Creating a diverse place of work is an important feat that many sectors of the workforce are taking on with more gusto and resilience than ever before. HR departments are getting more creative with targeting and recruiting more diverse candidates, and some have even taken to modifying job requirements- such as requiring a college degree- in order to open the doors for differently qualified candidates that do not come from backgrounds that afford them the same opportunities as other candidates. While creating diversity centric hiring and recruitment practices is admirable and important, when an inclusive culture is not made just as important as bringing in diversity, employers end up creating a company where diverse employees cannot thrive, or even survive.
Rachel Cargle, public academic, writer and lecturer on the intersectionality of race and womanhood, summarized what can happen when people of color are brought into a non inclusive environment. She stated “Diversity does not equal inclusion. […] Unless racism is addressed and eradicated in the places you are looking to make ‘diverse’ you are simply bringing people of color into violent and unsafe spaces.”
Before doing the work to diversify the statistics of your employee demographic, focus and effort must be put into creating a company that is truly inclusive and ready for that diversity. Companies can begin to curate inclusivity through training on unconscious biases, hosting events celebrating holidays of different cultures, and educating their employees on differences (e.g.- cultural, gender, racial) to eradicate ignorance and create understanding.
Diversity and inclusion programs, like the examples mentioned above, are becoming more than just the norm for employees. At many companies, training on these topics has become a requirement for all incoming and existing employees in an attempt to shift the culture and mindset of every team member. While providing this training is important to create the much needed culture shift in corporations, studies have found that mandating employees to attend trainings on unconscious biases, diversity, and inclusion has an effect opposite of what HR has been aiming for. This is due to employees attending the training feeling as if they have lost their autonomy and are being forced into “political correctness” instead of being allowed to make their own choice of how and when to participate in the cultural change.
In addition to mandating diversity and inclusion training, companies can fail at the cultural change by focusing their training on the negative messages behind inclusion like- “Don’t discriminate, or else” and “If you discriminate the company will pay the price and so will you”. While messages like this may grab attention and seem tempting to go towards in hopes of emphasizing the importance of inclusion, focusing on the negativity doesn’t create buy-in. When companies instead focus their messaging on the positive side of inclusion- such as improved productivity and more feelings of a close knit team- employees walk away more often wanting to implement the information presented instead of feeling negative about the entire program.
Alongside formalized training around inclusion centric topics, leadership must also firmly address every day actions and policies that create an inequitable and non inclusive culture. Microaggressions create walls within organizations with every comment or remark, regardless if it was intentional or not. While seemingly innocuous to the person making the statement, phrases such as ‘You’re so articulate’ or ‘Is that your natural hair?’ when spoken by a white person to a person of color, creates a toxic environment to the recipient and others in the room because of the unconscious biases rooted deep within the context of what was said. Instead of continuing to allow these phrases spoken by, oftentimes, well intended individuals, leadership must create a culture where these questions and comments are questioned and rescinded from the every day language. While discussing microaggressions may come off as “policing language” to some individuals, when carefully done with positive intent and careful clarity, the everyday wear that microaggressions have on POC and other minorities in the workplace begins to lessen.
While the aforementioned tactics work well to begin the shift towards inclusion, the biggest key to creating inclusion is to have employees who may not normally interact work together and collaborate. Contact and exposure have been proven above all else to lessen biases and create more innovation. Integrating different teams together for a project and creating collaboration among departments more frequently can break down the biases formerly formed and aligning colleagues together to work alongside one another towards a common goal as equals.
While it is tempting for companies to leap head first into diversity programs, inclusion is a required first step in ensuring success for the company and for the individuals you wish to bring in. Don’t make the harmful mistake of ignoring or lessening the importance of a well established inclusive culture, your company and future employees well-being depends on it.