Don’t just check the box: How to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce

Diversity is more than just a buzzword, it’s a key asset for a successful business.

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Diversity is more than just a buzzword, it’s a key asset for a successful business. Studies show companies with diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenues, and C-Suites with more women translate to a 15 percent increase in a company’s profitability. And as millennials move to comprise a majority of the workforce, 47 percent of them consider diversity when evaluating an employer. In order to attract top talent and generate better business,  organizations need to prioritize diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices.

While organizations are making strides, building out their D&I strategies and programs – 70 percent of internet companies have an appointed D&I head and dedicated D&I budgets – there’s more to be done.  

The issue is most diversity programs primarily focus on two main parts of diversity: race and gender. Although they’re extremely important, and have been the subjects of much recent controversy in the face of movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, diversity also emcompasses generation, religion, nationality and more.

It’s important that these programs don’t exist just to check a box; in order to bring true value, D&I programs must be broad and inclusive of all diverse backgrounds. 

The pillars of diversity: consider more than just two

Other than race and gender, some main factors to consider when building out a robust D&I program include: generation, nationality, religion, sexual identity, special abilities.  

Bringing together different generations of employees, whether they be fresh out of college or more seasoned, offers varying levels of experience to the workplace. As a result, companies can meld deep market knowledge with novel ideas and new-age technology for increased innovation. Religion is another pillar of diversity that affects the importance we place on certain values, stemming from how we were raised to act and believe. A mix of values strengthens a team’s integrity and increases its empathy. 

Each nationality and birthplace can bring new points of view and life experiences to the workplace, too. This cultural diversity helps foster and build a community – creating a sense of belonging for team members and welcoming holistic perspectives in discussions. In practice, this could mean celebrating national holidays or reframing the way we speak. For example, sports analogies can cause people from other countries to feel excluded because not everyone understands the references. 

Employees who have grown up with special abilities, like autism or blindness, face unique daily challenges and develop alternate approaches to everyday tasks. For example, a colorblind employee might struggle with instant messaging tools or color-coded spreadsheets and find alternative ways to do those. These bespoke problem solving methods are an asset to the wider team. Various sexual orientations can be an advantage for the team as well. People who are attune to sensitivities within their own groups can make sure any decision made is one that keeps those groups in mind.

Cognitive diversity: a fresh approach to D&I

All of these different factions bolster the global workforce because of one common truth: they bring unique approaches to thinking and problem-solving. This coagulation of multiple intellectual perspectives is often referred to as cognitive diversity, which Deloitte’s research suggests contributes to high-performing teams, especially when combined with demographic diversity. 

Deloitte states that on average, solving complex problems requires about six different approaches: evidence, options, outcomes, people, process, and risk. Since no one person can contribute equally to all of these arenas, teams can derive great value from the lenses that various genders, races, nationalities, generations, religions, sexual orientations, and special abilities provide. Cognitive diversity is the key to creating a team skillful enough to contrive big solutions. 

Recruiting diversity: keep this in mind

The methods companies use to hire employees need to change, in order to source a diverse talent pool. It’s essential to use unbiased online recruiting tools that strip away preconceived notions of a person’s ability, and focus on their actual, real-time ability to problem-solve. At Okta we use tools we can customize to be more inclusive such as Greenhouse Inclusion, but there are a multitude of options like Eightfold AI and Entelo, which are skills-based recruiting techniques. 

Companies should also be proactive about diversity recruiting. Formalize partnerships with diverse sourcing avenues such as Pivotal, Upwardly Global, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and National Center for Women in Computing. Source candidates from various community groups, whether through job postings or speaking engagements. Educating the community on the type of work your company conducts and the positions available increases the chance that people from diverse backgrounds will consider applying. And don’t stop at currently eligible candidates; offer engagement programs to underrepresented youth in your area, and share the career paths that your company can provide. Spending a little time sparking imagination now, could deliver ten-fold on your investment down the line. 

Finally, seek and incorporate employee feedback into your hiring process. Ask employees if any parts of the hiring process were exclusive or biased, and work to eradicate those methods. Conversely, focus on the parts that work well and double down. 

As a whole, the enterprise is moving towards a more inclusive workforce. But to actually be successful, we need to think about diversity in a broader range, including the various factors that make us different and allow us to complement each other’s strengths, rather than only focusing on “hot button” issues like gender and race. Representation from various groups is important, but the key is intersectionality – finding where the overlap is to ensure that no one is left out. Diverse programs shouldn’t be a short-term bandaid or publicity stunt but rather a serious step towards improving the culture and performance of a company for the long-term. 

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