Organizations that  focus on building a diverse and inclusive culture are more productive, more innovative, and drive higher levels of employee engagement

LinkedIn surveyed over 8,000 hiring authorities and found that 78 percent of companies are implementing diversity initiatives to improve organizational culture, 62 percent to enhance company performance, and 49 percent to represent their customers better. 

The results speak for themselves. In the report, "Diversity Matters," McKinsey examined data from 366 public companies and found some compelling outcomes of prioritizing diversity. 

  • "Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians."
  • "Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians."
  • "In the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent."

It was clear that diverse companies performed better, but why? McKinsey went back and combed through their research on diversity and came up with the following rationale: 

  • "Diversity increases employee satisfaction and reduces conflicts between groups, improving collaboration and loyalty."

  • "Diversity fosters innovation and creativity through a greater variety of problem-solving approaches, perspectives, and ideas. Academic research has shown that diverse groups often outperform experts."

The benefits of diversity are hard to ignore, but where do you start? Taking an "affirmative action" approach won't do it. It's one thing to hire a diverse workforce (which will be hard to do if you're not already diverse), and it's something entirely different to embrace it. 

To attract diverse talent and realize its benefits, you'll need to do some work internally first. LinkedIn found the top five ways organizations are fostering diversity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging at work.  I've added my personal experience with each one. 

1. Foster an environment that respects differing opinions. 

In my experience, unless a senior leader encourages it, employees are hesitant to question the way things are done and even more afraid of offering their personal opinions. If a leader isn't self-aware, then they could unintentionally squash diversity by letting group-think and the halo effect determine which ideas are implemented.

However, if a leader builds a psychologically safe environment where employees feel comfortable voicing their thoughts, then teams will benefit from the group's diverse backgrounds and experiences--and their proposed solutions will be better for it. 

 2. Encourage people to be themselves at work.

Have you ever spent time with a colleague outside of work and realized they were entirely different? Or, even more alarming, have you noticed that you are a different person at home than at work?

Companies need to encourage employees to be authentic and leverage their individual work styles, or they'll run the risk of creating a homogenous environment that lacks diversified skill sets vital to their growth and agility.

3. Have leaders acknowledge the importance of diversity. 

If you want to tackle the issue of diversity, then you have to talk about it. Raising awareness (especially through leaders) will encourage every employee to question their decisions and hopefully, address any unconscious biases.

Leaders set the tone. Cultivating a culture that embraces diversity and emphasizes inclusion is not only an important moral issue but also a critical business imperative.

4. Embed diversity into company mission and values.

A company's mission and values shape its culture and help others understand its purpose and vision for the future. When decisions need to be made, these "beliefs" act as a guidepost for employees.

Adding diversity to the mix of values will ensure that when decision makers are absent, employees still know what's important to the organization.

5. Emphasize diversity of the leadership team.

As in all cases, it's important to "walk the talk." Saying diversity is important and actually being diverse are two different things. "Do as I say, not as a do" won't work in this situation. When employees see that their leadership team is committed to diversity, it cascades down to the rest of the organization.

Fostering an environment that emphasizes diversity and inclusion is crucial to an organization's success. These five thoughts will help your company take the first step toward creating a culture where everyone feels like they belong and can contribute.