For example, at the height of the #MeToo movement--just as senior executives at companies like Uber and Google came under fire for their role in creating cultures of misogyny and condoning sexual misconduct--other companies responded with words of support for the fair and equitable treatment of women in the workplace. And after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the resulting protests for justice led hundreds more companies to release public promises to promote racial justice and foster a more inclusive workplace.
Actions, not words, can signal an organization's commitment to diversity and inclusion. For instance, in one study, the presence of a diversity pledge boosted an organization's image when its board consisted of both men and women--but when its board consisted of only men, the presence of a diversity pledge harmed an organization's image. People view a diversity pledge (words) as dishonest when it is accompanied by inconsistent actions (such as an all-male board), resulting in a worse organizational image.
Given the ease with which organizations can misrepresent diversity pledges, research suggests that organizations should show rather than tell others about their commitment to diversity.
Dating app Bumble's new leave policy demonstrates that the company and its leaders truly care about diversity and inclusion. As part of Bumble's $1 million commitment to fight anti-Black racism, Bumble made the following changes to its employee leave policy:
Two weeks off per year for all employees (offices are closed) in addition to unlimited paid time off
20 days paid time off for victims of domestic violence
15 days paid time off for grief (e.g., miscarriage, family death)
6 months of paid time off for the birth, adoption, or surrogacy of a child (maternity and paternity leave)
It's important to note that likely not all employees will use every benefit. Hopefully, employees will not need to take the option of taking time off for domestic violence or grief. Some employees will also opt not to have children while working at Bumble.
But what's crucial, from a behavioral science standpoint, is that these options exist. Bumble is willing to put its money where its mouth is to support women and people of color, who tend to bear the brunt of domestic violence, the physical consequences of miscarriage, and pressure to focus on family rather than work obligations.
To Bumble employees, these policies serve as hard evidence that Bumble is committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion--even if the policies are not used by most employees. These policies may not only promote feelings of belonging and inclusion among existing employees, but also attract employees from diverse backgrounds to apply to work at Bumble, resulting in a more inclusive organization.
As an organizational leader, think twice about making a diversity pledge unless you intend to back it up with action. Here are just three things you can do to follow in the footsteps of Bumble and turn your pledges into purposeful actions by showing others what's important to you.
Show it's more than just the money.
First, make it known that leadership decisions are not exclusively based on maximizing profitability. Show your people that you care about them by investing money in their well-being, both within the workplace and outside of it.
Show that it's honest, from beginning to end.
Second, make it an "honest signal." Be sure that whatever policy you choose to implement comes with good intentions from beginning to end. A good result on its own isn't enough. A behavior that has a positive outcome but is perceived as disingenuous is likely to backfire. Publicize cues of honesty and transparency from the outset.
Show that you've thought long and hard about it.
Third, demonstrate that the leadership team took pains to arrive at a final decision or set of decisions. As people, we like to know that a big decision was arrived at through a series of trade-offs and careful deliberation. Don't be shy to let your people know that the change was a difficult decision--but that it was ultimately the right one.