Embracing Diversity, Increasing Inclusion: 3 Ways to Make Your Organization More Welcoming for All

UPDATED: June 8, 2023
PUBLISHED: July 8, 2020
Embracing Diversity, Increasing Inclusion

People often speak of “diversity” and “inclusion” as if they were interchangeable words, but the truth is that they’re very different concepts. When we speak of workplace diversity, we’re talking about the presence—or absence—of people from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, age brackets, geographic locations, and religious traditions with an assortment of physical and mental abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and philosophical leanings. Diversity refers only to the composition of the workforce, not to the workplace policies that address the various needs and wants of that workforce. That’s where inclusion comes in.

When we speak of inclusion in the workplace, we’re addressing the ways an organization makes its employees feel accepted. Inclusion speaks to the words used in the workplace, especially by executives and managers. It’s also the ways an organization celebrates holidays, the manner in which meetings are structured and run, or the types of accommodations available in a workspace. It’s the signals—sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle—that an organization sends to its employees, all of which can make a person feel valuable or valueless.

Too often organizations pat themselves on the back when they implement a hiring policy that increases diversity, but that’s an empty gesture unless they also address organizational culture. If your organization is hiring a diverse group of people but sending hostile signals to them, sooner or later you’re going to lose them, and you will be back at square one.

If your organization is serious about creating a truly welcoming environment for a diverse workforce, then you should take a hard look at these three areas:

Area 1: Consider the C-suites.

The makeup of your executive team speaks volumes about your organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Unless those who hold the levers of control in your organization reflect the diversity at a very basic level, you can’t call yourself a truly diverse and inclusive organization. However, diversity doesn’t magically show up in the C-suite. Providing training and advancement opportunities so that diverse high potentials are included in the talent pipeline is key to accomplishing this result. Also, until those at the lower echelons can look up and see someone who looks like them at the top, they will be hard-pressed to feel that they really belong or be inspired to ascend the corporate ladder.

Area 2: Cut the promotion bias.

Your organization’s evaluation and promotion process says much about your philosophy and priorities. Too many managers apply disparate standards on a whim, or employ discriminatory practices, which lead to more of the same. Promotions are one of the chief means of showing employees that they matter and to appropriately filling the talent pipeline, so you should do all that you can to remove bias from the process. That means training managers to recognize and confront their own biases (explicit and implicit) and changing requirements for promotions so that the rewards for hard work are more broadly available.

Area 3: Talk to the team.

If your organization has already taken genuine steps to diversify your workplace, then you might already have a built-in mechanism for measuring the strengths and weaknesses of your inclusion practices. Even still, it’s important to ask your employees to offer feedback (anonymously so it’s honest and useful) on their interpersonal experiences, especially in the context of workplace culture, then use those evaluations to make substantive changes in your workspace. If, for example, your employees are telling you that they need a lactorium or a prayer/meditation room, consider giving them the accommodations. Those investments will pay dividends in the long run and help employees to feel more comfortable as they work toward making their best possible contributions in the workplace.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t just good for an organization’s morale. This dynamic duo is also good for the bottom line. Inclusion breeds happiness, and happy employees are productive employees. According to a McKinsey & Company report, companies in the top quartile for ethnic and gender diversity are 25% likelier to show higher financial returns than less diverse companies. In other words, diversity doesn’t just strengthen portfolios, but corporate coffers, too. If you want to elevate the value of working with your company for the long haul, embrace diversity and increase inclusion; you’ll be glad you did!

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A leading authority on leadership development and organizational performance management, Karima Mariama-Arthur brings more than 25 years of comprehensive, blue chip experience in law, business and academia to every client engagement. A shrewd advisor to distinguished organizations from DC to Dubai, her expert insights help clients to successfully navigate today's ever-changing and competitive global business environment. Karima is the author of the internationally acclaimed and 2019 NAACP Image Award nominated leadership guidebook, Poised For Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan), which launched at the United States Military Academy at West Point. As an extension of her work, she speaks regularly both nationally and internationally in her areas of expertise and serves in an advisory capacity on select corporate boards.