As I’ve researched institutions that have led the way in increasing diversity, I have seen nothing but compassion and sincerity in these efforts. These organizations have also been strategic in striving to be equitable and inclusive while promoting diversity. For organizations working towards their diversity benchmarks, the critical factor is in helping leaders concentrate their energy on the essential building blocks for successful implementation and sustainability. 

I‘ve noticed that companies have prepared some strategies to address unconscious bias in the workplace. However, the hard work to ensure companies evolve as safer, more inclusive, and welcoming workplaces usually do not start with this. Since many employees are not ready for the conversation around unconscious bias, my fear is that organizations will end up taking two steps back with this approach. 

I suggest starting with the basics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As mentioned in my previous article, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Under the Umbrella of Accountability, your diversity efforts should begin with creating a culture of positive accountability so that all employees take ownership for such initiatives. At this point, I want to add my thoughts on the next step leaders should consider focusing on.

Why Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Matters More Today

Companies with high diversity rates are enjoying more profits and share gains. According to the Wall Street Journal, the top 20 most diverse firms make a profit of 12% more than the lowest-ranking companies that make 8% profits. 

Bersin by Deloitte conducted a 9-month High Impact Diversity and Inclusion study – with diversity and inclusion professionals and leaders within organizations headquartered in North America. The Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarking Report indicate that the top 3 reasons Fortune 500 organizations invest in diversity and inclusion:

  • 51% to enhance employee engagement
  • 44% to increase innovation and agility
  • 33% to more effectively serve a changing customer/consumer base

Navigating The New Playing Field of Diversity 

If your organization has the intention of increasing diversity in an effort to enhance employee engagement, increase innovation and agility, and/or more effectively serve a changing customer base, here is your next step. Learn how to foster an inclusive environment that invites all the dimensions of diversity, both visible and invisible.

Your organization must explore the impact these differences and similarities have on how all employees approach building trust. Diversity dimensions, such as gender, generational and thinking differences, are often overlooked when considering how to improve trust, communication, and productive working relationships. 

Our definition of inclusion is a culture or environment of trust, respect, and commitment where everyone is encouraged to contribute to organizational results, leveraging their unique talents and background. Without knowing how to foster such an inclusive environment, you will often have a difficult time implementing your diversity initiatives.

Navigating the new playing field of diversity is often hard and uncomfortable because it requires exploring differences and similarities in new ways. As employees work more frequently with people who are different from them, they are generally hesitant to have an open dialogue about what makes them different, sometimes avoiding the topic altogether. But ignoring differences doesn’t make problems go away; sometimes it exacerbates them – causing employees to feel misunderstood and even unsuccessful. 

Exploring Differences and Similarities

If you are leading your diversity initiative within your organization, your next phase should focus on helping your employees become more curious about one another’s differences and similarities. Then helping them gain the tools and approaches to have effective conversations across differences. A great step is to model the behaviors, such as:

  • Listen, recognize and honor all aspects of your employees. Before jumping into a dialogue about racism, take the time to understand your employees’ backgrounds. Consider exploring elements often invisible such as their culture, thinking preferences, work experience, etc.
  • Bridge differences. Become aware of why you may put up a barrier and avoid certain conversations about differences. Look to be receptive rather than defensive. The more we open up to differences and listen, the more likely we’ll learn and create the space for others to be authentic and engaged
  • Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. The skill here is learning to be present when you are having an uncomfortable conversation about differences. Being comfortable feeling uncomfortable means saying, “This is a challenging conversation for me, but I’m going to continue regardless.”
  • Establish norms to create a space of psychological safety. Psychological safety is when there are agreements or guidelines that help build trust among people. Consider setting such agreed-upon behaviors before you begin each discussion. Whenever the topic gets off track, return to these norms as reminders.

Ty Miller is a trainer, facilitator, and consultant. He teaches how to lead Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion culture changes, and how to support the development of high-potential, ready next leaders.