Embracing Workplace Diversity

Of all the challenges an HR department runs into, diversity tops the list as one of the most discussed and most well-researched…and one of the most misunderstood and anxiety-provoking.

Turn on the news or scroll through social media. You will see the diversity of our country in heated disagreements and trolling strangers with cruel comments. So, what does it mean to work toward workplace diversity and inclusion when the world is so unsettled?

Let’s start with a simple definition: Workplace diversity is the inclusion of different people in the workplace, and all that entails (diversity on teams, diversity of leadership, diversity of voices making decisions, etc.).

What kinds of people need to be considered when organizations are thinking about diversity? My experience talking to other CEOs and corporate leaders has been that discussions of diversity almost always revolve around women and people of color. There is much more to consider. For example, think about what it would mean for a company to be diverse with regard to:

  • Generations (Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, Gen Z)
  • Backgrounds and cultures of origin
  • Sexual orientations (LGBTQ+)
  • Personality types (such as DISC types, or introvert/extrovert/ambivert)
  • Socio-economic backgrounds
  • Styles of learning (visual learners, auditory learners, etc.)

That’s a lot of differences to consider, but organizations would do well to consider them. The research is pretty clear that there are objective and measurable benefits to having a diverse and inclusive workforce.

So Workplace Diversity Has Benefits—Now What?

Proving that there are benefits is just the first step toward realizing those benefits. Now comes the real challenge: Bringing all these diverse people together, managing them, and empowering them in a truly inclusive environment.

To help organizations do just that, we recently released a whitepaper entitled “Preparing Organizations for the New Age of Diversity.” It is meant to be a crash course in the basics of diversity: What it is (and isn't), why it is needed, and how to begin meeting this key challenge.

We saw the need for a guide like this when talking to HR professionals about diversity training. Most of them understand that promoting workplace diversity is a good thing, but many have questions about the most effective ways to bring inclusion to their organizations in a deeper, more meaningful way. Some organizations never think of diversity beyond the hiring process. Some do, but only to provide harassment training for compliance reasons. Still others are interested in topics like leading diverse teams but do not know where to find the most up-to-date content.

It’s my hope that this whitepaper fills those knowledge gaps, giving organizations a handy starter guide for thinking about their diversity initiatives. Here’s a taste of some of the recommendations we offer:

Work Towards a Diverse Workplace with Mutual Respect

While diversity feeds innovation and creative problem solving, it can also create differences and misunderstandings among employees. Getting teams to be their best requires fostering mutual respect and understanding. For example:

  • People with different communication styles will, naturally, communicate priorities differently, which can cause a mismatch in setting goals and managing workflows. Find ways to standardize how priorities are communicated.
  • People from different ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds might have different assumptions when it comes to workplace policies and expectations. Make sure policies and expectations are stated explicitly and make this part of your onboarding process.
  • Employees might come to the table with preconceived notions about various ethnicities, genders, or sexual orientations. While you want everyone to be heard and respected, you also might need to change their minds so that they can work better with their co-workers. Train employees about workplace respect, and have your leadership set a good example in this regard, too.

Get Perspectives from Your Employees

Your existing employees are a wealth of information when it comes to inclusion. Perhaps some have felt uncomfortable as a minority, or uncomfortable with a minority. Perhaps there has been friction in your organization that has not been brought to the attention of leadership. Perhaps you already have allies in your organization sympathetic to the idea of a more diverse workplace, but who weren’t sure how to proceed outside of the occasional social media post.

Start conversations with your employees first, and be sure that the goal of these conversations is to listen. You’ll be amazed what kinds of insights you will get, and they will point you toward where you need to start.

Start Building a Shared Language

Even today, conversations about diversity can make people nervous. Not only are they being asked to understand and include people they might not know well (or even have some bias against), but they may be put off by perceived “political correctness,” or preconceived ideas about what diversity entails.

Go slow, define key terms, and start building a new way of talking about these issues. Finding a shared language helps cut through those preconceived notions and equips both managers and employees to engage each other thoughtfully and respectfully.

A good place to start in building this shared language is with your company’s own core values. For example, here at ej4, we have a poster in our lobby with our core values. It includes things like “Respect for the individual,” “Trust one another,” and “Honest communication.” My team and I try hard to incorporate these values in all we do. By talking and thinking about our interactions in terms of our values, we make it easier to “be on the same page” when it comes to diverse teams.

Help Train Leaders Who Can Lead Diverse Teams

Do your leaders understand and foster workplace empathy? Do they understand how biases work, and are they expected to gain awareness of their own bias? Do they take the time to understand the diversity on their teams? Are they taking training on topics such as active listening, non-verbal social cues, and conflict management?

There are a lot of things organizations can do to create leaders who both understand diversity and work toward inclusion.

Work to Increase Employees' "Diversity IQ"

Inclusive behaviors don’t come naturally to everyone. In fact, it is rare that an individual will display all of them without being taught. Therefore, all employees should be taught about these behaviors and asked to practice them regularly.

This can be done through the right kinds of employee training. Here at ej4, we talk about a person’s “Diversity IQ” as a way of recognizing that different people are in different places when it comes to navigating workplace diversity.

Next Steps

Though it certainly is not the last word on the topic, we hope that this whitepaper will help your organization begin to think of diversity in a new way and take those first few critical steps toward it.

When you’re ready to include more diversity training into your employee training program, we’d be happy to answer your questions and help you find the content you need. Our off-the-shelf content library has a number of courses covering diversity, bias, and leadership and communication skills, allowing you to build a tailored course of study to increase your workplace’s overall Diversity IQ.

Additional Reading

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