Diversity and inclusion are one everyone’s mind in the modern workplace for a couple of reasons.
As a general rule, younger people tend to be more concerned about these issues than older people, and it is the youth who are shaping the future workplace. The other reason that diversity and inclusion are so important is that the ethically right stance to take is to embrace these matters.
Countless studies have revealed the depth of the gender pay gap and shown that racism can have a measurable impact on people’s employment options. Women are paid less than men, even when accounting for the career choices that women make or are expected to make. People with “African-American-sounding names” in the United States are less likely to receive job offers than people with “white-sounding names.”
It’s not enough for a manager or a business owner to be aware of their biases and their own privilege. Prejudice is structural — it is built into society. Challenging it requires you to reach outward rather than simply looking inward. Doing this is not easy, and it can involve some awkward conversations.
However, if any employer is genuinely committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, they need to challenge assumptions and tackle negative stereotypes. If your workplace lacks diversity and inclusion, it won’t be an easy thing to fix — but fixing it will be worth it.
1. Make Your Workplace Accessible
If you want to create a more inclusive workplace, the best place to start is by getting people through the door. This is true in a hiring sense, since where you advertise your jobs and who performs your interviews can have a huge impact on who gets hired. It’s also true in a more literal sense: Your workplace needs to be accessible and navigable for people with disabilities.
Whether you’re focusing on literal accessibility or general accessibility to reduce the impact of societal prejudice in your workplace, you need to pay attention to your onboarding process. The average cost per hire in the US is just over $4,000. For that amount of money, you want to be sure that you’re hiring the best and setting everyone up for success.
If your hiring process presents a barrier to people from certain backgrounds, you might end up missing out on top talent. From that standpoint, encouraging diversity and inclusion doesn’t just make sense ethically — it makes sense economically as well.
2. Practice Intervention
Most diversity and inclusion programs focus on making sure that potential hires don’t feel discriminated against because of their backgrounds. Few programs focus on the hard job of challenging the assumptions of people who already work at the company.
Training is a good way to do this. You likely use training to educate employees on workplace challenges like safety and hitting sales targets, so why not do the same for workplace prejudice? Show your workers how to handle situations where one employee makes another feel uncomfortable or discriminated against. Training sessions that teach people how to intervene in discriminatory situations give employees a framework for tackling behavior they already know is wrong but may not know how to address.
3. Check in With Your Employees Regularly
The best way to allow prejudice to develop is to ignore it. By leaving the issue alone, you allow a person’s intolerance for a group to continue unchecked. In doing so, you send the message that it’s okay to hold these views and — worse still — that those affected by this intolerance don’t matter.
You can’t be expected to monitor each employee’s every thought and action — nor should you want to. At the other extreme, if you’re only having in-depth check-ins with your employees during annual appraisals, there are 11 months of the year during which you will be oblivious to your employees’ feelings and behaviors.
It’s for this reason that annual appraisals don’t work — not just in terms of making sure that your employees are behaving as they should, but in general. With all of the pressures that come with a conversation that only happens once a year, it’s next to impossible to have a meaningful discussion about anything during an annual appraisal. The idea that you’d also find time during this brief window to address workplace inequality is laughable.
The best way to keep tabs on your employees in a professional and practical way is with some kind of continuous performance management system. By turning yearly reviews into regular conversations that focus on pragmatic next steps rather than annual ratings, you can direct the conversation toward actionable steps your employees can take to make the workplace more inclusive.
4. Listen to Other Perspectives
Giving employees the chance to hear from people affected by discrimination can be very powerful.
It is important to recognize your own privileges, whether they stem from your ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, sexuality, health, physical appearance, or some other attribute. This can be hard to do. After all, life is never easy for anyone. You fought hard for your job, so to have someone say you’re privileged can feel like a suggestion that you didn’t succeed on merit.
By listening to stories from people in minority groups, we can better understand the unique challenges they face in the workplace. This is what it means to understand privilege.
Simply put, Employee A might not need to worry about the same things Employee B worries about because Employee A’s ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, sexuality, health, or physical appearance prevents that worry from being a concern for Employee A. That means that Employee A has privilege. By being aware of this situation, Employee A can be more empathetic toward others and can help actively create a workplace where Employee B feels more comfortable.
The road to a more equal, diverse, and inclusive workplace is filled with tough talks and even tougher attitude changes. Thankfully, the benefits can be reaped from the moment you start. What’s more, by recognizing that you need to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, you’ve already taken the first step.
Stuart Hearn is CEO of Clear Review.