Diversity & Inclusion

The Often Overlooked Value of Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) has been a recurring legal issue and an increasing organizational strategy for leaders that no longer can wait for HR to ‘check the box’. I’m not claiming to be a D&I expert, but I do have a unique perspective given my 12 years as an employment and civil rights lawyer who represented both companies and employees in diversity issues, as well as my last ten years spent working as a researcher and consultant in organizational culture. This has led me to the inescapable conclusion that culture, engagement, performance and D&I are inexorably intertwined .

We used to think of diversity as specific classes protected by law, i.e. race, color, religion, age, pregnancy, disability, etc. We now know that a person’s entire life experience brings diverse value to the workplace. The industries I’ve worked, the countries I’ve lived and traveled in, where I went to school, my current lifestyle… all of these things add up to the unique person I am and how I can contribute to my current organization. True diversity and inclusion takes into account all the unique aspects I bring to the team.

Too often we have fallen into the trap of hiring only those who are “just like us.” However, homogeneous groups like this often struggle when thinking about how to open up underserved markets, look at new ways to efficiently serve new customers or even make team meetings more interesting and effective.

So where to start? The first question we often run into is, “What is the value of D&I?” Other than lawsuits, there is real incentive to invest in this area. A quick look at some recent research validates this statement:

These simple studies are just scratching the surface of the benefits of D&I. So even the most intolerant, intractable executive should take notice.

Accomplishing success in this area often begins with an assessment of where you are currently. Are you consciously intolerant of those different than you? Are you unconsciously biased despite your best intent? Or have you achieved the state of D&I where you not only work toward it, you won’t work without it? This assessment must be conducted by reviewing existing data, conducting surveys and, most importantly, talking to members of groups of employees who are diverse and have differing perspectives. These conversations are crucial because you can never predict what might be important to someone when writing items for a survey.

After you figure out where you fall on the continuum of diversity and inclusion, you can begin to raise awareness, conduct training, develop and work with affinity groups and take other actions that will move you toward a time when you can no longer imagine a workforce filled with people who look and act ‘just like you’. Don’t ever stop growing, adjusting and measuring your success.