by Jeremy York, author, Synergy, adapted from the Society for Human Resource Management

Ensuring people from underrepresented communities are recruited and advanced is far more beneficial for an organization than recruiting or advancing any one individual. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) attempts to level the playing field to allow the best ideas to flourish, connect talented individuals from underrepresented backgrounds with opportunities that those in the majority often have unfair access to, and empower the best organizations to thrive. Done right, creating diverse, equitable, inclusive organizations yield greater profitability, innovation, and smarter teams.

When employees who are different from their colleagues are allowed to flourish, the company benefits from their ideas, skills and engagement. The retention rate of those workers also rises. Here are five practical strategies for creating an inclusive environment.

  1. Educate your leaders. Your organization’s executives and managers will be instrumental to your DEI efforts. Leaders — especially middle managers — must be held accountable for results. Leaders should be expected to demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity and, more importantly, to be responsible for the environment in their respective departments. Ongoing feedback from their own managers will help to hold them accountable, as does tying the goal to their performance evaluations.
  2. Form an inclusion council. Consider forming a council comprised of a dedicated group of eight to 12 influential leaders who are one or two levels below the CEO. Carefully select them for their passion and commitment to inclusion. They need to be “a channel for communication” between the rank and file and the C-suite, and that includes advocating for inclusiveness in discussions with top executives when necessary. Ideally, councils should be involved in goal-setting around hiring, retaining and advancing a diverse workforce and in addressing any employee engagement problems among underrepresented employee groups.
  3. Celebrate employee differences. One of the most important ways to show employees that you respect their backgrounds and traditions is to invite them to share those in the workplace. It’s well-known that diversity in teams leads to better decision-making, greater innovation and, ultimately, higher returns. Inclusion is what connects people to the business, and we believe it’s one of the core reasons that diverse employees stay with organizations that recognize and celebrate diversity.
  4. Listen to employees. Conduct a comprehensive assessment of your organization’s demographics and people processes to develop specific strategies to promote inclusiveness. Think about the culture you want and how you can create one that is authentic to your brand while meeting the needs of your employees.
  5. Communicate goals and measure progress. Establish and clearly communicate specific, measurable and time-bound goals as you would with any other strategic aim. Every company should first benchmark their culture before they begin investing in it. Here are some actions to follow:

    Conduct a full audit of your people processes — from recruiting and hiring to developing and retaining employees. Couple the data with engagement and other workforce survey data to gain a full measure of your climate.
  • Identify any shortcomings and measurable discrepancies around inclusiveness in your organization.
  • Instill rigor into inclusion strategies with data-driven plans, and measure the results.
  • Establish a clear business case for how the company will benefit by having a more inclusive culture by asking:
  1. What are our inclusion goals?
  2. What are the reasons for those goals?
  3. How do we quantify inclusion?
  4. How will inclusion impact our mission, brand or bottom line?

When you can answer these questions, you’re speaking the language of your stakeholders, legitimizing the business of inclusion and making inclusion a ‘verb’ versus an ideal.

Instead of trying to change some people to fit the organization, we must focus on transforming our organizations to fit all people. To get workplace diversity and inclusion right, you need to build a culture where everyone feels valued and heard.

To hear the full interview with Jeremy York of Synergy, click below.