Experts weigh in on how to create a culture of inclusion that stands the test of time—and leads to better business outcomes.
Having a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategy isn’t just good for society, it’s good for your business, too.
A study by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. According to other research, organizations with diverse leaders and employees innovate at a faster rate, because diversity of thought helps generate a variety of ideas and can even alter a group’s social identity to overwhelmingly focus more on facts and the thoughtful correction of team errors.
However, employing a DEI strategy at your organization doesn’t make a meaningful difference if you don’t also create a sense of belonging. Cultivating belonging takes thoughtful integration and fundamental change across an entire organization. Companies need to prioritize, measure and iterate on their DEI strategies to create belonging and retain employees.
Diversity without inclusion does not create belonging
Ruchika Tulshyan, inclusion strategist and Founder and CEO of Candour, articulates this sentiment . According to Tulshyan, “You can bring in people who are different, you can have a strategy around bringing in diversity, but if they aren’t going to stay—or want to stay—that doesn’t create belonging.”
She goes on to say that the “equity” piece of DEI is truly what helps companies go beyond DEI to foster a sense of belonging. “Equity is being represented at the decision-making table. At the tables where we invite people or leave people out is where we are going to change structures of bias and change structures where barriers exist for people who have been historically underrepresented in the workforce and society.”
Inclusion doesn’t just happen because you want it to happen—it takes intention. Here are eight effective strategies you can implement at your organization now to improve and expand upon DEI and belonging.
1. Avoid affinity bias
Have you ever led a job interview and you discover the person you’re interviewing loves the same basketball team as you? Or you both seem to have a similar sense of humor? Leaving the interview, you’re likely to think highly of them, which will positively impact your post-interview feedback. This is a form of affinity bias: having more favorable opinions of people similar to you. This goes beyond superficial interests to include things like gender, religion, race and sexual orientation.
Numerous studies have shown that we even have affinity bias toward people with names that sound like ours. “We are hardwired to prefer sameness, and yet we need to disrupt that tendency and go out and seek difference in every facet of our lives,” Tulshyan says.
While people can’t rid themselves of affinity bias overnight, there are steps your organization can take to help decrease the chances of favoritism. First, it’s important to determine where this is happening and why. Conduct internal research to see where discrimination may occur—either by analyzing hiring or promotion data or performing employee surveys. Then, educate your staff on the topic via online or in-person training sessions. From there, encourage your employees—from leadership to entry level—to speak up when they see affinity bias occurring. By bringing examples to light, it’ll ultimately help create a culture of openness and change.
2. Cultivate psychological safety
It’s important to create an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up and advocating for themselves and others. To do that, you need to cultivate a culture of psychological safety, or being able to act and engage in a team without fear of negative consequences.
Google conducted an internal study of their organization in 2012—dubbed Project Aristotle—that examined what caused some teams to succeed while others faltered. Their data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to team success.
If people feel comfortable, confident, and secure in the workplace, they’ll be much more likely to share ideas, ask questions, surface concerns and even make mistakes. On the flipside, if they feel like they’ll be looked down upon or even punished for speaking up, then they’ll either stay quiet or just go along with the status quo. By allowing others to speak (without interruption), applauding creative thinking, and giving everyone an equal chance to contribute, you’re taking meaningful steps to create a culture of innovation.
The term ‘psychological safety’ may appear to have nothing to do with your bottom-line. But studies have shown it is a fundamental need for employee productivity. For example, a 2017 Gallup report found that if organizations increase psychological safety, it makes employees more engaged in their work and can lead to a 12% increase in productivity. Building a sense of belonging is critical to overall business success.
3. Take personal accountability for inclusion
Each person contains power, no matter what their level is at an organization. That means, no matter your position, you have the authority to speak out against affinity bias, call out interrupters and be the change you want to see. This is especially true if you’re in a position of privilege. Use that position to voice your opinion, because one person has more power than you may realize.
“We make active decisions about who we’re going to invite on our team, who are we going to socialize with, who will we put up for promotion…in every decision of our lives we have the chance to practice inclusion,” Tulshyan says.
