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Diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs are cropping up all over the place these days, and for good reason. Data point to positive gains from employing a diverse workforce. Recent research has even dissected the anatomy of a C-suite and found that gender, cultural, and ethnic diversity among top-performing executive teams translates into as much as a 33% greater profitability than less diverse, lower performing teams.

Of course, D&I isn’t, and should never be, a numbers game, instead it should be a top priority because it’s the right thing to do. Our world is brimming with endless possibilities to connect with people from all over. Technological advances make it easier than ever to communicate and collaborate across time zones and oceans. Companies that shy away from such amazing opportunities will lose out on so much potential talent it’s a shame (for them, not for you!).

D&I isn’t a buzz word or current hype that will die down, either. Consider this: The younger generations want to work for companies that actively promote (and not just pay lip service to) diversity and inclusion. By 2025 millennials, arguably the most socially conscious generation, will comprise 75% of the workforce. This population is hyper aware of workplace disparities stemming from bias and discrimination issues, which is only part of the reason they seek out companies that embed D&I into their culture.

Understanding D&I

An integral piece of true D&I is addressing the entire spectrum of the terms. Often, we think of gender and race as the key components of diversity and, while important, those two aspects are just the tip of the iceberg. True diversity will span race, gender, disability status, age, veteran status, and even thought. Enabling a workplace with diverse thinking, according to research from Bersin by Deloitte, can increase innovation by 20% and decrease risk by up to 30%.

With that said, D&I isn’t complete if you only focus on diversity. Inclusion is what takes real effort. You could have the most diverse team of people, but if one or more of them feel on guard or out of place, your diversity efforts have failed. People want to feel seen, heard, and valued at work, and if you can’t do that for one or more of your workforce populations then it’s time to refocus your D&I efforts.

Whether you plan to begin addressing D&I or need to revitalize it (and trust us, you really should), there are some steps to take before diving in head first:

1. Take the pulse of your organization. Figure out your strengths and weaknesses–you may have a very diverse rank-and-file population, but do you offer employee resource groups (ERGs), such as a Hispanic ERG or a new parent ERG? Who comprises the leadership teams? Like it or not, the top-down approach is key for D&I; employees look to leaders as role models for company culture. If leaders don’t model D&I and an inclusive culture, no one else will either.

2. Review job descriptions and other recruiting materials. Bias, unconscious or conscious, creeps into the hiring process in many sneaky ways. Even the most subtle language found in job ads could be turning candidates away. If, for example, you’re looking for a “Javascript ninja” you may unknowingly be speaking to a particular homogenous group of people. Same with terms like “digital native” or “search engine optimization guru.” Then, there’s a host of other bias issues when recruiters review candidates–from denying a candidate based on their name or rejecting them after an interview because they style their hair a certain way. These, often unconscious, microaggressions hinder company growth, which is why organizations must review their recruiting and hiring approaches before  tackling some of the other D&I issues.

3. Talk to employees, find out how they feel about company culture. Actively listen to minority employees give them a platform to be heard, seen, and valued. This could mean spearheading the creation of ERGs or an inclusion council composed of top-level leaders dedicated to D&I initiatives

4. Implement some artificial intelligence to monitor progress. But, buyer beware, AI and tech aren’t the last stop on the D&I journey. In fact, if you decide to implement tech without properly vetting the vendor, you could create more problems than solutions. Tech is only as good as the person who created it; a homogenous group of creators will produce a homogenous algorithm, chatbot, or robot. (Can you see the headlines now? Racist Robots Rule Silicon Valley… wait, did that run already?)

Remember, D&I isn’t a game of numbers–there’s no magic percentage that signals company diversity. As long as you focus on recruiting and hiring diverse candidates and actively work to ensure everyone feels seen, heard, and valued, you’re well on your way to attracting and retaining the best talent.

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