Diversity can have many definitions. Organizations often define it in the context of their culture. Generally speaking, diversity refers to the qualities, experiences, and work behaviors that make individuals unique. This includes age, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, disabilities, income, etc. It can also touch upon federal, state, and local equal employment opportunity laws, but…that’s for another post.
If diversity deals with those aspects that make individuals unique, inclusion is the ability for organizations to make every person feel welcome, respected, supported, and valued. At this year’s WorkHuman Conference, I heard a quote from Verna Myers that explains it well, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” So, inclusion is the extent to which the organization can realize a benefit of having such a workforce.
It’s very difficult to discuss diversity and inclusion in today’s business environment without including a conversation about culture. Culture is defined as a collection of commonly-held traditions, beliefs, and behaviors by a group of people. Culture is a part of every organization and, in many workplaces, it’s never documented.
Needless to say, every organization is diverse. Every business is made up of unique individuals. It’s true that we might share some common qualities and experiences with others, but not all. The real question is the organization’s ability to create an inclusive culture. For a company to achieve its business goals, they must recognize and leverage the talent within the company. That means being able to create a culture that is empowering, supportive, and in turn, allows people to do their best work.
Heather Brunner, CEO of WP Engine, said during the 2017 Great Place to Work Conference that organizations must embrace diversity and inclusion to achieve employee engagement. It’s only logical that engagement is contingent upon employees feeling involved and committed to their work as well as to the company mission and values. If organizations want to create an inclusionary workforce, there are three significant business opportunities to consider.
- Innovation: The key to unleashing organizational creativity and innovation is by engaging employees who have a wide variety of skills and talents. For example, consider the five generations of employees currently in the workplace and their various points-of-view. A tremendous opportunity exists to create different ideas and expanded goals for the business.
- Buying Power: According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, the buying power of minority communities in the United States has greatly outpaced that of white consumers. For example, the Hispanic market is expanding rapidly and there are several untapped consumer segments such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) market.
- Sales and Profits: A study published in American Sociological Review indicated that companies reporting the highest levels of racial diversity brought in nearly 15 times more sales revenue on average than those with the lowest levels of racial diversity. The same study indicated that gender diversity accounted for a difference of approximately $500 million in sales revenue.
Lew Platt, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, summarized the business case for diversity best. “I see three main points to make the business case for diversity.
1) A talent shortage that requires us to seek out and use the full capabilities of all our employees.
2) The need to be like our customers, including the need to understand and communicate with them in terms that reflects their concerns. And,
3) Diverse teams produce better results.”
CEOs continue to say that recruiting and retaining talent is their number one priority. As the unemployment rate continues to drop, and we start to hear about “full employment”, companies are challenged to find skilled individuals to fill open positions. The proverbial “War for Talent” is back.
Successful organizations realize that their competitive advantage is having employees who are engaged with the company. Engagement happens when employees feel they’re included. When the company is operating at its best, employees are empowered to take care of customers and enabled to solve problems and remove obstacles.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami, FL4