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diversity and inclusion

Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Should be the New Normal

from  September 3, 2021 | 5 min read

If 2020 showed us anything, it’s that diversity, inclusion, and belonging matter — and if we don’t attend to them, our workforce as well our business goals will suffer. But attending to them isn’t going to be about practical actions, not words. And it’s going to involve the whole organization, starting with leadership. 

The good news is that leadership, managers and employees are recognizing the value of a DIB-focused workplace for everyone. Diversity, inclusion, and belonging is anything but a niche issue — it has a universal impact that benefits a whole range of people. Forward-thinking organizations are going to have to be on board with DIB as a new core value, or they may lose their competitive position. 

The writing’s on the wall. Take a look at these 5 best practices for achieving DIB in the workplace — and the trends placing them at the forefront of how we shape our workplaces going forward:

Address Practical Challenges Holistically

The pandemic exposed some glaring inequities in our workforce that hampered productivity and performance, hammered away at engagement, and, in some cases, gutted retention rates. We saw undue burdens placed on certain segments of the population, such as people of color in high-stress service jobs, and parents forced to juggle working from home with managing school age children’s needs. We saw how limited access to bandwidth, hardware and software made it harder for some in traditionally disadvantaged  — or accessibility challenged — populations to get their work done. We also saw the impact on managers, who did all they could to support their teams through tough circumstances. 

As we learned, we’re only as good as our weakest links. And we can strengthen those weak points with practical solutions, but those solutions need to be more than band-aids. They need to be strategic, cultural and programmatic shifts — and they will pay off for the whole workforce.

Lead with Purpose

Leadership is getting in line. A recent survey of C-suite business executives at $500+ million companies executives found that corporate responsibility isn’t just a nice idea. 83% saw business as playing a critical role in solving today’s pressing issues, including racial injustice, COVID-19 and economic resurgence.  73% believed that companies should take a stand on social justice. 

Top issues leaders believed they should be addressing have a direct connection to business and operations: sexual harassment (97%); racial equality (93%), women’s rights (89%) and LGBTQ_ rights (78%) were in the top 10. It’s always a best practice to make sure leadership is on board for HR-driven workplace initiatives. All indications point to leadership’s being ready to buy into DIB strategies, so this is the time to do it.

Attend to Access and Participation

The Disability Equality Index looks at how companies are bringing people with disabilities into the workplace to drive inclusion and equality. The 2021 study found some encouraging trends, including a 29% increase in companies participating in the Index (from 247 in 2020 to 319 in 2021). Of these, 67 were Fortune 500 companies in 2021, an increase from 2020’s 59. Among the industries doing the most to increase disability equality are technology and finance — both sectors that need highly skilled talent to grow. 

Improvements are clearly happening, but there’s still a gap in terms of access and participation — and without those vital elements, DIB can’t fully succeed. For instance: while 83% of companies have external recruiting efforts geared specifically to people with disabilities, only 10% have a senior executive who identifies as a person with a disability.  And while 82% of DEI businesses are committed to ensuring individuals with disabilities can access digital content, only 59% have a requirement to ensure digital products are accessible and usable to employees with disabilities. Companies that are serious about DIB in any form need to ensure that there’s representation in leadership, and access. That’s just putting your ROI where your values are.

Push the Advantages of Responsibility

The Disability Index also found that 99% of executives polled believe that responsible business — including focusing on diversity and inclusion — has key workplace and business advantages. Among the top eight advantages cited are employee recruitment and retention (95%), increased consumer trust (93%) and customer loyalty (93%), likelihood to recommend (92%) and differentiation from peers and competitors (88%). 

We’ve come a long way from the argument that diversity and inclusion provide an ethical benefit. There are proven business benefits as well — key factors in today’s highly competitive marketplace. And we know that every initiative needs full buy-in or it won’t succeed. Use the business care to strengthen the value of any DIB initiative in your organization. Being more competitive and providing a better work culture is a win-win.

Go for Authentic Inclusivity and Gender Diversity

Deloitte’s Women at Work report this year polled 5,000 women across the globe to find out the impact of the pandemic and workplace changes was having on their lives. Almost 80% said their workload had increased as a result of the pandemic; 66% faced increasing responsibilities at home, including handling the bulk of childcare duties, and many cited stress, burnout, and poorer physical health. The byproduct of all this: a female brain-drain, with startling drops in engagement, productivity and job satisfaction. 

If we’re really talking about inclusivity, gender diversity has to be a core part of the conversation — especially right now. And solving challenges in practical ways has to be part of our workplace policies going forward. That means offering more flexibility, time-off, development and mental health resources — not just for the sake of keeping up with the times, but because that will help your workforce thrive.

Belonging has been called the natural evolution of our thinking around diversity and inclusion. But it’s more than that. It’s the tangible experience of being in an inclusive and diverse workplace that welcomes differences; that values a range of insights and perspectives; that wants to hear from everyone. Giving everyone a seat at the table — another concept often used to describe an inclusive workplace — isn’t enough. They need to be able to share their stories and know their voices will be heard equally. That’s what it means to be authentically inclusive.

What that looks like is going to differ depending on the kind of workplace and the workforce. But it starts with laying the groundwork to create a culture of true acceptance and empathy. It depends on promoting psychological safety so people can be heard, and then actually inviting them to speak up. I predict we’ll be seeing a lot more of this in the near future — until compassion is the new normal. I’m looking forward to it.