What is diversity without inclusion?
Liberty Martin is the US correspondent and columnist for DiversityQ. She is also a student at Columbia University and has written and produced podcasts for the Financial Times.
Everybody wants to belong. It would be a shame to create a stellar, diverse team only for them to feel like they don’t belong, stagnating progress and possibly losing team members. This is why inclusion goes hand in hand with creating diverse teams that will thrive.
Why inclusion is key for diverse teams.
Without genuine inclusion, team members from diverse backgrounds can feel like they are being used as a diversity ploy by their employers – better yet known as “tokenism”, which is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as:
Tokenism – the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly
Merriam Webster Dictionary
If your company has tokenism instead of inclusion, diversity then becomes an empty selling point, with no worth below the surface.
Diverse team members will know quickly whether they are tokens instead of included, such as occupying leadership positions with little to no power or having a lack of access to important facilities such as nursing rooms. Deloitte Insights’ recent Diversity and Inclusion study reported,
The danger in tokenism is that it masks inactivity. On paper, it looks as though companies are making progress. When 20% of the board is female or 15% of leadership is Hispanic, the numbers are motivational. But the telltale sign of success is what these hires contribute. Are they making presentations? Are they introducing big ideas in important meetings? Are they spearheading major company initiatives? Do they truly have a seat at the table or are they just there as figureheads for “diversity”?
What are the consequences of no inclusion?
As Ekaterina Walter said in Forbes magazine:
If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.
Ekaterina Walter, Forbes
Diverse talent who are not supported by an active inclusion effort will no longer feel welcomed or listened to, making them less likely to feel comfortable enough to share ideas and innovate. They can become frustrated and disengaged with their work environment.
Inclusion equals retention.
Would you stay in a workplace where you don’t feel like you belong? Diverse talent that doesn’t feel included are very likely to eventually leave, taking their fresh, beneficial ideas, perspectives and skill-sets with them.
Inclusion is key to retaining diverse talent. Cornell University found that inclusive leadership can “significantly reduce the high turnover costs seen in diverse work groups.” Deloitte Insights wrote that a “company that fails to create a diverse and inclusive workplace risks alienating or excluding key employees.”
Therefore, as well as developing a diversity strategy, you should also think of a long-term plan for an inclusive environment to enable your team to flourish. Otherwise, you may lose team members who have great value and potential to a rival company where they feel more included.
So how do you plan for inclusion?
Luckily, some methods of inclusion can be tangible, such as:
- Having a designated nursing room so mothers can comfortably express breastmilk
- Including non-alcoholic beverages at company events for those who don’t drink alcohol for personal or religious reasons
- Acknowledging the cultural and religious practices that are reflected among your team members
- Gender neutral bathrooms for transgender and non-binary employees. Creating wall-to-ceiling partitions are effective
These practical changes make people from minority backgrounds feel acknowledged and welcomed. Simple things that may slip your mind can make a big impact, so it is very important to:
- Ask! Ask your employees about how you can improve inclusion. Sometimes just the act of asking (coupled with action) can make people feel more included and acknowledged
Thorough inclusion also requires a shift in company culture and practices.
Here are some suggestions from Catharine Mattice Zundel, LinkedIn Learning instructor and diversity consultant:
- Form Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), voluntary, employee-led groups that work with HR and recommend policies that develop inclusive workplaces
- Invest in diversity training, which can limit unconscious bias that can reduce cohesion in the workplace
- Instil a strong open door policy, where employees feel comfortable to discuss issues and challenges with their employers, who actively listen
- Evaluate and strengthen conflict resolution processes, so when issues do arise the company is equipped to deal with them effectively
Inclusion strategist Verna Myers put it perfectly when she said:
Focus on an inclusive work environment to retain valuable talent, avoid useless and alienating tokenism, and foster a productive and collaborative team.