Diversity in the Workplace: Why Who’s at the Table Matters

October 27th, 2017 by Ann Wanserski

In the corporate landscape, it’s easy to overlook words like diversity or inclusion, which often get tossed out as buzzwords lacking real meaning. But building an inclusive workplace where employees with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and identities can succeed is a benchmark for company success as well. In fact, a 2015 McKinsey report found that ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform the national industry median and 15 percent more likely to have better financial returns.

But let’s be real—diversity in the workplace is far from the norm.

According to the New York Times, there are more male CEOs at S&P 1500 companies named John or David than the total number of female CEOs. And of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, only five are African American.

This issue isn’t just for leadership either. A study from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 41 percent of managers surveyed said they were “too busy” to create structured diversity efforts in the workplace. Even so, more than half of employees surveyed by Glassdoor said they think their companies should be doing more to increase diversity.

This data shows that there’s immense work to be done. But we can look to companies who have successfully incorporated diversity into their operational ethos as an example for what works—both for the employees and for the bottom line.

Defining D & I in the Workplace

Teenagers Young Team Together Cheerful Concept Diversity - Search Influence

Diversity and inclusion can’t be achieved without first setting a clear definition for what these words mean, how they align with the business’ values and mission, and what systems are in place to create them. Building an inclusive workplace means being accepting and accommodating for gender and race, but also for sexual orientation and identity, religious affiliation, disabilities, age, and even thinking styles or backgrounds.

By creating a workplace with diversity of thought—as in, collaboration among people with vastly different perspectives and viewpoints to solving problems—organizations can create systemic change. A study from Deloitte found that diversity of thought can help prevent “groupthink,” allowing for more creativity and more thoughtful decision making.

But how does diversity of thought become a reality in the workplace?

It Starts at the Top

If diversity is built into the company ethos, then its leaders should be advocates on the frontline. For example, Arne Sorenson, president of Marriott International, regularly advocates for LGBTQ equality in the workplace. Marriott was ranked #7 on the 2016 Best Workplaces for Diversity list and scored a 100 on HRC’s 2017 Corporate Equality Index. Ethnic minorities make up 64 percent of Marriott’s workforce, with 2.7 percent of employees identifying as LGBTQ. Sorenson has fought for LGBTQ rights publically, even writing an open letter on his LinkedIn account about diversity in government and business.

You can also include the LGBTQ community at large in your brand’s marketing efforts. Take a look at these ideas.

Offer Benefits That Enhance Inclusivity

On an operational level, businesses can also build inclusion into the brand identity by offering benefits that defend their stance on diversity. Rather than just relying on an annual cultural sensitivity class or a blanket statement in the employee handbook on diversity, companies should take a multi-faceted approach that includes diversity in the training, communication methods, and employee benefits.

For example, AT&T offers Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Employee Networks (ENs) connecting over 130,000 members from across the company’s global workforce. The ERGs are nonprofit organizations that support, mentor, and advocate for communities in the company, including ethnic groups, the disabled, women, LGBTQ employees, and military veterans. The ENs are more informal, employee-led initiatives that convene around specific professional development issues.

Groups like this give a voice to individuals who might feel marginalized and help individuals find common interests—both key for building a culture of inclusivity.

Other ways to help enforce and validate inclusivity include offering English as a Second Language classes for foreign employees, providing benefits for employees with same-sex partners, and working with other companies that share the same values (or saying no to companies that don’t).

Make Diversity Measurable

Think Tank Around Measuring Diversity - Search Influence

While meeting quotas doesn’t determine your company culture or employee morale, it does make a difference. Including diversity goals in annual reviews for managers and building it into hiring practices can help set the baseline for what diversity really looks like in your company’s daily operations.

Some companies have even created positions dedicated solely to diversity. Abbott, ranked #10 on DiversityInc’s 2017 Top 50 Companies for Diversity, has a Director of Next Generation Recruitment, Diversity, & Inclusion who focuses on using technology to hire and retain employees with diverse perspectives. While not every company has the budget to devote an entire position to D & I, small businesses can still make diversity part of the recruiting, hiring, and review processes in order to measure success.

When diversity is measurable, employees feel accountable and empowered to make it a priority. Give employees outlets to share feedback anonymously about the success of diversity initiatives, and be transparent about what is working and where the company can still improve.

In today’s globalized economy, a diverse workforce can better reflect the needs and wants of a much bigger, much more varied consumer base. By building diversity and inclusion into every facet of your company, you’re building a workforce that is more empowered, innovative, and ready to take on the complex problems of our ever-changing, increasingly-connected world.

At Search Influence, we realize that we still have a long way to go in order to foster an inclusive and diverse community—especially in the tech industry. Learn some ways we fight for women in the workforce and read more about our company culture.