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Why it’s Essential to Cultivate Diversity and Celebrate Individuality

Encouraging diversity is far more complicated than just hiring a variety of people from different backgrounds. It means creating and holding space for people with a variety of voices; from a range of backgrounds and sexual orientations; and with diverse identities, religious affiliations, genders, ethnicities, and races. It also means ensuring that the diversity you want to see in your company is reflected in the highest offices of your company and being unafraid to ask the hard questions.

Photo by Christina Morillo
Photo by Christina Morillo

Diversity is key to business success in today’s competitive business market. It’s so central that a recent McKinsey study showed that companies that are more gender diverse are 21% more likely to outperform others. Those that are ethnically diverse are 33% more likely to outperform others. While correlation doesn’t prove causation, the McKinsey study does show that companies who have a more diverse employee makeup are statistically more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians, and that’s a big deal.

So how do you cultivate diversity and celebrate individuality? It’s a balance and a subtle dance that has to be managed by leaders and managers across the company. Here are five ways you can cultivate diversity and celebrate individuality to help bolster and build your business.

Lay the Ground Rules and Establish Definitions

Before we begin discussing loaded terms like “diversity” and “individuality,” it’s important to have a working understanding of what we mean by both terms.

A company’s workforce should reflect the community it serves, and diversity is what makes up the special sauce of that community. Diversity has innumerable aspects to it. It really can include all the ways a person identifies themselves. Diversity includes everything from age, race, and ethnicity to gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation. It can also include educational background, socioeconomic status, personality type, and physical abilities.

Inclusion in the workplace means that each individual person in the diverse community is heard, valued, and empowered and feels a sense of belonging. However, inclusion is more than just tolerance of different opinions or values, and it can be one of the most challenging things to cultivate.

When employees feel that they have to mask or hide certain things about their lives, their personalities, or their passions, it can have a negative impact on their motivation and engagement—and it works against the idea of inclusivity. It can even cause talented people to leave.

It’s essential to recognize that inclusion is the only truly scalable way to build diversity in any organization. As I have written before, though, it’s not enough to just hire a diverse workforce and set the employees loose in your business. Each aspect feeds into the other continuously.

Be Thoughtful and Deliberate in Your Work

To foster diversity, you must be deliberate and thoughtful in your recruiting and office management. If you aren’t, all the energy, time, and money spent on building a fantastic workforce will be wasted. In fact, unhappy new employees are likely to leave within the first three months of being hired.

A 2017 study by Salesforce shows that leading with equality and values can help make employees feel very included in their workplace and lead to greater productivity and happiness. That study reports that employees who feel that their voice is being heard at work are almost five times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work than those who don’t feel heard.

Additionally, that same study shows that employees who feel that their company offers equal opportunities are nearly four times more likely to say that they are proud to work there.

It follows that by encouraging diverse hiring and leading with equality and values, you will help raise the status of your company both internally and externally. Think of it like deliberately working to improve the goodwill and positive energy around your company.

You should know it’s not merely enough to convert all the words in your job listings to gender-neutral identifiers or explain your commitment to building diversity and inclusion in your business’s mission statement. You must also work to change your business culture from the inside out. An example of a subtle bias that would need to be changed is when a potential job candidate is rejected for “culture fit” or because of a gut feeling. Those kinds of dismissals tend to belie hidden and unconscious biases. By challenging your hiring managers to be more explicit and more transparent in their feedback about potential hires, you can work to uncover those hidden biases and encourage open and honest conversation about them. A word of caution here, though: You should never shame or chide a hiring manager for their hidden bias; we are, after all, human—and we all have some amount of hidden bias when it comes to our work.

Does Your Executive Team Reflect the Diversity and Inclusion You Want in Your Workplace?

One of the key ways to cultivate diversity and celebrate inclusivity in the workplace is to ensure that it is replicated at the highest levels of the company.

The makeup of your c-suite is a continual reminder to the rest of your workforce of where your values lie. It is the unspoken communication device that radiates your values both internally to your employees and externally to your board, partners, and stakeholders. It is also the key indicator of what your culture is all about.

By hiring people who reflect both your client base or customers and your workforce, you essentially put your money where your mouth is and show the world that you value diversity and inclusion as a company.

Welcome Authentic Selves

Have you ever spent an evening at a party where you felt you had to turn up certain parts of your personality and tone down others? After hours of being “on” and sublimating those parts of yourself that are authentic and real, you likely collapsed into bed exhausted, depleted, and disenfranchised. Imagine if you had to do that every day at work.

Employees often quit jobs where they feel like their authentic selves are not welcome—where they can’t be themselves (within reason, of course). If they don’t feel that their unique qualities are valued or appreciated, they are more likely to feel disconnected from their work and the company.

To counteract this, you must allow for space that enables employees to express themselves based on their unique experiences and points of view. In some cases, this can be as simple as practicing courtesy, listening, and responding in honest and open ways without using harsh language.

In fact, the best way to encourage people to bring their authentic selves to the office is to follow the tips I outlined in my story on what employees look for in a leader. By listening and being honest, open, approachable, and real, you demonstrate the kind of behavior you expect from your employees. This kind of leadership has a trickle-down impact, and it can help boost your bottom line and encourage more inclusivity in your workplace.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask the Hard Questions

A big part of encouraging diversity and celebrating individuality is being brave enough to ask hard questions. This means knowing what you don’t know and being unafraid to ask for help, solicit input, and ask for feedback.

Part of being a great leader, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, is to be proactive and ask the questions that need to be asked, instead of sitting on your laurels waiting for someone to come to you with a complaint. By the time a complaint has been raised, it’s likely too late, and damage has been done to both the company’s internal reputation and external business. The only way to prevent that is to ask tough questions.

Here’s how asking questions can help encourage diversity and individuality:

  1. It helps your business adapt to changing environments by staying abreast of the changes and inquiring about them as they happen.
  2. It helps globalize your company. Asking questions about other cultures, opinions, backgrounds, and experiences can help inform your business decisions and put you ahead of competitors.
  3. It can uncover hidden biases that are holding you and your company back. Hidden biases can be poison to a company and its efforts to cultivate diversity and celebrate inclusion, and the only way to address these is to ask questions.
  4. It can capture a more significant share of the market. By asking questions, you could potentially uncover a new market, a new product, or a new avenue to pursue. You never know where the hard questions will lead you!

Being inquisitive but sensitive in your questions is essential to building a diverse workforce that celebrates inclusivity, and it can uncover new ideas, business lines, and products at the same time. Questioning also sets an excellent example for your workforce to follow. If the top-level executives are asking tough questions, employees will feel more empowered to speak up and ask questions themselves. The process becomes a self-fulfilling circle that demonstrates the value of the individual within the collective whole.

The Bottom Line

Encouraging diversity is far more complicated than just hiring a variety of people from a bunch of different backgrounds. It means creating and holding space for people with a variety of voices; from a range of backgrounds and sexual orientations; and with diverse identities, religious affiliations, genders, ethnicities, and races. It means establishing a clear definition of the words you use and what you mean by inclusion and diversity, being thoughtful and deliberate in your work, and welcoming all authentic selves. It also means ensuring that the diversity you want to see in your company is reflected in the highest offices of your company and being unafraid to ask the hard questions. If you follow these five essentials of cultivating diversity and celebrating individuality, you are sure to set your company up for success.


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