Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
When I joined Deem, I was impressed by the diversity of our team. We had people of all ages, cultures and experience levels at the company. Deem now has offices in three countries with team members representing a multitude of backgrounds. I help round out our executive leadership team, a third of which is women. Our parent company, Enterprise Holdings, has a long history of women in leadership roles.
Compared to other tech firms, I thought we checked the diversity and inclusion box. Recently I’ve started to question that assumption. Is our organization actually diverse? Do we create a culture of inclusion? And what is my role as a manager and an individual when it comes to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture?
My first instinct was deferring to my colleagues in human resources - to anyone more knowledgeable and more qualified to answer those questions. But as I discovered, solving diversity and inclusion issues is far more complicated, nuanced and personal than I initially thought.
What is diversity and inclusion?
There is so much debate about diversity and inclusion it’s sometimes difficult to pin down exactly what they mean. In short, diversity is acknowledging differences in people’s race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, education, personality, skill set, experiences and knowledge.
But diversity by itself isn’t enough. For people and teams to really thrive, you need a collaborative, supportive, and respectful environment. In short, a place that fosters inclusivity. Inclusion refers to a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging.
Employees in inclusive work environments feel appreciated for their unique characteristics and are therefore comfortable sharing their ideas and other aspects of their true and authentic selves. Inclusion is where diversity is valued.
“When employees are truly included, they perceive that the organization cares for them as individuals, their authentic selves,” says Lauren Romansky, Managing Vice President, Gartner. “That’s good for employees — and ultimately improves business performance.”
Why do we need diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Technology companies in the U.S., and especially Silicon Valley, are notorious for their homogenous working environments. This became even more apparent when companies like Uber came under fire for their male-dominated cultures and lack of diversity. At the time, Uber’s workforce comprised only 36% women.
The studies are clear: diversity and inclusion are critical keys to success.
A Deloitte report notes that organizations with diverse and inclusive cultures are six times more likely to be innovative and agile, eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets.
“Research shows that diversity of thinking is a wellspring of creativity, enhancing innovation by about 20 percent. It also enables groups to spot risks, reducing these by up to 30 percent. And it smooths the implementation of decisions by creating buy-in and trust.
— The Diversity & Inclusion Report, Deloitte
“Diverse groups tend to engage in more rigorous decision-making, more consideration of different perspectives, which lead them to decisions that are more objective. And they’re less likely to make mistakes,” says Evan Apfelbaum, a Boston University associate professor of organizational behavior.
Creating products that don't have racist undercurrents is another reason companies should pay special attention to their workforce. Aside from the potential for a homogeneous group to be more racially insensitive, algorithms and other tech products reflect the biases of their creators.
The difficulties of diversity and inclusion efforts
According to Wired, Silicon Valley diversity initiatives have produced sub-par results. The share of Facebook employees who are Black or Latinx, for example, has inched up to 10 percent, from 6 percent in 2014; Google went from 5 percent in 2014 to 10 percent in 2020. And while Uber is making progress on their own efforts with dedicated programs and investment, the percentage of female employees sits at just 40%.
So, why is it so difficult?
Many companies try to solve diversity and inclusion problems with a single program or by setting a compliance goal. But, being diverse and inclusive is more than ticking a checkbox. While the numbers matter, they’re only a starting point. Diversity and inclusion improvements need to start with individuals – with you and me and our own biases.
It isn’t easy to recognize our own biases. Many of us are unaware we have them. We have hard-to-change beliefs about the kind of people who make ideal teammates or leaders, and we support, hire and promote accordingly. Typically, our decision-making processes follow the way things have always been done, further cementing our biases.
Tackling both the obvious and unconscious biases held by ourselves and others involves braving corporate and political turmoil, and challenging the status quo.
How to foster diversity and inclusion
A Concours Institute study shows that a number of skills are crucial to fostering diversity and inclusion: appreciating others, being able to engage in purposeful conversations, productively and creatively resolving conflicts, and program management. Following are a few “action items” to help your journey toward a more diverse and inclusive culture:
- Identify and prevent unconscious bias.
We all have unconscious biases. Consider taking an Implicit Association Test to find out what they are. If you’re aware of your hidden biases, you can monitor and change the behavior those biases influence.
Make sure you regularly check your communications are free of discriminatory and sexist language. Careless or sloppy language and stereotyping, however unintentional, can create a perception of inequality and make people feel vulnerable and unwelcome.
Don't follow rules you think are wrong if they create unintentional bias or lead to some groups being treated less favorably than others. Instead, work to get them changed.
If no one steps up to change the status quo, these unconscious biases will continue to dictate our workplaces. We each need to develop the habit of being mindful of not only the differences of individuals, but respecting the challenges they face.
2. Create an open atmosphere for sharing and debating ideas and views.
Foster an open culture where diverse groups can express and voice their ideas. This type of open atmosphere brings together different perspectives, which can eliminate biases and create new solutions. Bringing more diverse perspectives to a problem decreases the likelihood of homogenous products and solutions.
At Deem, our philosophy is to “take space, make space.” This means we all share the responsibility for including all voices in discussion, which may mean inviting others to speak, or alternatively, challenging oneself to speak up if we’re not usually inclined to share our thoughts in a group setting. This mantra is a reminder that every point of view is worth considering.
3. Empower people bring their whole selves to work.
Often, it’s hard to separate your personal life from your professional one. Emotions, stresses and family life trickle into your workday, especially now that so many of us are working from home. Instead of suppressing these feelings, be yourself and expect the same from your teammates.
Support a workplace culture where individuality is noticed and valued. Demonstrate care for your colleagues and provide opportunities for check-ins with your teammates. Workplace support, understanding and trust all reduce the likelihood of people feeling like they’re outsiders.
At Deem, we value being authentic. We encourage our teammates to be their full selves because we know it will help strengthen our working relationships and make an impact on the organization. If we remember to be open-minded and flexible, we can adapt within our organization and to the variety of demands from the marketplace.
Diversity and inclusion when businesses work from home
Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. Many of us have already been working remotely for more than six months.
We all know that fostering a sense of belonging is especially important when we aren’t working together in person. Building those connections through messaging apps, zooming, and email is a challenging goal. But the effort definitely pays off, especially when you consider the link between collaboration and success.
There are hidden opportunities in remote communications. Being behind a screen can provide a comfortable space for those who might be less inclined to speak out in groups. Text-based communication places less importance on interpersonal skills and physical appearance, offering an effective way to share power and decision making. Research shows that introverted individuals are less inhibited in online versus offline interactions.
Yes, there are tangible benefits to spending face-to-face time with your colleagues. But with remote work, it’s still possible to check your biases. You can still debate ideas and be yourself. It does require practicing a new approach, but supporting diversity at your company will improve your team’s work and help you hit your goals.
Continuing to improve
Creating a sense of belonging in your workplace isn’t something you check off once. It requires a long-term commitment. Everyone needs to work together to create a culture that embraces diversity of thought and ensures everyone in the company is heard and has the same opportunities to contribute.
Perhaps the “business case” for diversity and inclusion is really, first, a moral and ethical case for those qualities. Once the culture is in place, the openness and humanness that’s encouraged is what leads to the business benefits. The rewards – the sense of purpose and belonging offered to people – in a truly diverse and inclusive workplace are worth the effort.