What You Need to Know about Building Diversity in the Workplace

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The time is now.

The current global unrest over racism and equality is causing most companies to look inward and revisit their own hiring practices and company diversity. 

Though 71% of companies, regardless of industry, say they want to improve diversity within their companies, only 12% have reached a level considered “mature” according to Deloitte. In order to bring those two numbers closer together, building diversity in the workplace must become a top priority. 

Let’s explore what diversity in the workplace looks like, why workplace diversity is important for your business, and how your company can implement a diversity program.

What Is Diversity in the Workplace?

Diversity in the workplace generally means a company’s workforce includes people of various genders, ages, religions, races, ethnicity, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, religions, languages, education, abilities, etc. Some advantages of having all of these types of people working together include expanded creativity and problem-solving, as well as better decision-making.

The Modern Definition

Millennials and Gen-Zers have created a more modern definition of workplace diversity. They tend to classify it as the acceptance and embracement of coworkers with differences in education, personalities, skill sets, experiences, and knowledge bases. This view is also known as cognitive diversity. 

What Workplace Diversity Is Not

Workplace diversity is not about compliance, tolerance, sensitivity, charity, or special treatment. It’s about the full deployment of a variety of resources for better outcomes that benefit everyone. Diversity encourages a variety of thoughts, embraces new ideas, and creates a culture that values these differences

Why Is Diversity in the Workplace Important?

The U.S. Workforce Is Becoming More Diverse

The latest generations to enter the workforce are the most diverse in history. Only 56% of the 87 million millennials in the country are white as compared to 72% of the baby boomer generation, according to CNN Money. Due to projected growth among Asian, Hispanic, and multiracial groups, traditionally underrepresented populations will hit majority status by 2044, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A rapidly changing workforce and customer base are prompting employers to take stock of their situations and diversify. Companies are realizing the importance of reflecting reality in the collective makeup of their employees. They understand yesterday's workforce can't lead them into tomorrow.

Top Talent Cares About Workplace Diversity

A diverse workforce is essential to attracting top talent. 

  • According to Glassdoor, 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities. 
  • More than 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity. 
  • The study also showed 72% of women, 89% of African-Americans, 80% of Asians, and 70% of Latinos ranked workplace diversity as important in their job search.

These numbers suggest more diverse generations are increasingly more interested in a diverse and inclusive workplace. 

Diversity Drives Innovation and Performance

Workplace diversity is a driver of innovation and performance. 

In researching over 1,700 companies in the U.S. and EMEA, the Harvard Business Review found the most-diverse enterprises were also the most innovative, as measured by the vitality of their revenue mix. Companies with above-average total diversity had both 19% points higher innovation revenues and 9% points higher EBIT margins, on average. 

In this global study, six dimensions of diversity (migration, industry, career path, gender, education, and age) had statistically significant correlations with innovation, both individually and collectively—although industry, nation of origin, and gender had slightly larger effects.

Diversity Improves Engagement

A major benefit of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is employee engagement

In a recent study, Deloitte captured the views and experiences of 1,550 employees in the manufacturing, retail, and healthcare spaces. The study showed the link between workplace diversity and employee engagement was straightforward. When employees feel included, they are more engaged. 

Diverse Companies Gain Higher Financial Returns

Workplace diversity is great for your business’s bottom line.

Research from McKinsey & Company showed that when compared to other companies in the same industries, businesses that are highly gender-diverse are 15% more likely to gain higher financial returns than their competitors. Companies that were ethnically-diverse were 35% more likely to gain higher financial returns. 

Statistics like these suggest investing in a diversity and inclusion program is simply a good business decision.

How Can a Business Build Diversity in the Workplace?

Make Diversity & Inclusion Part of Your Employer Brand 

Candidates are placing more emphasis on an employer’s mission, values, and workplace environment when considering whether they will accept an offer. Highlighting your business as one that embraces diversity, promotes inclusion, and supports employees is essential to attracting and retaining those who will not only fill a role but add value to your organization. 

Authentically showcasing a diverse and inclusive culture in your recruitment strategies requires you to go beyond a standard equal opportunity employer statement to demonstrate how you are building and supporting a diverse workforce. Underscore your organization’s Employee Resource Groups and involvement in building an inclusive workplace. 

Monitor websites like Glassdoor and Indeed to learn what employees and candidates are saying about your business and how your company is perceived in relation to diversity and inclusion. 

