. At the time—and it should not be news to you—the business leaders within the golf industry looked a lot like the people who played the game: white and male.

One major drawback with the diversity and inclusion movement in corporate America has to do with that feeling of being a number or the dreaded token.

As a minority and a woman of color, I was more often than not the only woman sitting around those boardroom tables. There were times I found myself wondering, “Am I really valued for my contributions? Or, am I just a number, a gender, or an ethnicity that checked a box for someone in their HR department?”

Of course, I desperately wanted to feel like I was part of the team, but I wanted to feel included. Despite looking different from my peers and co-workers, I wanted to know I mattered.

Looking back now, I know I was there for a reason. I brought an incredibly different perspective to the table and, during that time, the golf industry was actively searching for ways to expand its consumer base. It wanted more women, more minorities, and more diversity in general out on the golf course. My individuality, my suggestions, and my strategies helped the industry expand. My perspective, based on who I am, helped the industry find its way forward.

Those brands that gave me a seat at the table needed someone like me. They weren’t misguided by ill-intent; they simply didn’t have any first-hand experience on how to really include someone who was different than them.

Wired to Belong from the Beginning

Working to be seen is just as much a part of our DNA as a mechanism for survival, and you feel the pull of inclusion once you’ve been recognized for who you are.

Pat Wadors, Senior Vice President of Global Talent Organization at LinkedIn, shares her research in the Harvard Business Review. She writes, “Our brains are hardwired to motivate us toward connection and belonging—it’s how we survive and thrive.”

In fact, findings show that a strong sense of belonging for employees within a workplace can be an even more powerful motivator than money.

The Reality of the Emotional Tax

When I learned about the concept of “emotional tax” through Catalyst’s research, the idea resonated quite clearly with me. During my career, I’ve experienced this tax too many times to count. At work. Sitting around the boardroom table. Even when I’ve spoken up.

People who don’t fit the traditional workplace norms are “taxed” in ways others are not. This emotional tax is automatically added on because we’re different. We look different. We might sound different. And, we look out at the world from a different perspective.

If we’re wired with a desire to fit in, but we can’t find our place at work, it’s utterly…taxing.

The second half of “emotional tax” is that you’re always on guard. When you’re different, you’re looking out for ways to protect yourself—either consciously or unconsciously—against bias.

After hours of sitting around the conference room table, after being interrupted time and time again, or having your original idea belittled only to have it celebrated when it’s pitched by a male counterpart, you can see how emotionally draining a workplace might feel. This goes onto affect a person’s well-being, even after the work day is over. It’s a tax underrepresented populations feel every single day.

However, when there’s a wider, more encompassing and wholehearted sense of inclusion, you can see how this becomes a competitive advantage for a company. When employees feel included, they’ll speak up! When co-workers feel encouraged, they’re more likely to share their best ideas. When there’s a sense of camaraderie and inclusiveness, people want to come to work. Imagine that!

So how do we address these issues? Is there a way to increase that innate sense of belonging for everyone instead of a select few?

We’ve found these four organizational strategies are powerful ways to expand the inclusive culture at your work:

1.) Develop a mentoring program. If mentors are required to introduce their mentees to their counterparts and mentees are expected to ask questions and share their feedback, a new conversation unfolds. Deeper bonds are created. Employees can “dig in” with each other, especially when there’s that growing sense of familiarity. It’s no longer about “the new hire,” it’s about finding ways to create that sense of belonging with every member of the team. Mentoring can also grow naturally when you connect people who may not otherwise meet each other via knowledge sharing and collaboration.

2.) Involve everyone at meetings. We recommend, when possible, leaders fostering a culture of inclusiveness by expanding the number of staff members who get invited to meetings. Again, think back to grade school. Just being invited to an event can change somebody’s outlook.

Also, we recommend taking proactive measures to get everybody involved during meetings. This may seem like common sense, but I assure you these small shifts, like wondering about someone’s opinion on any given subject, asking follow up questions, and thanking them for their time and participation, have a profound impact.

3.) Pay attention. This one goes for everyone in your organization. In today’s device-driven business culture, it’s easy for even top leaders to be distracted. We recommend people put their devices away during meetings so they can be present for even the most informal of conversations.

4.) Create a culture of stories. Storytelling has become an incredibly significant element in business – from branding to building stronger business culture. We recommend leaders carve out time for employees to share their own stories.

At the beginning of a meeting or a team lunch, encourage team members to share stories. It can be personal in nature, something from their childhood, or a work experience. By listening to these stories, the team gets to know their co-workers on another level. Seeing just what makes someone tick offers greater insight into who they are as a person, and sharing stories is a powerful mode of inclusion.

5) Give everyone equal access to the collective intelligence and knowledge of leaders and peers using technology. Often people in minority groups are unintentionally excluded from informal “in” groups, even when it’s by accident. Using a platform like Givitas that can connect people who might not otherwise have access to one another is a good way to level the playing field.

Amidst the rising hype of diversity and inclusion, the aspect of ensuring inclusion is included is more important now than ever before. Business gets better when we include one another. How will you begin to incorporate inclusion strategies into your daily roles at work?