12 Ways to Build a Great Culture of Diversity

Practical tips for a thriving and happy organization

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Diversity offers growing companies many advantages. Diversity means your company is in sync with the market you serve. Diversity not only generates an atmosphere that encourages far-sighted, broadly-based, open-minded creativity and innovation, it also drives bottom-line results.

A diversity of opinions and perspectives improves problem solving. It provides a steady stream of new ideas, fresh perspectives, and contrary points of view that are the lifeblood of innovation. In spite of these advantages, many companies struggle with increasing the diversity within their organizations.

Below are some practical tips for driving more diversity in your own organization excerpted from my book:

1. Define what you mean by diversity: Diversity is more than ethnic or racial background. It also includes gender, age, sexual orientation, worldviews, and life experiences.

2. Analyze the strengths and gaps within your company: Are there certain jobs, departments, or business units that are well balanced and diverse? How did they get that way? What are they doing to sustain the diversity they have?

3. Look at the communities in which you operate: How well does your workforce reflect the world in which you operate? At the same time, are you (consciously or unconsciously) restricting employees to certain roles or regions simply because of their background?

4. Closely examine your hiring processes: Many organizations rely heavily on employee referrals, and with good reason. Employee referrals often deliver great candidates who are a cultural and skill fit. But if your workforce is not diverse, employee referrals will exacerbate the situation. To expand your candidate pool, also tap into community outreach and non-profit programs as a source for candidates and encourage volunteerism at these organizations.  Get in front of university diversity groups if you do a lot of college recruiting.

5. Create opportunities: Look for ways to regularly involve talent from all levels on important projects. Cast a wide net to gather input from multiple perspectives.

6. Look at your career website with a critical eye: Do you espouse diversity with words but not with the types of people you show in employee pictures? For example, many companies fall into the trap of showing ethnic diversity but not age or gender diversity.

7. Encourage mentorships and sponsorships: Encourage employees to find mentors and sponsors to help them develop their skills and encourage your leaders to be mentors and sponsors. Get both employees and leaders thinking about talent on an ongoing basis. Mentors help employees evaluate their careers and what they need to develop. Sponsors help them make it happen.

8. Provide diversity training: Educate employees and managers on the bottom-line value of diversity—and how to support it. Consider bringing in an outside diversity expert to provide this if it is not an area of expertise in your HR team.

9. Focus on retention: Do you only retain like-minded employees? Do your diverse hires leave? Crunch the numbers. If not, find out why. Conduct exit interviews and surveys.

10. Empower employees to form affinity groups: Think of affinity groups as an internal networking process. These are safe places for employees to share common interests and support each other. Sometimes called employee or resource groups, they have been mainstays of many organizations to help recruit, develop, and retain diverse candidates. Such groups can be tapped into for recruitment outreach or employee referrals.

11. Measure your progress: Track changes in diversity in your leadership ranks. This is not only a way to measure what you are doing but also provides great data for attracting more talent to your organization.

12. Invest in the future: Millennials represent the most diverse workforce we have seen. Develop programs that support their values and needs.

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