Create a Diverse Candidate Pipeline

By taking a systematic approach rooted in best practices, you can create a candidate pool that is both strong and diverse. Setting a quality of slate criteria that is inclusive of under-represented diversity ratios is a first step to ensure diverse candidates are kept top of mind during the sourcing process.

Attract diverse applicants by posting on job boards geared toward specific affinity groups. Sites such as Mogul, Blackjobs.com, and FairyGodBoss.com are some of the many networks aimed to connect companies with candidates from underrepresented groups. Running or supporting events aimed at promoting or attracting under-represented groups (e.g., Women in Tech) to your industry are great opportunities to expand your network as well as show your commitment. 

Harness AI, advanced searches, and other tech tools to find diverse passive candidates within your industry. Keep your pipeline active by cultivating relationships and engaging candidates.  Using blind resumes and profiles when sending candidates on to hiring managers is a great way to mitigate bias at an early stage of the recruitment lifecycle.

Improve the Interview Process

The methods you use to screen candidates need to be changed if they don’t reflect an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Start by having a diverse interview panel that’s not only representative of different backgrounds but also different levels of the company. They need advanced interview skills training that includes finding ways to mitigate bias. 

Using a competency-based approach for interviews will allow your panel to focus on the skills required for the job and value alignment to the company. An emphasis on skills vs. commonalities will demonstrate what the candidate will bring into the role as well as the team. Likewise, stressing the applicant’s match to the company’s values vs. culture will help improve the hiring process.

Measure the Results

You can follow all of the steps listed above to the letter, but if you don’t step back and analyze the results, you’ll have no idea whether your efforts to diversify were a success.

You can start by tracking key metrics and setting goals that are associated with the people you’re pursuing. You should benchmark demographic data within each tier of your organization. You also need to create a roadmap to understand where to focus your efforts and build pipelines.

How Can Technology Help Build Diversity in the Workplace?

Technology continues to play an increasingly important role in the talent acquisition landscape. There are noteworthy ways it can aid in your diversity hiring efforts.

Social Search Tools

You can use social search tools to find information beyond online candidate profiles and resumes to provide deeper insights into applicants. These tools take the manual work out of identifying diverse prospects and exploring job markets so talent professionals can actively source candidates.

Engagement Tools

Engagement tools help hiring managers and recruiters write universal job descriptions and craft communication to candidates. These tools use algorithms to flag words or phrases that are skew masculine or feminine and suggest neutral words.

Screening Tools

Assessment tools based on skills can be incredibly useful to avoid bias while evaluating a candidate. Assessments can be custom-built based on the actual work required by the role. The result is candidates who have a high level of competence (but whose experience may be slightly different from the norm) will rise to the top.

Bias is the Hidden Enemy of Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

There are two general types of bias: conscious and unconscious. In the case of conscious or explicit bias, the person is clear about preference and their intent. It is declared. Unconscious or implicit bias is done in direct contradiction to a person’s beliefs. 

Researchers and behaviorists began researching unconscious bias in 1995. It became a novel concept in 2006 when it was introduced as “the new science of unconscious mental processes that has a substantial bearing on discrimination law.” The idea refuted beliefs that we guide by our conscious intentions alone.  

While employment law, a company’s values, and employee conduct codes deter explicit bias, employers have come to see unconscious bias, especially within hiring, problematic and a detriment to building a diverse and inclusive workplace.

The Basis of Unconscious Bias

Our brains are wired to be efficient in decision-making. It’s a requirement considering our brains receive 11 million bits of information each second, and yet our conscious minds can only handle 40 to 50 bits. 

According to behavioral and data scientist Pragya Agarwal, author of “Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias,” our brains take “cognitive shortcuts” to make decision-making easier and more efficient. These decisions are based on information we have picked up throughout our lives—from school, family, media, and experiences. 

It’s what many people call, “following their gut.” Pragya argues this is the basis for unconscious bias and why it is hardwired into our thinking.  

Unconscious Bias Harms the Hiring Process

We can be both a victim of unconscious bias and turn around and victimize others. There have been numerous studies of how implicit bias informs hiring decisions to the detriment of others.

A Duke University study showed those with “mature” faces had a career advantage over those with “baby” faces that featured large and round eyes, high eyebrows, and a small chin. 

A Yale University study found male and female scientists, who are trained to reject the subjective, were more likely to hire men, rank men higher in competency than women, and pay men $4,000 more per year than women. 

