Why We Need An Updated Definition of Diversity

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Does this scenario sound familiar? Your company’s most senior leaders have stated their commitment to inclusion and diversity. You are tracking diversity measures in recruiting and have established employee resource groups to support talent once they join. But something’s missing. The conversation on inclusion and diversity comprises those who already care about the topic rather than the broader set of people who need to “opt in” to affect real change. Progress is stalled at talk rather than action on a day-to-day, business-as-usual level — the type of action required to truly shift corporate, and societal, culture. You’re not alone.

Companies are waking up to the well-documented notion that a workforce that better matches our society’s vast diversity is not only socially responsible, it’s a critical factor for business performance and growth. Unfortunately, too many still operate under a surface-deep approach to diversity that limits ownership of the concept to HR, and often reduces the task at hand to box-checking.

Cultivating truly inclusive and diverse workplaces requires a broader, more meaningful understanding and implementation of the idea. At the heart of this important opportunity is the need to rethink an approach to diversity that can often be perceived as “pushing” the topic on audiences. Instead, we believe that organizations need to create a “pull” that emotionally includes and engages all employees, prompting them to deeply understand the benefits and to catalyze real change on behalf of themselves and their colleagues.

In working with clients, hearing from colleagues and observing leading global organizations, here are some common threads for creating and sustaining truly inclusive and diverse cultures:

A new definition for “diversity”

Expanding the definition of diversity broadens its aperture and audience. Diversity is the intersection of our individual backgrounds and experiences, and the unique perspectives that we each have as a result. If you’re the first to go to college in your family, you’re diverse. If you were born and raised in America but have an additional cultural background, you’re also diverse.

This definition in no way abandons the existing focus of diversity efforts. Critical work remains, and must continue, in including and supporting historically underrepresented groups in the workplace on dimensions such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and more. But an expanded definition of diversity encompasses these identities and brings them together with more broadly defined perspectives. Bringing these many backgrounds together activates a broader set of employees within “diversity” initiatives, ultimately fostering a healthier and more progressive workplace where top talent wants to be.

Purpose-led, human storytelling

Internal communications around diversity tend to focus on one-off initiatives, often competing for mindshare with the many other messages employees receive on a daily basis. Our advice for organizations seeking to break through is to craft a compelling narrative around what diversity means to your employees and how it explicitly connects to the company’s purpose. Doing so provides a powerful opportunity for HR and Marketing to come together to drive greater impact throughout the organization. Creating a story that connects with employees on an emotional level will elevate all future inclusion and diversity communications and set the stage for a united culture tuned to thrive on a mix of backgrounds and perspectives.

Embedding “diversity” in the way you do business

Of course, words are meaningless unless the principles of inclusion and diversity are embedded into the daily interactions of the business. This is arguably the most difficult but also the most important aspect of embedding inclusion and diversity within the culture of an organization. Both managers and employees require guidance on how the organization expects them to behave on an individual and team basis. They also need to see aligned incentives and rewards for these behaviors. This could be as simple as carving out time in meetings so that everyone, including remote workers or the most junior employee, has a voice to building rewards structures to recognize inclusive management behaviors.

While there is still much work to be done, the organizations that start by redefining diversity, telling the story in a human and purpose-driven way, and putting that story into action will be the ones who surge ahead. Doing so will prioritize a more thorough diversity of viewpoints and experiences from which the organization’s creative output will draw.

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