Diversity issues are top of mind these days: in communities at large and in the workplace.

And while today’s workplace is certainly more diverse than it was decades ago, many wonder whether the diversity needle is moving as fast as it could?

“Has there been any progress? Legislatively, yes, of course,” says Michelle Diaz, PHRca, SPHR, Director of Human Resources for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. She notes that there are now more HR practices aimed at increasing acceptance and sensitivity of protected classes in the workplace.

“That being said, there is still a gender gap in pay. There are still organizations that base hiring criteria on physical characteristics, though they may not readily admit to it.”

So how can HR leaders be the facilitators of even greater change, to help organizations embrace diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Point to the bottom line.

The connection between greater organizational diversity and financial health has been clear for some time.

A 2016 study of nearly 3,400 companies by Credit Suisse Research Institute found that firms with women in leadership roles have better financial results than those that are male-dominated.

“Diversity within the workplace contributes to a more skilled workforce and a lower rate of employee turnover,” says Natasha Bowman, JD, SPHR, Founder & CEO of Performance ReNEW, a professional training and coaching firm. 

Reminding the C-Suite of the financial benefits of diversity and inclusion will go a long way.

Broaden the diversity “box.” 

The concept of “diversity” is often stuffed into the proverbial box. It’s relatively easy to zero in on gender, race and ethnicity as diversity issues. But what about looking beyond? 

“We need to think big picture, like point of view,” says Chris Mullen, SPHR, Director of Human Resources at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who emphasizes that companies need to be thinking about “hiring employees who champion diversity and inclusion, and understanding [overt] bias and unconscious bias.”

Similarly, workplace diversity needs to keep pace with and take into account the new broader definition of “family.”

Says Diaz, “I’m a single mother and there are quite a few single parents where I work. I feel like being a single parent falls within the ‘diversity’ category, but not in the traditional sense. The unique challenges a single parent may face aren’t usually taken into consideration.” 

Steer clear of generalizations.

It’s a trap we all fall into from time to time: making sweeping assumptions about generational characteristics or having pre-determined expectations of people from a specific culture or part of the world. 

"And by focusing on just one or two identity markers", says Bowman,"we simply shift the boundaries of workplace conformity."

Michele Koch, SPHR, Chief Culture and People Development Officer at Republic Bank & Trust, suggests HR pros get to know employees at the individual level, not through broad labels.

“In the end, we are more alike than we are different, and we all want to be growing and contributing in a meaningful way.”

Communicate intentionally and empathetically.

With more than 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, communication is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to workplace collaboration and harmony - both literally, via language barriers, as well as through assumptions made about employee groups.

Taking the time to empathize and put one’s self in another’s shoes goes a long way.

“Organizations need to be intentional about their diversity and inclusion initiatives,” Mullen says. “Even if they have a diverse workplace, they need to spend time on making the mix work.”

Mullen quotes from Korn/Ferry’s Andrés Tapia: “Diversity is the mix, and inclusion is making the mix work.”

HRCI-certified HR pros can help their companies keep pace with today’s fast-changing world by making sure they continue to expand their diversity initiatives along with their headcount. Their organization’s bottom lines will thank them for it.