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In Her Words: Is Our Diversity and Inclusion Culture Coming Up Short?

Diversity and inclusion have been and continue to be a hot topic. Businesses spending millions of dollars to design more diverse and inclusive workplaces, but are their initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I) really working?

 

Our Need for Inclusion

Each of us as human beings has a primitive and fundamental need to feel included. What’s often overlooked in the organizational conversation of diversity and inclusion is, actually, inclusion itself. Diversity and inclusion as a topic are so often lumped together, most people forget how to differentiate the two. If you’re not completely certain of the distinction, Verna Myers, a noted diversity advocate, shares how she thinks about it with the Harvard Business Review: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, skin color, or faith, we all want to belong. Think back to your early days in elementary school. Do you remember the joy of being a part of your tight-knit group of friends? And, on the flip side, do you recall that pang of being excluded from the popular clique at school?

While many organizations are striving to address diversification, the topic of inclusion is often completely left out. For example, Paradigm for Parity and CEO Action provides a platform for businesses and organizations to broadcast their diversity goals and make their initiatives public. You may hear bold and confident predictions from firms such as, “We’ll be 50/50 by the year 2020.” But what about inclusion? Where is inclusion in this conversation, and how does it factor into the equation?

 

Finding My Seat at the Table

For many years, I worked for several high-profile brands within the golf industry. At the time—and it should come as no surprise—the business leaders within the golf industry looked a lot like the people who played the game: pale and male.

A major shortcoming of symbolic diversity and inclusion efforts in corporate America is that they make individuals in underrepresented groups feel like a statistic or token.
As a minority and a woman of color, I was more often than not the only woman sitting around those boardroom tables. There were times I found myself wondering, “Am I valued for my contributions? Or, am I just a number, a gender, or ethnicity that checked a box for someone in their HR department?” Of course, I desperately wanted to feel like I was part of the team, but I also wanted to feel included. Despite looking different from my peers and co-workers, I wanted to know I mattered.

Looking back now, I know I was there for a reason. I brought an incredibly unique perspective to the table at a time when the golf industry was actively searching for ways to expand its consumer base. It wanted more women, more minorities, and more diversity in general out on the golf course. My individuality, my suggestions, and my strategies helped the industry expand. My point of view, based on who I am, helped the industry find its way forward. Those brands that gave me a seat at the table needed someone like me. They weren’t misguided in their intentions; they simply didn’t have any first-hand experience on how to include someone different than them.

 

Wired to Belong from the Beginning

Working to be seen and heard is just as much a part of our DNA as a mechanism for survival, and we feel the pull of inclusion once we’ve been recognized for who we are.
Pat Wadors, Senior Vice President of Global Talent Organization at LinkedIn, shares her research in the Harvard Business Review. She writes, “Our brains are hardwired to motivate us toward connection and belonging—it’s how we survive and thrive.” Findings suggest that a strong sense of belonging at work can be a more effective incentive for employees than money.

 

The Reality of the Emotional Tax

When I first learned about the concept of “emotional tax” through Catalyst’s research, the idea resonated deeply with me. During my career, I’ve experienced this tax too many times to count. At work. Sitting around the boardroom table. Even when I’ve spoken up. People who don’t fit the traditional workplace norms are “taxed” in ways that others are not. This emotional tax is automatically added on because we’re different. We look different. We might sound different. And, we view the world from a different outlook. If we’re wired with a desire to fit in, but we can’t find our place at work, well, it’s utterly…taxing.

The second half of “emotional tax” is that you’re constantly on guard. When you’re different, you’re looking out for ways to protect yourself again bias—either consciously or unconsciously. After hours of sitting around the conference room table, after being interrupted time and time again, or having your original idea belittled, only to have it celebrated when it’s pitched by a male counterpart, you will see how emotionally draining a workplace can feel. This eventually takes a toll on a person’s well-being, even after the workday is over. It’s a tax that underrepresented populations experience every single day.

On the other hand, when there’s a wider, more encompassing, and wholehearted sense of inclusion, you can see how this becomes a competitive advantage for a company. When employees feel included, they speak up! When co-workers feel encouraged, they’re more likely to share their best ideas. When there’s a sense of camaraderie and inclusiveness, people want to come to work. Imagine that!

So how do we address these issues? Is there a way to increase that innate sense of belonging and fulfillment for everyone, not just a select few? We’ve found that these four organizational strategies are powerful ways to cultivate an inclusive culture at work:

  1. Develop a mentoring program. If mentors are required to introduce their mentees to their counterparts and mentees are expected to ask questions and share their feedback, a new conversation unfolds. Deeper bonds are created. Employees can “dig deeper” with each other, especially when there’s that growing sense of familiarity. It’s no longer about “the new hire,” it’s about finding ways to create that sense of belonging with every member of the team.
  2. Involve everyone at meetings. We recommend, when possible, that leaders foster a culture of inclusivity by extending more invitations to staff meetings. Again, remember grade school. Just being invited to an event can change somebody’s attitude. We also recommend taking proactive measures to involve everybody during meetings. This may seem like common sense, but I assure you that these small shifts, like wondering about someone’s opinion on any given subject, asking follow-up questions, and thanking them for their time and participation, have a profound impact.
  3. Pay attention. This one goes for everyone in your organization. In today’s tech-driven business culture, it’s easy for even the most senior leaders to get distracted. We recommend people put their devices away during meetings so that they can be fully present, no matter what the occasion is.
  4. Create a culture of storytelling. Telling stories is a tried and trusted method for unifying people beyond the business world. Use it for anything from branding to building stronger workplace culture. For bonus points, we recommend leaders carve out time for employees to share their own stories. At the beginning of a meeting or a team lunch, encourage team members to share stories. It can be personal, something from their childhood, or work experience. By actively listening to these stories, the team gets to know their co-workers on another dimension. Seeing just what makes someone tick offers greater insight into who they are as a person, and exchanging stories is a powerful way to put inclusion into practice.

Amid recent interest in diversity and inclusion, the aspect of ensuring inclusion is included is more important now than ever before. Business outcomes improve when we include everyone. How will you begin to incorporate inclusion strategies into your daily practices at work?

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Rhonda Moret headshotAbout Elevate For Her: Elevate For Her is a professional development organization that provides programming specifically for women. Programs include negotiations, empowerment, unconscious bias, personal branding, and even improv for business. The organization’s founder, Rhonda Moret, is a professional speaker and seasoned marketing professional who has worked on accounts including Nike Golf, PGA of America, and Universal Studios and has also worked with high profile personalities such as Billie Jean King, Tiger Woods, bestselling author Robert Kiyosaki, and more.

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