You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

Getting Diversity and Inclusion Right in Your Company Recognizing our human sameness opens the door to enjoying our cultural and individual uniqueness.

By Shelley Reciniello

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many companies pour money into diversity and inclusion initiatives only to find themselves stuck and their pipelines empty. How truly diverse and inclusive is your organization? Are women, minorities, people of different generations, ethnicities, races, religions, gender identities and sexual orientations all included?

Related: Richard Branson on Why Diversity Is an Advantage

It isn't easy to get this right. The primary reason is that everybody has preconceived notions of other people and these are largely unconscious. Good people can think and feel things that are not true or kind or fair. Becoming aware of our inner level of prejudices, the ways we classify and stereotype other people, and making the roots of these attitudes conscious, is a necessity in 21st century leadership.

You may balk at this, thinking "I don't have prejudices." But the truth is, we are all hardwired through evolution to seek out people who look like us for security and protection. We consciously and unconsciously hire people who look like or remind us of ourselves.

Embracing difference, when it is easier to surround yourself with people who are just like you, will rock your world. You will have to go deep down inside yourself to examine and challenge what feels natural to you. You may seize on superficial similarities so that you can avoid the big differences that make you feel uncomfortable. You may also make the assumption that all minority members are the same, see things the same way and want the same things. This is what happens when a token woman or African American is appointed to the board. Individual differences are critical but they are lost on us when we are so anxious to avoid the big differences among people that we focus only on what is comfortably familiar.

You will need to look instead for the meaningful similarities you share with others that will help you overlook unessential differences. When we become comfortable with our human sameness, we can enjoy our cultural and individual uniqueness. But, until you do the work to become conscious of what influences how you look at a person or situation, you will get it wrong.

The poet and professor, Dr. Maya Angelou, did the work. When you were in her presence, you could feel with certainty that she could see you as you truly are. Last year, when she was asked in an interview, "How can what you say and what you write resonate so thoroughly with such a wide spectrum of people?" she said simply that it came from, "seeing us as more alike than unalike."

Related: The Melting Pot Looks to Diversity to Grow its Franchise

You and your company culture must create an unrelenting commitment to consciousness around this issue. Ask yourself, what do you do on a daily basis that might be a way you treat others not based on who they are, but on who you prejudge them to be? Universities and legal and judicial systems have been raising awareness about micro-inequities and micro-aggressions, referring to the small ways that human beings interact and unwittingly convey discriminatory feelings. You know how subtle this can be. An offhand remark, a smirk, a wink, a tone that says volumes about who is accepted and who is condescended to, tolerated, or humored. At the root of these behaviors is unconscious bias.

Peter Drucker warned us that we would have to become "citizens of the world" if we were going to thrive in a globalized economy. If you and your employees can't relate to people from different worlds with openness, curiosity and respect, your competitors will. The best way to achieve that edge is to make sure that you have a workforce that understands, through its own experience, how to communicate, relate and negotiate across difference.

Dr. Maya Angelou observed that we "allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, alone in genders." The legacy she leaves with us is to follow her example and overcome our ignorance.

In business, we can meet this challenge using consciousness as the antidote to ignorance.

Related: On Becoming That Truly Inclusive Leader

Dr. Shelley Reciniello is a corporate psychologist, she works closely with senior management, boards of directors, human resources, and diversity departments to provide consultation and senior leadership development. She is the author of The Conscious Leader: 9 Principles and Practices to Create a Wide-awake and Productive Workplace

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Side Hustle

This Dad Started a Side Hustle to Save for His Daughter's College Fund — Then It Earned $1 Million and Caught Apple's Attention

In 2015, Greg Kerr, now owner of Alchemy Merch, was working as musician when he noticed a lucrative opportunity.

Business News

I Designed My Dream Home For Free With an AI Architect — Here's How It Works

The AI architect, Vitruvius, created three designs in minutes, complete with floor plans and pictures of the inside and outside of the house.

Business News

This Fan-Favorite Masters 2024 Item Is Still $1.50 as Tournament Menu Appears Unscathed by Inflation

The pimento cheese sandwich is a tradition almost as big as the tournament itself.

Business Solutions

Handle In-House Projects More Efficiently with MS Project Pro — Just $24 Through April 16

It's designed to help teams stay on task with features like management templates, timesheets, generators, and more.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business Ideas

7 Link-Building Tactics You Need to Know to Skyrocket Your Website's Rankings

An essential component of SEO, link building is not just a 'Set them and forget them' proposition, but a dance of skills and strategies.