Diversity and Inclusion Are Not Buzzwords
I was at a speaking engagement recently and had a great conversation with an audience member about the importance of diversity and inclusion. I enjoyed the dialogue so much that it made me want to repurpose an article I wrote on the topic last year for a broader audience. It's a subject that I'm passionate about and, in fact, one of my leadership tenets includes the following mantra: "Diversity and inclusion should both be leveraged as corporate strengths." Most leaders will tell you that people are the greatest resource in any organization but I tend to push that notion a bit further. To me, having a workforce that is representative of society, engaged in the success of the organization, and being challenged to maximize their unique talents to support the execution of the mission ... now that's the proverbial sweet spot!
Diversity is not just about the physical characteristics people possess. It's about discovering what they have to offer and then giving them latitude to use their personal experiences, perspectives and individual skill sets to accomplish amazing results for the team. We all know that an engaged workforce can be a force multiplier, but how do you get an entire group of people, who are all different in some way, to work harmoniously in support of the same vision? First, you have to create an inclusive culture where diversity is respected and appreciated by all. Leaders need to make everyone feel like they are welcome in the workplace and that their individual contributions are valued. Once that cultural baseline is set, measured and enforced, you can focus on how to tap into the greatness of your people.
We squander the tremendous potential of diversity if we are not finding opportunities to harness it as a ubiquitous corporate strength. Diversity and inclusion needs to be woven into the very fabric of an enterprise's decision-making structure. When an organization has a rich diversity of experience and opinion at its disposal, and makes a concerted effort to cultivate it, the ensuing innovation and creativity can be game-changers. But it's incumbent for leaders to actually put those tools into action. For example, if you know that someone may have a different perspective on a current challenge because of where they are from or how they grew up - be unabashed and ask them for their opinion and be receptive to their thinking. Or when someone has a specific work experience in an area that others may not - consider letting that person lead a project even if others might be more qualified 'on paper' to do it. In both cases, you might accomplish more than you originally thought you could by utilizing your intangible assets.
In order to build a workplace culture that appreciates and leverages its diversity, leaders must be proactive in a variety of facets - but of the utmost importance is the need to model the behavior. Set a policy that requires a diverse hiring panel for all interview candidates. Ensure that internal working groups always have a cross-functional and cross-cultural composition. Talk openly about diversity and inclusion, and their importance to the organization, to routinely reiterate why they matter and highlight success stories where those corporate advantages yielded results. Convene the development of a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion and incorporate metrics in conjunction with the goals and objectives into the performance plans of the senior management team. Smart organizations know that diversity and inclusion are not about checking boxes or statistics. Rather, they are about celebrating people's differences, and employing them as strategic advantages that can enable an organization to be its absolute best.