Building a diverse workforce is a priority for most small businesses.
Yet diversity without inclusion--without treating every employee respectfully and fairly, without ensuring everyone can contribute equally to the organization's success, and without ensuring equal access to opportunities and resources--only goes so far.
That's why building a genuine culture of inclusion requires more than hiring a Director of Diversity and Inclusion and weaving "diversity" and "inclusion" into your mission statement and culture deck.
The key is to create easy ways for every employee to network, to communicate, to ask for help...and most importantly, to enjoy the same access to resources, mentors, and other employees and leaders.
One tool that has gained significant traction in helping underrepresented employee communities connect with the wider organizational group is Givitas, the Web-based, SaaS platform launched by Adam Grant and Cheryl and Wayne Baker.
The premise behind Givitas is simple: Make it easy for people to ask for and provide help in less than five minutes a day.
Most people like to help others, but doing so can often be surprisingly hard. Maybe no one thinks to ask you. Maybe your organization's culture discourages asking for help. Maybe you feel uncomfortable asking for help...and as a result, other people feel uncomfortable asking you for help.
Plus, research shows certain groups of individuals naturally hesitate to ask for help.
"Data shows first-generation college students are less likely to ask for help in the college environment," Givitas CEO Larry Freed says. "They haven't had that experience. And for many people, asking for help feels like a sign of weakness. So if you create an environment in universities and organizations and companies where it's easier--or, better yet, normal and even expected--to ask for help...you automatically create a more inclusive environment."
Access to help is even more important as workforces become increasingly distributed and remote. But access to help only partly solves the inclusion problem. Access to people can matter even more.
Larger companies have used the Givitas platform to created employee resource groups made up of certain genders or ethnicities. (My group might be "older guys with bad haircuts and country-boy accents.") Such groups are certainly valuable in letting members communicate, collaborate, and support each other.
A better solution is to create one platform for all employee resource groups.
"If you step back and look at the real causes of the problem," Freed says, "one is that general-purpose messaging platforms don't solve the equal access problem: There's private messaging, private teams, private channels, etc. But when you put all the employee resource groups into one community, one based on asking for and providing help, then it's a natural way for everyone have access to the whole organization."
Which, where inclusion is concerned, is the point. An "open door policy" sounds great in theory, but if I don't feel comfortable stepping through your open door, that door might as well be closed.
But when I'm expected to step through your open door, and expect you to step through mine...then the door truly is open.
The same is true for access. Create a platform, whether through Givitas or another tool or process, where asking for advice or help or guidance and providing that help in return is not just possible but expected. Do that, and people will naturally feel more included.
And more a part of the larger team.
Because when I can help you, and you can help me...that's when we start to feel like we're all in it together.
Which sounds like a pretty good definition of inclusion to me.