It’s the year 2016, and diversity has finally emerged as a near-universal value in the business world. Company leaders from Alaska to Florida have discovered that to ignore diversity is to ignore untapped pools of talent and potential — and doing so leaves our workplaces woefully incomplete in the process.
But understanding why inclusion and diversity are worthy goals isn’t always that helpful in determining how to go about implementing these things into your respective business.
Let’s examine a few ways you can improve and build on your commitments to diversity and inclusion. With any luck, you’ll come away with something actionable that you can’t wait to implement.
Take a Diversity & Inclusion Assessment
As you may know, the passage of the Dodd-Frank regulation in 2010 was a watershed moment for race relations in the United States. Inspired by the catastrophic financial crisis of 2008, Dodd-Frank set out to ensure that future crises did not disproportionately affect African American communities and other minorities, as the events of 2008 definitely did. Barney Frank and Chris Dodd included Section 342 in the Act, the ultimate goal of which was to create an environment of transparency and awareness of the many ways that race and diversity policies play a role in the economy.
An effective first step toward improving your company’s diversity practices is to take an inclusion self-assessment. While Dodd-Frank targeted financial institutions, the standards and practices prescribed by this law can easily apply to a variety of other companies and industries who want to round out their workforce.
Seek Out New Pools of Talent
While legal framework and diversity guidelines play an important role in elevating the public’s understanding of inclusion and diversity, there’s something much more fundamental that you can do as a business leader to make sure you’re finding a diverse array of talent: Seek out employees in new places.
Although race is probably the first thing you think of when the word “diversity” comes up, it should be clear by now that skin color is only one type of diversity. There’s also “diversity of thought,” which might actually be more important than the more superficial varieties.
As an example, consider the difficulty that returning servicemen and women often face after their tours of duty are over. There’s a reason why “Hire A Veteran” is a popular refrain among business leaders and advocacy groups — veterans have a wealth of experiences, new perspectives, and world-class discipline. And sometimes they simply need a helping hand to re-assimilate into civilian life and find a worthwhile career path.
Another example, though perhaps a more controversial one, is to consider hiring people with a criminal record. It’s nothing short of tragic that even reformed non-violent criminals are required to disclose their pasts in full to potential employers — an act that often prevents them from landing the jobs they need to continue their path toward redemption. If someone has already paid their debt to society and is now actively looking for ways to improve their station in life, job creators have a responsibility to give these people a chance — and they’ll likely enhance their company’s diversity and breadth of perspectives in the process.
Make Your Brand Synonymous With Diversity
All of the best companies lead by example — and that’s why it’s important to demonstrate why, and how, your business is committed to diversity.
Inclusion tends to be something of a self-fulfilling prophesy: Becoming more diverse causes your business to, well, become more diverse. In other words, if you make a point of lending your voice to the ongoing nationwide conversation about diversity, you’ll find yourself inevitably courting new and diverse talent from America’s untapped communities of aspiring professionals.
We’re not talking about tokenism. This isn’t about shoving your minority employees to the front of every company photograph. It’s about becoming active in the community and lending your voice to pro-diversity programs.
Consider, for example, making scholarships or internships available for people who come from disproportionately under-represented groups. This is a great way to elevate your brand and introduce new opportunities for people in need of advocacy.
Although it might smack of self-promotion, don’t forget to be proud of your company’s accomplishments in the realm of diversity. Be sure to display any awards or accolades you’ve received. Be both proud and public about any partnerships you’ve built with minority advocacy groups in your area. You can search through the NHS’s directory of national minority organizations to see what’s happening in your community and learn how you can help.
Think About How You Appraise Employees
Even the most aggressively diverse business might have a problem with “cascading bias” — which is much less likely to receive attention, or to be remedied overnight.
Cascading bias is simply a set of assumptions made about what a “typical” employee looks like, and which values, personalities, and other attributes are most likely to cause an employee to ascend through the ranks. In other words, the very culture of the modern company may have inadvertently built itself upon certain stereotypes.
An abundance of research appears to demonstrate that companies often use already successful employees as the basis for deciding what success looks like in the workplace. This is best demonstrated with an example: No matter how well your business does at recruiting and empowering women in the workplace, mothers of small children are always going to have unique challenges and responsibilities beyond their day jobs. Women are less likely to work overtime than men, and that’s a problem as long as “working overtime” is held up as the gold standard of employee excellence. Single men are, by default, favored over working mothers simply as a matter of course. This is cascading bias, and it’s an easy thing to overlook.
To fix this, take a hard look at what a “successful employee” really looks like. You might be surprised to discover some of the sources of bias.
In the end, committing to diversity requires us to come to terms with both the conscious and unconscious mind. Building workplace communities that accurately depict America as a melting pot is a tough job, and it requires us to face more than the obvious sources of bias — the ones most likely be addressed by new legislation. We also need to recognize the less obvious ones, such as cultural bias.
It’s probably fair to say that we’re closer than ever to living in a world where inclusion happens on its own. Hopefully someday it will come easier — and that’s a future worth believing in.