Diversity and Inclusivity Isn’t Just Necessary for Office Environments, It Also Benefits the Bottom Line

It’s what employees want and promises retention, too

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Why on earth are we talking about the business case for diversity as if we all still need convincing that it’s good for business?

The business case for diversity has been made over and over again.

One of the most noted and noteworthy proof points is that the most ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform the least ethnically diverse companies, according to McKinsey research. And award-winning talent guru Josh Bersin has shown that more inclusive companies have 2.3 times higher cash flow per employer across a three-year period compared to those with less inclusivity.

Diversity also drives innovation, which contributes to greater financial success. A study by Boston Consulting Group shows that companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percent higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity, which is 45 percent of total revenue versus just 26 percent.

While HR may require diversity, seeing inclusive practices in the day-to-day is another story.

Beyond generating positive output, diversity and inclusion is something employees want going into an organization. It’s one of the most important aspects of their employment. Millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history (44 percent minority), and 67 percent of job seekers say that a diverse workforce is an important factor to them when considering companies and job offers. Fifty-seven percent of employees want their company to do more to increase diversity. Promoting and sustaining a diverse workforce can reduce a company’s blind spots, as they’re also more likely to relate to and understand the needs of particular clients.

In such a competitive marketplace that jumps at even the most iterative development in product innovation, why do organizations continue to overlook diversity as a competitive advantage? Why hasn’t the talk of diversity and inclusion translated into a day-to-day reality for most workplaces? What are the barriers that make a diverse and inclusive workplace a reality?

In one short answer: people. While the business case for diversity is a real and rational argument, implementing diversity and inclusionary practices is actually emotional. Making diversity part of an organization’s culture or putting diversity at the top of a strategic agenda forces some people to rethink how they see the world. While HR may require diversity, seeing inclusive practices in the day-to-day is another story.

For many people, working with and dealing with others who share similar sensibilities, experiences and values is far easier than dealing with people who are different than them. Diversity forces people to rethink their interactions, intentions, opportunities and perception of fairness. It forces us to disrupt our everyday routines. People have to evaluate, consciously or subconsciously, whether that disruption is worth the effort and reward.

But before we can talk solutions, like better recruiting and promotional practices, let’s look within and understand ourselves better. The hard reality is that before we can appreciate and understand others, we need to know and understand ourselves.

We can all dig deeper within by taking the Implicit-Association Test, part of Project Implicit, a global research collaboration that identifies thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness. The test allows people to explore inner feelings across 14 different categories including race, religion, weight and politics.

Use the results to level-set ourselves, our teams and our organizations. No one is exempt from a stereotypical and biased mind, even people who believe they practice goodwill and fairness. The only way to build an inclusive culture that creates a sense of belonging for everyone and leverages the unique knowledge, perspectives and insights to benefit our companies and customers is to look beyond the mirror.

The crucial next step is to identify ways to disrupt our bias and patterned thinking and carry them out. Enlightened leadership can disrupt bias by structuring systems and processes that help leverage a diverse workforce. But we all have to do our part. Every member of an organization at every level has the ability to foster belonging and inclusivity.

Choose to challenge biased thinking especially in our most critical work moments such as when we select our research tools to ensure that we engage the right people, when we consider who to interview and hire and when we evaluate who to promote, assign that exciting new project and who should be included in that first round of conceptualizing.

Diversity and inclusion are not lofty ideas that applies to others. It can start as simply as saying hello to someone who is not like you.