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A Simple Guide to Workplace Diversity and Inclusion

Let’s face it, workplace diversity and inclusion are no longer buzzwords. They’re becoming increasingly important components of any successful business. Read this guide, to learn about how you can create a diverse and inclusive space for your team.

Not only do employees actively seek out diverse companies, but customers see it as an important factor they’ll consider when deciding to do business with a company. Simply put, with a diverse and included workforce, you’ll be able to attract the best talent and widen your customer base. Apart from this, you’ll enjoy several other benefits, which all result in the ability to generate more revenue.

The problem is that many companies still fail to implement workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives. This is often a result of a misunderstanding of these concepts and what they mean for businesses.

So, why is diversity important in the workplace? How should you go about implementing workplace diversity and inclusion practices in your startup? In this post, we’ll look at these questions in more detail.

The foundation of your startup’s diversity and inclusion practices

The first step in developing diversity and inclusion practices in your startup is knowing the ‘why’. As such, the foundation of your startup’s workplace diversity and inclusion policies is based on a clear understanding of what diversity and inclusion are and why they’re important for your company.

Remember, every startup is different and has a set of unique needs and circumstances. So, based on your understanding of the ‘why’ and how it aligns with your company’s mission and values, you’ll have a better idea of its value and how you’ll implement it in your company.

With that in mind, let’s look at these two aspects a bit closer.

What is workplace diversity and inclusion?

Understanding workplace diversity and inclusion relies on understanding what both diversity and inclusion are and how they interact. This is a critical step as these two terms are often used interchangeably but, in fact, are entirely unique.

What is diversity?

In its most basic form, workplace diversity refers to the vast range of races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, ages, religions, and more that you’ll find in a specific workforce.

Understandably, diversity is a complex concept, and it’s typically not based on these aspects mentioned above in isolation but rather a complex interaction between several concepts. As a result, there are several different types of diversity you’ll find in the workplace:

Demographic diversity

Demographic diversity, typically also referred to as internal diversity, describe the different diverse aspects or traits that a person is born with or into. In other words, a person has no control over these aspects and, as such, can't change them. Some of these aspects or traits include race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, and others.

External diversity

In contrast to internal diversity, external diversity relates to those aspects or traits a person has but aren't born into. External diversity also frequently refers to how external events can shape a person's experiences. Either way, these aspects can be changed or modified by a person. Here, some examples of these aspects include education, skills, interests, relationship status, parental status, citizenship, and others.

Experiential diversity

Experiential diversity refers to the different ways in which experiences have shaped a person's perspective and world view. This is an especially important aspect to consider in the workplace, as these experiences have a significant impact on a person's decision-making abilities and how creative they can be. Here, some of the aspects that contribute to experiential diversity include life events, traumas, political events and beliefs, cultural events, background, knowledge of history, and others.

Cognitive diversity

Cognitive diversity refers to the way in which different people approach problems. Because people have different viewpoints, perspectives, personalities, and abilities, they will approach and solve problems differently. As a result, cognitive diversity is a critical aspect in the workplace because giving people the opportunity to solve problems in their way and value their contribution will foster an environment of collaboration.

Organizational diversity

Organisational diversity refers to the aspects that arise in any company or workplace and determine, to some extent, how people interact, collaborate, and communicate in the workplace. Here, some common organizational diversity aspects include job role and responsibilities, seniority level, department, work location, management status, and others.

What is inclusion?

Now that we've seen what diversity is, the immediate question is: What is inclusion? A more formal definition for inclusion would be that it’s the achievement of a work environment where all employees are treated equally, respectfully, and fairly and have access to all the same opportunities, tools, and resources, notwithstanding their differences.

In simpler terms, inclusion in the workplace means that every employee feels like part of the team. This involves that their opinions are heard, their contributions valued, and they’re respected. Inclusion involves the efforts you make and the policies you implement to achieve this. So, in a sense, inclusion determines how you implement diversity in your company.

This means that without inclusion, diversity will amount to nothing. And it’s for this reason that understanding the difference between diversity and inclusion is so important. For example, you could have a diverse workforce, but without the necessary policies and strategies to make all employees feel valued and respected, your efforts won’t mean much.

Why are diversity and inclusion important in the workplace?

