By Serenity Gibbons, local unit lead for NAACP in Northern CA
In my work helping other organizations improve the diversity of their teams, I've come across many companies that are doing it all wrong. They have the best intentions but don't fully understand what is needed to create a truly inclusive culture. Based on my experiences, I've learned some tactics that can help you avoid these diversity and inclusion mistakes.
Limiting Diversity to the HR Department
Diversity and inclusion are not concepts that reside solely in the HR department. Typically, I've seen organizations that give diversity lip service through job descriptions that mention a diverse workforce or general content around wanting to be inclusive in building their teams.
While these are important factors to include in recruitment, hiring and people management processes, creating a diverse and inclusive organization must originate in the culture that is defined and managed by the executive team. It's a feeling that has to permeate the entire company. As a leader, focus on the value that individuals with unique perspectives, skills and knowledge can deliver as a competitive advantage.
Using Broad Terms Rather Than Specifically Defining Diversity
Having a broad set of objectives that defines diversity in an organization leads to a non-diverse organization. It's understandable, given that you may not feel comfortable talking about the people missing from your organization and defining them by ethnicity, orientation or background. However, it's important to discuss it in those terms to address the real need to hire more women, veterans, people with physical and mental challenges and ethnically diverse individuals who have the talent and skills your organization seeks.
Assess every level of your organization to see who is represented and where. If these levels are represented by similar individuals, determine the shifts that can be made to further diversify. Consider adding remote and internship positions focused on adding talent from those groups least represented in your company.
Simplifying and Generalizing Inclusion Strategies
Many organizations start out with simple and general inclusion strategies. This is fine on some level, but the real issue occurs when they never progress from those strategies by delving deeper into what inclusion really means. It’s important to implement detailed strategies that focus on how to leverage and value differences and what those differences can do for the organization.
That means defining differences and aligning them to specific organizational growth or competitive advantage strategies. For example, say your company identifies women and veterans as its target audience demographic. Highlight that having team members who represent these groups more effectively better engages women and veterans. That way, everyone sees how having a wider spectrum of represented groups in an organization helps the company become more successful.
Not Realizing There Are Other Types of Diversity
Organizations get so caught up in diversity hiring by skin color, cultural background, gender and other standard definitions that they forget about other types of diversity, including age, experience and situation.
Consider this: Hiring employees who represent older generations, when the rest of your workforce primarily consists of millennials, means that your team will benefit from diverse life experiences. Or, hire a woman who can list mother, wife and chief financial officer of the family budget on her list of situational experiences and multiple perspectives. You are promoting diversity when you hire a talented individual who has lived and worked in multiple countries, bringing cultural experience and varied skills and knowledge.
Thinking Inclusion Is All Smiles and Invites
Generally, you should be friendly and welcoming to everyone on your team. But diversity and inclusion go beyond friendliness. Focus on other aspects of inclusion that are meaningful and can serve as extensions of the culture you are creating. Think about concepts like mutual respect, reward and recognition, social celebrations and acknowledgment of special days off that reflect heritage and social good initiatives focused on the needs of diverse groups and organizations.
Support a veterans’ association or organization that helps the homeless get jobs through donations of professional clothing and equipment. Encourage cultural exploration at work through social events and be respectful about paid days off for religious celebrations. By showing that you truly value and are making efforts toward promoting diversity and inclusion, everyone in your organizations wins.
Serenity Gibbons is the local unit lead for NAACP in Northern CA. She is a former assistant editor of the Wall Street Journal.