4 Ways You’re Sabotaging Diversity Efforts In The Workplace

Let’s say your organization is ready to further embrace diversity by committing resources to recruiting and retaining a more diverse talent pool. Perhaps you’ve even gone so far as to hire a Diversity Officer and create employee resource groups. You recognize the many ways in which diversity can improve your organization’s culture and, ultimately, its bottom line. And yet, you don’t see a shift in your ability to retain diverse talent and there’s a persistent barrier to promoting marginalized groups to the top levels of leadership. Let’s ask ourselves what might be missing.

1. Are white men fully engaged in diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives?

In order for D&I to succeed, everyone within an organization has a vital role to play in co-creating inclusive work cultures. Given white men’s majority hold on business leadership, they are often in the strongest position to drive any type of enduring organizational change. Rather than singling out white men as targets and separating them from the diversity conversation, businesses must call on white men to be active participants and partners. Their perspectives must be heard; their unconscious bias revealed; their patterns understood – even when that means having uncomfortable conversations.

When leaders drive the effort to create a diverse and inclusive workplace culture and when that effort is seen as a leadership development strategy, it benefits people and profits. White men must not only support diversity programs, but must be key drivers in these efforts in order for them to succeed.

2. Are leaders fully engaged in diversity and inclusion?

Showing support through allocating money for D&I is a great start, but inclusive leadership starts when leaders are courageous enough to be visible champions. Leaders who engage in the often-uncomfortable conversations that arise around diversity and inclusion, and share their own learning journey will inspire others to do the same. This can be a long, non-linear process that requires a great deal of inner searching, self-reflection, honesty, and open communication. In order for D&I efforts to work, they must be supported from the very top of an organization. Leaders have to be willing to go beyond talking points and invest in leading from both the head and the heart to begin creating an inclusive workplace.

3. Are time and resources being adequately invested?

Genuine change cannot be achieved in a matter of hours. It requires a sustained approach, and a dedication to ongoing conversations and personal growth. Companies that have continued to rely on “training” programs that focus on giving people data and telling them what to think and how to act have experienced little if any cultural change and find themselves stuck in outdated, unproductive patterns of behavior. However, those that have addressed diversity and inclusion as a system-wide, developmental effort are now seeing employees who are willing to bring their best selves to their work and who contribute to efficiency and innovation.

The difference is in the experience: leading from the heart, one learns to manage difficult conversations; self-reflection and vulnerabily are encouraged; and empathetic breakthroughs regularly occur. An experiential approach inspires leaders to develop their own and others’ competency around diversity and inclusion, which leads to meaningful and lasting change in the workplace. They emerge with the curiosity to ask questions, the courage to act without having all the answers, and the confidence they can make a difference.

4. Does your approach to diversity engage both the head and the heart?

In the workplace many of us are hesitant to allow ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable. But when it comes to creating an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive, we must be willing to engage on an emotional level with others, and to be honest about our own experiences. Approaching diversity from an emotional standpoint provides a plethora of benefits. For one, giving employees the space and permission to open themselves up emotionally gives diversity efforts the extra power they need to create real and lasting change within your organization. Those that engage emotionally in the process also report improved mental health and positive changes in their interpersonal relationships as well.

The ability to go deeper and reveal our emotional truths with each other creates the safety that allows diverse perspectives and experiences to be present and have influence in workplace culture.

The first step in improving diversity in the workplace is recognizing that there is an opportunity to be more inclusive. We must all look for the big and small ways we can improve our D& I initiatives. They’ll emerge with the curiosity to ask questions, the courage to act without having all the answers, and the confidence they can make a difference. By being open to the process and making ourselves vulnerable, we can all become champions of diversity and create a more fair and equitable workplace and world.

Bill Proudman is the CEO & Co-Founder of White Men As Full Diversity Partners, a consulting firm which provides organizations and business leaders with the skills they need to establish inclusive work cultures.

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