4. Think holistically
According to Gary Davis, DEI Advisory Director at Greenhouse, DEI needs to be intimately interwoven across every aspect of the employee experience. “This is more than a project deadline…it’s more than a one-time initiative. We need to see DEI as an extension of how our business operates, especially with how we think about how our people are treated, both people that are coming into our organizations and also the ones that are already there as we are developing talent.”
This means all aspects of the workplace culture need to be examined, and at every personnel level, from C-suite to interns. Review your processes and procedures to ensure they’re fair and unbiased; make changes at both a micro and macro level; and encourage a culture of accountability and feedback.
“Organizations should really focus on benchmarking key aspects of their culture and understanding how the employee experience can really promote inclusivity,” says Russalynne Griggs, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Good Eggs. “Remember that daily interactions are the most telling sign of whether or not a company has an inclusive culture.”
5. Use technology to reduce bias
While you can take real steps to reduce favoritism in the workplace, people will always have inherent bias. By adopting technology that is specifically created to remove organizational bias, you’ll be in a better position to create a more transparent and fair organization.
“If we focus on the underlying systems, processes, tools and platforms that an organization uses, it can help them hone where change is needed, as well as put in the appropriate metrics that help reinforce and encourage the equitable behavior that we want to see,” says Martine Cadet, Vice President of Social Impact at pymetrics. “If you focus your strategy around ensuring your systems and tools are de-biased, it could add much more benefit and help those DEI strategies become more effective—and that helps foster transparency and long-term accountability.”
Yet just as people aren’t perfect, neither is technology. So it’s important for people and technology to work in harmony to advance DEI and belonging. “Products have limits because products are created by people, and we’re building our biases into our products,” Davis points out. “A product isn’t going to be a surrogate or a replacement for a process or strategy…this is very people-centric work so it still requires that human-to-human connection.”
6. Audit feedback
Yes, sharing a favorite sports team is a great social connection. However, this shared affinity won’t help when you’re trying to tackle a difficult project or meet a quota.
You don’t want to settle for generic, anecdotal feedback post-interview, because that’s not going to paint a true picture of who the candidate is as an employee. Instead, encourage your hiring managers to pay attention to culture “add”, not culture “fit”, when interviewing candidates. Hosting training sessions where you role play interviewer-interviewee scenarios can help hiring managers identify their blind spots and course correct.
7. Run a skills-based interview
During the pandemic, the workforce has fluctuated enormously, from people losing jobs en masse to companies struggling to find talent. This means workers may have gaps on their resume from being out of work. It also means companies have had to think beyond their standard job requirements to find skilled workers.
This is where skills-based interviewing comes into play. Hiring managers should focus on competencies and skills when hiring candidates, instead of just focusing on background and pedigree. The same is true when it comes to promotions. Considering that women employees were disproportionately pushed out of the workforce during the pandemic, seeking out candidates with transferable skills can help bridge the inequality gap.
8. Swim outside your normal talent pool
DEI starts with recruitment, and it’s the responsibility of the employer to actively source diverse candidates. Yet, your current talent pool may be lacking diversity. While technology can help partially solve this problem, you’ll expand your reach even further by partnering with different organizations.
Connect with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), professional associations or local employment groups. Tap into the expertise and insight of these organizations to help guide you on the best approach for attaining diverse candidates. You may also want to consider extending your geographical reach to areas you may not have previously considered, attracting a wider range of candidates with a variety of experience.
Getting (un)comfortable with DEI
It’s clear that creating an environment of belonging isn’t easy. It’s not something you can implement overnight, or even over a few weeks. It’s something that needs to be richly integrated into your company’s values and touch every aspect of your business. However, it’s also clear that becoming a company that not only embraces DEI but lives and breathes it daily will lead to better business outcomes and advance the modern workforce.
Interested to learn more about hiring practices and perceptions around DEI? Download the Fair Chance Hiring Report below.
Fair Chance Hiring Report
A 2021 report examining hiring practices and perceptions around fair chance hiring and DEI.