The importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging [DEIB] in the workplace is supported by stats such as the McKinsey study that found organizations with more diversity experience 35% higher financial returns, reduced turnover, and increased employee engagement. We KNOW DEIB promotes belonging, invites innovation, and sparks creativity. We KNOW being intentional about DEIB contributes to our business's and society's success. So why do many DEIB initiatives fail to create a truly inclusive environment?
Quite often, many of these initiatives fail because they do not create an inclusive environment for sharing nor have a culture that authentically supports diversity.
The first often misguided step in diversity initiatives is hiring a diverse team without a diverse culture to support them. The problem with this check-the-box approach is that it's not enough to hire for diversity if the leaders do not listen or create a safe, inclusive environment for sharing. The value of hiring for diversity is never fully realized if the culture doesn't support it past the recruitment process.
Here are four behaviors that might be harming your organization's DEIB initiative efforts and stunting the growth of a truly diverse workplace culture.
Author, speaker, and expert in conflict, communication, and workplace dynamics, Amy Gallo, explains artificial harmony is one reason workplace cultures fail to realize a truly diverse culture. When we hire for diversity but do not create a safe space for sharing, we create an artificial harmony. This is a sense that everyone gets along. Still, underlying disagreements, resentments, and opinions are not being shared for fear of disrupting the "harmony," retaliation, or not feeling supported, understood, and heard. Simply put, artificial harmony fails to create an inclusive environment for sharing since all discord is discouraged.
An unintentional diversity blocker in most businesses is when they hire for diversity but then force everyone to be the same. This shows up when the "rules" of the org are inflexible and impenetrable, with no room for diverse thoughts or perspectives to surface. This could be restrictive schedules, allowing certain voices to be heard, only having senior leadership decision-makers, or hindering people from bringing their authentically whole selves to work.
A diverse culture involves people from different backgrounds, inevitably generating conflict. Conflict is a driver of innovation, a catalyst for creativity, and a launching pad for transformation. However, when we bring people together and then tell them not to disagree and not have conflict, we lose the value of the diverse perspectives that come from different opinions, backgrounds, and expertise. As Carla Harris describes it so well, "Innovation is born from ideas … ideas are born from perspectives … perspectives are born from experiences … experiences are born from people." When we embrace the conflict that arises from having a diverse team, we gain understanding, experience empathy, and invite sharing, all components of a truly diverse workplace culture.
Recruitment efforts often focus on the wrong criteria, relying too much on experience, skill sets, and education. The problem with solely hiring this way, it does not support diverse recruitment since many underrepresented groups are denied opportunities to gain experience, skills, and education. While knowledge, skills, and education are necessary when hiring, recruiting teams should consider the whole candidate. Experience, skills, and education can only get you so far. A successful team needs resilience, creativity, and innovation. People are not one person at work and a different person at home; they are one whole person, which is why businesses need to look at the whole person when hiring. This includes a candidate's life experience, strengths, and challenges.
Incorporating DEIB within your organization is a broad and complex initiative. It means having uncomfortable conversations, sitting with the awkwardness, embracing tensions, and being vulnerable. It also means acknowledging that your organization may have behaviors that harm its DEIB efforts and prevent a genuinely diverse workplace culture.
The positive thing to remember is that this is a journey. Sometimes your steps will succeed, and some will fall flat, but as long as you continue to take steps forward and continue down the path, you will reach the end goal- an inclusive society where all voices are heard.