Another widely referenced case of bias is based on a person’s name and presumed race. For this study, researchers from MIT and the University of Chicago sent thousands of identical resumes to employers with job openings. They randomly used stereotypical African American names as well as stereotypical white names. At that time, roughly 50% were more likely to result in a call back if it had a white name.

Even when we say we are open-minded, value diversity, and are not prejudiced, it is clear these biases can still play a role in our decision making. This is why we need to examine our biases and be mindful of our hidden prejudices and the way they manifest themselves in words and actions.

Changing Bias

We know bias can change. For example, in 1937, only 33% of Americans believed a qualified woman could be president. In 2015, 92% endorsed the possibility. 

So how do we address unconscious bias that lies under the surface and influences our workplace culture? Bias training, especially amongst recruiters and hiring managers, can be an important first step.

To address unconscious bias, you first must acknowledge it exists and for people to understand their hidden biases so they can get the most out of their training. The training itself can then take many forms: 

  • Mindful leadership training for managers
  • “Lunch and Learn” sessions with diversity & inclusion consultants 
  • Comprehensive sexual harassment training that includes gender and sexual orientation discussions
  • Tools to better understand individual employee behaviors like Predictive Index

Finally, you will want to measure the effectiveness of your training, which will not be accomplished by a survey of whether participants found the exercise useful or enlightening. Overall measurements of diversity and inclusion will be an indication of training effectiveness. These may include:

  • Tracking key metrics within your talent acquisition lifecycle (i.e., applicants, interviews, hires, retention, and promotions)
  • Improvements in employee and candidate perceptions of the culture  through qualitative surveys)Measurements of inclusivity and diversity throughout the full talent lifecycle (recruitment, promotions, leadership representations) 
  • Track a decline in counterproductive work behaviors (complaints, etc.), .
  • Understanding bias and reckoning with its effects is an important step in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. 

What Are the Next Steps After Hiring Diverse Talent?

Bringing talent from under-represented groups into your organization is just the start. 

After hiring, your job is to properly onboard your new candidates, make them feel both welcome and needed, and help them avoid feeling isolated in an unfamiliar environment.

Here are a few tips for helping new hires assimilate into your organization.

Match New Hires with Mentors 

Do you have other successful employees who come from the same or similar background? Is there someone who can offer career coaching, serve as a role model, and show the new hire the ropes? 

Ideally, this mentor will set the stage and serve as inspiration and proof that there really is a viable career track for the new employee at your organization.

Encourage New Hires to Get Involved in the Community

At LevelUP, we make our people key decision-makers in virtually all aspects of our business. Even non-leadership personnel can become members of executive committees and find themselves leading major initiatives. 

Find ways to broaden your outreach to your new hires and challenge them to grow and advance at your company in partnership with others. 

Connect them with Employee Resource Groups

Many companies have Employee Resource Group (ERG) programs to empower and support community groups within the organization. Sometimes referred to as Affinity or Diversity Groups, ERGs are generally based on building community, providing support, and contributing to personal and professional growth. 

ERGs can help retention efforts because employees are likely to stay with the company longer if they are involved in a strong community and feel valued.

Make Diverse Talent Your Best Recruiters

The people you already have on board can act as your best recruitment tools. As you build a more diverse workplace, ask your new people for referrals when you’re looking to fill a position. 

This can be a highly organic way to broaden your search and appeal to strong job candidates who might not have otherwise looked your way.

Get New Employees’ Ideas for Improvement

How can you make your company function better for a more diverse employee base? Start by asking. Sometimes, it’s that simple. 

One of our clients included young mothers in discussions about how we can deliver greater work-life balance to those dedicated but overworked folks. We got ideas from those women on how we could be more flexible about when and where they work. That suggestion has benefited everyone. 

As you diversify, invite newer employees to join focus groups or informal chat sessions on ways to improve the work environment for them and for everyone.

Why Should My Company Implement a Diversity Program?

Now you know the standard and modern definitions of workplace diversity, how diversity in the workplace can benefit your company, and the steps you can take to increase diversity and inclusion within your business.

A company focused on diversity and inclusion attracts top talent, drives innovation and performance, improves engagement, and gains higher financial returns. A strong approach to hiring diverse talent includes creating a mixed candidate pool, upgrading your interview process, and using the right technology tools and platforms.

With a greater understanding of how to incorporate diversity in the workplace, you can create a better environment for everyone in your organization and maximize the potential of all your employees. LevelUP can provide you with additional strategies for maintaining a more diverse work environment. Contact us today!


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