Now that we’ve seen what diversity and inclusion are, let’s look at why it’s important for your company. Here, there are several benefits you’ll enjoy when you’re able to create and foster a diverse and inclusive workforce. Some of these benefits include:

Higher employee engagement

Once employees feel that their opinions matter, that their contributions are valued, and when they’re included, they’ll feel like part of the team. As a result, they’ll be more engaged. Flowing from this, they’ll collaborate better, and your teams will be more efficient and productive. Higher engagement also has another benefit. Because your employees will be more engaged, you’ll keep turnover low and your employee retention rates will increase. Ultimately, you’ll be able to retain the best talent.

Access to more talent.

When you aim to build a diverse and inclusive workforce, you’ll have access to a larger talent pool. This is simply because you’ll open your hiring process to candidates you might not have considered before. It goes further than this, though. When you increase your talent pool, you’ll not only have access to more talent but a wider range of viewpoints, perspectives, and opinions.

More flexibility

When your employees have a range of viewpoints, perspectives, and opinions, your teams will be more flexible. This enables your company, as a whole, to be more agile. As a result, you’ll be able to adapt to changing market conditions and evolving customer needs and expectations quicker. In turn, this not only allows you to serve your customers better, but also capitalise on opportunities in the market.

Increased innovation

When you have access to more viewpoints, opinions, and perspectives, you’ll find new ways of solving problems. As a result, you’ll be able to innovate more, which results in better products or services and the ability to stand out from the competition in a competitive marketplace.

Larger customer base

Generally, consumers like to buy from brands they associate with. Moreover, diversity is becoming an increasingly important factor customers take into consideration when deciding what company to buy a product from. So, if you have a diverse and included workforce, you’ll be able to attract and connect with a larger customer base.

Better reputation

When you foster a diverse and included working environment, you’ll increase your company’s reputation. Now, this has several benefits. For one, you’ll be able to differentiate yourself from your competition, which is especially valuable in a competitive market filled with similar products. You’ll also be able to attract the best talent, as jobseekers are more inclined to work for companies with excellent reputations.

Better decision-making abilities.

Considering that you’ll have insights from a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, and you’ll give your employees the opportunity to voice their opinions, you’ll be able to make better decisions.

Increased revenue and profits

Considering everything mentioned above, your company will be more efficient, more productive, have a better reputation, and you’ll be able to serve your customers better by offering innovative solutions to their problems. This all translates into the ability to generate more revenue, reduce costs, and increase your company’s profits.

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Implementing workplace diversity and inclusion in your startup

We’ve now seen what workplace diversity and inclusion is and why it’s important for your company. So, you now have the foundation from which you’ll be able to implement workplace diversity and inclusion in your company. With that in mind, we’ll now look at the steps you’ll need to follow to do this.

Keep in mind, however, that there are no hard and fast rules when implementing workplace diversity and inclusion in your company. In other words, there’s no one size fits all approach. This means that these steps should serve as a guideline that you can adapt your company’s unique needs and requirements.

Understand where you are

The first step in the process is understanding where you are in terms of workplace diversity and inclusion. This will not only show you where you need to improve, but also give you a benchmark to track your progress against.

To measure where you are, you’ll have to consider and measure various factors. These include everything from analysing your past hires and promotions to considering who on your team makes the most contributions. You could also consider employees who have left your company in the past. It may also be helpful to conduct a diversity and inclusion survey of your employees.

From this, you’ll gain insights into how diverse your workforce is and whether employees feel included and valued for their opinions and contributions. These insights will show where you might fall short and what aspects you need to prioritise.

Take a top down approach

Implementing any diversity and inclusion policies and practices will only be successful if you employ a top-down approach. In other words, you’ll have to get complete buy in from across your entire company, and this starts with management.

As such, both you and any other employees in management positions should make these efforts a priority. And here, it will be your responsibility, as CEO, to educate other leaders in your company on why workplace diversity and inclusion should form part of your mission.

If you do, it will trickle down to the rest of the team, and they’ll understand the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion and their benefits for the company.

Appoint a task force

Apart from educating management about the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion and what benefits the company will enjoy as a result of properly implemented diversity and inclusion practices, you should also consider creating a workplace diversity and inclusion task force.

This task force will serve two purposes. For one, the task force will continuously measure the implementation of your workplace diversity and inclusion policies. This ensures that you stay on track with what you want to achieve. Also, the task force analyse the results they obtain and use the insights they get to improve your strategy.

