June 11, 2019

5 Things Any Company Can Do Right Now to Promote an Inclusive Culture

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace aren’t merely feel-good social policies. They also have profound competitive benefits.

A 2015 McKinsey study by Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton and Sara Prince found that companies in the top quartile for gender, racial or ethnic diversity enjoyed returns 15 to 35 percent higher than companies in the bottom quartile. The least diverse companies typically performed below the national average for their industries.

Diverse, inclusive workplaces appear to have long-term benefits as well. Hunt, Layton and Price predict that “diversity is probably a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time.”

Many companies yearn for the benefits of greater diversity and inclusion but are uncertain where to start. Treating diversity as a competitive advantage can generate buy-in and illuminate simple yet effective next steps, says Emily Gransky, director of talent acquisition and operations at Flagship Pioneering. Often, the steps revealed are tasks a company can complete immediately.

1. Embrace Inclusive Strategic Measurement

For decades, hiring has incorporated a strong element of instinct, emotion or luck. However, these methods are perpetually vulnerable to unconscious bias.

Instead, setting clear goals and tracking relevant data points provides a clearer picture of how diversity and inclusion approaches are affecting the business’s daily practices and its overall structure.

“Our new diversity and inclusion maturity model shows that the most effective way to achieve significant gains is through leadership ownership, strategic measurement, and a culture of accountability for inclusion that is driven from top to bottom,” says Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte. When leadership choose KPIs that directly measure diversity and inclusion goals, the company has a stronger chance of turning its aspirations into reality.

Using strategically chosen quantitative measurements isn’t a new approach for most companies. To measure inclusiveness, however, “use a more creative approach in addition to tracking numbers on a spreadsheet,” says La’Wana Harris, diversity and inclusion strategist and member of the Forbes Coaches Council. For example, find ways to gather qualitative employee responses and to examine them within the context of diversity and inclusion efforts.

By combining quantitative and qualitative measurements under a common rubric, companies can choose which KPIs to track for insights into their diversity and inclusion programs.

2. Rethink Key Policies

While diversity and inclusion are mentioned together in many contexts, that doesn’t mean the terms are synonymous. Rather, diversity supports inclusion.

“Diversity is a fact; inclusion is a choice. You must have a diverse workforce in order to be inclusive,” says Anna Beninger, senior director of research and corporate engagement partner at Catalyst.

While diversity brings more raw material for innovation to the table, the teams that produce the best results with these raw materials are those who experience inclusion, says Beninger. They’re the teams whose individual members each feel valued for their perspective and skills.

One of the best ways to begin building an inclusive culture is to begin with company policies on harassment, discrimination and accommodations. Review these policies not only for legal compliance, but for their ability to support an inclusive environment. Talk to staff members who have had to exercise rights or protections under the policies for firsthand perspectives on their effectiveness.

“You have to look at everything through the lens of, ‘Have I created conditions where every person can contribute in their unique, meaningful way and feel safe and secure doing that?’” says Sabrina Clark, associate principal at SYPartners. Creating and uniformly enforcing strong, clear policies that fight discrimination and improve accommodations is one way to build those conditions.

promoting an inclusive culture

3. Focus on Core Skills, Not Credentials

A degree from a prestigious university or a certificate from a well-regarded training program look impressive, but they can also trigger the unconscious bias that the holder of the credential is automatically superior to other candidates, which may not be the case.

To defuse this type of bias, focus on the core skills required for success in a particular position. Here, digital tools can be helpful in analyzing data and identifying patterns in the skill sets exercised by the top performers in each position. When these patterns are analyzed, AI-enabled digital tools can use them to highlight applications from candidates who demonstrate a similar pattern of skills.

As the business grows and changes, continue to analyze the core skills required for success on the job, and continue to adjust hiring methods accordingly. By doing so, companies can practice what they preach when it comes to diversity and inclusion, says Katie Burke, chief people officer at HubSpot.

“Analyzing and dissecting the progress made is important, but equally as important is approaching the future with humility and identifying the areas that need improvement,” Burke writes. Cultivated awareness of required skills and the willingness to change skill profiles over time contributes to the ability to change as the business’s goals require it.

4. Remove Personal Identifiers from Applications

A now-famous study by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan discovered that job applicants with traditionally African-American names were less likely to be called back for interviews than applicants with traditionally white-sounding names, even when the resumes were otherwise identical.

These findings suggest that bias can sneak into hiring managers’ decisions, even when that bias is neither conscious nor intended. One simple way to boost diversity is to take steps to neutralize unconscious biases. Such steps include removing personally identifiable information from applications and replacing it with a unique ID number for each applicant.

Without names or indications of race, ethnicity or gender on an application, hiring managers will focus on the information available, such as experience types and skills. Personally identifiable information won’t affect these early decisions because it simply won’t exist.

For screening interviews, consider using tools like online forms or AI-enabled chatbots to lead applicants through your initial questions. Chatbots in particular can make the application process more engaging, and the bot can organize information for easy comparison without attaching any personal identifiers that might reveal the candidate’s gender, race or ethnicity.

Hiring managers will, of course, eventually meet each candidate in person. By the time they do, however, they will have already formed an image of the candidate based solely on the candidate’s skills, not on unconscious biases.

ways to promote an inclusive culture

5. Let Data Drive Your Promotions

The same policies, processes and programs that improve diversity and inclusion in hiring can be used to drive diversity and inclusion throughout the company when applied to the process of promoting staff members.

For instance, make promotions based on skill sets rather than seniority or credentials. Use a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to determine which candidates for promotion best exemplify the skills and traits the new position will demand for success. Remove personally identifiable information from candidates’ applications to help decision-makers focus on skills and achievements rather than personal traits like gender or ethnicity.

Don’t forget to mentor newly promoted staff members in a diverse and inclusive way, as well. Mentorship programs can become a powerful tool for greater inclusion, but only if they embrace pro-diversity principles, says David Brown, co-CEO at Techstars.

“Establishing diverse mentorship matches allows mentors and mentees to challenge each other in a safe environment that encourages taking risks and sharing fears. These relationships often yield new perspectives that are beneficial to both the mentor and mentee, and can have a profound impact on corporate culture,” says Brown.

A workplace lacking in diversity and inclusion does not simply happen. It’s created through the decisions and policies enacted by the people who work there. Likewise, a diverse and inclusive workplace can be fostered by making data-driven decisions, creating supportive neutral policies and focusing on skills rather than personal traits.

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