By now, we've all read the statistics proving the importance of building more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Companies with a diverse workforce make more money. Racially and ethnically diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35 percent, and 67 percent of job seekers say a diverse workforce is important when considering job offers.

The "why" in diversity and inclusion work is critical, particularly when matched with effective "how" practices to help foster more inclusive environments. But the reality is that we (and every other organization that prioritizes this work) will always be working toward even greater diversity, inclusion, and belonging. It's not a box to be checked or an initiative to be run; it's a companywide, long-term journey that requires consistency, humility, and empathy. Here's why:

We'll Always Be Learning and Growing

Diversity and inclusion is as ambiguous a topic as it is complex. Our perspective is shaped by our own personal experiences, backgrounds, and cultures, which means we have to continue to learn more as leaders, companies, and humans as to what diversity and inclusion means to those around us. Because you don't know what you don't know.

I try to learn something new in the space of diversity and inclusion every day. Recently, I read Sarah McBride's book Tomorrow Will be Different, in which she talks about the feeling of being trans as feeling like lifelong homesickness. I found that analogy so powerful, and learning it helped me better contextualize her transgender experience in both how I talk and think about it in my daily work.

Our D&I program manager, Melissa Obleada, often reminds our internal team that "all of us are inherently diverse. Take any group of people, and due to the characteristics you have, you have a kind of diversity. Because of the inherent diversity we have--our different ages, genders, educations, backgrounds, experiences--it doesn't make sense to call someone a 'diverse candidate.'" So whether you learn a new term (under-represented) or a new way of thinking about an experience by listening to someone, consider yourself a lifelong learner in this work--doing so paves the way for deeper conversations and more lasting impact.

There's Always Room to Improve

The challenge with diversity and inclusion initiatives is that oftentimes intentions aren't matched with action. People who are passionate about the issue often feel their company isn't doing enough, while people who feel disengaged from the diversity narrative feel left behind. As a result, we need to match rhetoric with action and constantly reexamine how we can communicate and connect better across teams, locations, business units, and leaders to create real, lasting impact.

Every year after we release our Diversity Data, I come in and think, what are three things we need to do differently in the next six months to be better? The best company cultures and D&I initiatives are highly iterative and feedback focused. The things that worked two years ago are not the same things that work now. If we're not constantly evolving, we're missing the point. 

Focus on Belonging

Research shows that traditional D&I initiatives have fallen short because people from under-represented backgrounds don't truly feel like they belong. Companies are talking the talk on D&I, but it isn't resonating with employees. Belonging is the third piece of the D&I trifecta. And, candidly, it may be the most important factor.

How we think about belonging is evolving. It's no longer enough to just focus on creating teams that are diverse and an environment that is inclusive. When people feel as though they belong and are heard, they're more motivated to do their best work because they can be the best version of themselves.

Diversity and inclusion isn't one size fits all. It means something vastly different across today's global markets. And we also know that D&I isn't just about how we look or whom we love -- today we know more about ability inclusion and neurodiversity than ever. And as we continue to evolve and redefine diversity and inclusion, our goal should always be on belonging. I truly believe almost any organization can improve on this front, and that we can create spaces where people belong and thrive. I'm in the early innings of my journey as a leader on this front and hope you'll join me on it.

Published on: Mar 4, 2019