It's More Than a Seat at the Table: 4 Attributes of an Inclusive Workplace
Say that a doctor’s office subscribes to 10 magazines for its waiting room. Three of them focus on entertainment gossip, two feature health and fitness tips, three are family-oriented and two are business publications.
By the numbers, this kind of array may seem to indicate a particular set of preferences. But closer inspection would reveal that some of those magazines are more dog-eared than others. While a variety of magazines are physically represented, many of them are going underutilized and ignored, raising the issue of presentation versus implementation.
The same skewed perspective arises when we use numbers to distinguish between representation and diversity in the workplace, because raw data often undermines what’s happening contextually. In fact, a recent Wired article noted that most companies, through the guise of measuring diversity, are actually measuring only representation because they're only counting heads.
And while representation may be a good first step toward a diversified workplace, it ultimately falls short of true implementation.
Measuring the seemingly immeasurable
Traditional methods for measuring diversity -- such as sums allocated for working with minority businesses or diversity training -- can actually impede momentum. A study in the Harvard Business Review indicated that these approaches may inadvertently reinforce biases, resulting in the need for further and more sophisticated types of analyses.
With companies having access to more big data than ever before, it's time that they scrutinize what "diversity" means to their organizations and how best to incorporate it. Understanding this issue requires a deep dive into the intricacies of the modern workplace, including equity and access, so companies can achieve inclusivity and reframe the metrics of “successful diversification.”
The inclusivity of ‘the startup mentality’
More and more, kudos for diversity go to smaller companies and startups, especially those founded by disenfranchised talent. These organizations have the luxury (if it can be called that) of having no legacy baggage -- meaning no engrained processes or culture -- and a lot of flexibility.
These agile businesses build initiatives into their missions and proactively design their operations with an eye toward inclusion, working through diversity as opposed to "fitting it in." Tech companies, for example, actively recruit young millennials, fostering an inclusive culture that benefits from activities outside the workplace, such as group outings.
True inclusion, though, means hiring the best intergenerational talent -- since diversity in age and experience, especially for bigger roles, can yield incredible returns. Studies by McKinsey & Company have shown that diverse workplaces financially outperform non-diverse ones: The top quartile of gender-diverse companies, in fact, are 15 percent more likely to outperform their peers, while the top quartile of ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely.
Many startups make the effort to address diversity because the bottom line is that a diverse group of people who collaborate well can give a company a competitive edge and keep it plowing forward when others crumble.
Four attributes of an inclusive workplace
Although no single metric can measure diversity in any organization, certain attributes can give leaders a practical snapshot of their workplace’s inclusivity. Here’s how to implement them:
1. Expose people to senior leadership. Are employees exposed to decision-makers and empowered to make an impact? Curiosity was among the six signature traits of inclusive leadership outlined by the Deloitte University Press. Employee access and autonomy create a cross-pollination effect across silos and boundaries, which enhances a leader’s experiential scope and leads to innovation.
In a 2014 study of 1,500 executives by the Boston Consulting Group, three-quarters of leaders listed innovation as one of their top three priorities. And while it may be tough to assign a score to reporting structures (in terms of how dynamic they are) and to open-mindedness, giving leaders an in-depth look at who honestly has access to the upper corporate ladder rungs is a strong step toward inclusivity.
2. Equally allocate title and pay. If two candidates with the same education and experience compete for the same job, do their titles and pay grades align? If not, the workplace can run into liability issues. Beyond liability issues is the gender pay gap, a persistent and pervasive problem.
In 2014, working women earned, on average, 78 percent as much as men, a figure that was much smaller for women of color. For this reason, 28 companies -- including Amazon and Johnson & Johnson -- signed the Obama administration’s 2016 Equal Pay Pledge. So, take a look at your company’s positions and remuneration, and be prepared to ask the tough questions, if necessary.
3. Reevaluate promotion rates. Are women or other minority groups getting promoted at the same rate as their non-minority peers? Promotion rates are a great indicator of your organization’s inclusivity. Companies should not only increase their promotion awareness at the lower level, but achieve better representation across supervisory and C-level roles.
Procter & Gamble is a good example of how a company can overhaul its promotion practices to better align with inclusivity goals: Through an extensive leadership development strategy, it raised its percentage of women managers from 40 to 44 percent between 2008 and 2013.
4. Create opportunities for high-visibility work. Are women and employees of color offered opportunities through special projects? PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi instituted an array of programs -- such as educational classes for her employees and the community -- that allow her employees to play an active role in workplace diversity and social outreach. These practical applications give her people the opportunity to participate in high-visibility roles that exemplify inclusivity. Overall, a company needs to make explicit and concrete strides to illustrate that mere representation is not the end result.
In sum, although some businesses still cling to the notion that it’s all about the numbers, others are looking pragmatically, and closely, at these new metrics. Because, as the nature of business evolves, so, too, should the way businesses and their people think about the topic of diversity.