However, for this task force to be successful, you’ll need to ensure that it has clear goals, definitive leadership, and a budget that will enable it to achieve its goals.

Implement the correct strategies

Once you’ve analysed where you are, gotten complete buy-in across your company, and created a workplace diversity and inclusion taskforce, you’ll need to implement the appropriate strategies to achieve your goals. Once again, keep in mind that these are some strategies you can employ and the strategies you use will, ultimately, depend on your specific goals.

Code of conduct

A code of conduct can be a valuable tool to ensure that your diversity and inclusion policies are implemented effectively. Remember, with a diverse workforce, you’ll have a vast range of opinions and viewpoints. This could lead to your workplace diversity and inclusion strategies not being implemented consistently.

This is where a properly developed code of conduct can make the implementation clearer for anyone on your team. Simply put, the code of conduct will help them know how to behave, what’s allowed, and what’s not. It’s important that, when creating a code of conduct, you do so using your team’s input and getting their feedback once it’s done.

Unconscious bias training

The simple fact is that everyone has biases. It’s a human trait. The problem is that many people don’t know about these inherent biases. This is where unconscious bias training comes in. It helps to enlighten employees about their unconscious biases and empower them with the skills to dismiss them. In simple terms, once employees know what their biases are, they’ll be able to eliminate them.

For unconscious bias training to be effective, however, it should be structured around real-world scenarios. In other words, it should be practical instead of being based on theoretical situations. It should also have the appropriate content and, more importantly, should be attended by your entire team, including management.

Hiring processes

Another very effective tool to implement diversity and inclusion practices in your company is by restructuring your hiring processes around these policies. In fact, when you want to improve your company’s workplace diversity and inclusion efforts, it’s one of the first things you’ll need to implement.

Much like your code of conduct, structuring your hiring processes will show your hiring team how they need to hire to ensure your policies are implemented properly. It will also show them what they have to consider when interviewing and considering candidates. You could even specify certain targets they have to achieve in order to hire more candidates from traditionally under-represented groups.

If you don’t structure your hiring processes in this way, your hiring team could fall back into old habits and let unconscious biases dictate who they need to hire. As a result, and without a proverbial roadmap to guide them, you won’t have access to a wider talent pool and the best talent.

Diversifying your network

A simple, yet effective strategy for improving diversity and inclusion in your company is diversifying your network. To do this, you’ll actively seek the company of people who are different from you. So, you’ll look to interact and build relationships with people from different races, ages, genders, abilities, and so forth.

In this way, you’ll better understand different values, perspectives, opinions, and world views. In turn, this will empower you with new ideas and way of looking at things, which will help you implement workplace diversity and inclusion in your company.

Incentives to drive workplace diversity and inclusion

We mentioned earlier that you should get complete buy-in across your entire company, starting with management, before implementing workplace diversity and inclusion practices and initiatives. Unfortunately, this sounds simpler than it is and, in most cases, you’ll struggle to convince your management team that diversity and inclusion will be a worthwhile effort.

To combat this, you can implement monetary incentives which are tied to specific diversity and inclusion goals. These incentives will drive your team to implement your diversity and inclusion initiatives, which will, in turn, help your company reach its goals and set it up for success.

Measure and improve

To ensure that your workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives stay on track, it’s vital that you continuously monitor the process and measure your progress. This is where the task team mentioned earlier comes in.

To monitor the process, they’ll typically follow the same steps you used to establish a baseline. For example, if you used an employee survey, they’ll do the same in specified intervals of six or twelve months.

This allows you to identify any issues earlier and gives you the information you need to know why your initiatives aren’t working as you planned. And when you have this information, you’ll be able to make improvements to your strategy. So, ultimately, monitoring and measuring your progress is the key to the long term success of your workplace diversity and inclusion practices.

The bottom line

Nowadays, workplace diversity and inclusion is becoming increasingly popular for many companies simply because they’ve realised the benefits it could offer. These companies are able to build a strong reputation, attract and retain the best talent, be more efficient, and serve their customers better. More importantly, they’re able to generate more revenue.

Hopefully, this post showed you why diversity is important in the workplace, what value you’ll get when you create and foster a diverse and included workforce, and how you should go about implementing these strategies in your startup.

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