When college graduates are interviewing for jobs, one of their top criteria when considering employers is their commitment to diversity. Not only is it a point of pride in being associated with a progressive company, but it’s also a promise for a more effective and creative workplace. Why then do so many firms with rigorous diversity training and unconscious bias seminars still report dismal diversity statistics? How can companies that stress diverse recruiting and name-blind recruitment have such high churn rates of those ‘diverse’ recruits?
Those questions, and many more facing Fortune 500 leaders, can be answered and solved when the words ‘Diversity & Inclusivity’ are addressed separately. Most initiatives are doomed to fail from the beginning because companies assume these two words are interchangeable.
“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
Diversity and Inclusion Consultant Verna Myers said this to the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association in May of 2016, after sharing how the first female students admitted to Harvard Law School in 1953 quickly realized there were no bathrooms provided for them. Diversity is a numbers game, where companies can simply check a box after meeting certain hiring benchmarks, while little is done to create the culture and environment necessary to retain members of the non-majority. It’s no surprise then that women leave tech companies at twice the rate of men. Diversity initiatives that stop after the hiring process are not useful, as biases, exclusion, and out-group conformity still exist after the employees enter the company. It is crucial that companies acknowledge this fact, recognize the difference between diversity and inclusion, and tailor their corporate culture and values to provide a space for all employees.
Inclusion is nowhere near as quantifiable as diversity: Diversity is the who and what, inclusion is the how. It is the everyday behaviors and environment that celebrate diversity and the benefits it brings to the table. Inclusion is the systemic commitment to values and practices that allows all individuals to fully participate and succeed within an organization or on a team.
Inclusion begins with culture, and is perpetuated by leadership. Culture should make people feel respected, valued for their authentic selves, and that they have equal access to opportunities. Two interesting studies were recently published on authenticity in the workforce; the first, by the Center for Talent Innovation, concluded that 37% of African-Americans and Hispanics and 45% of Asians said they “need to compromise their authenticity” to conform to their company’s standards of demeanor or style. Deloitte University published a comprehensive study on the concept of ‘covering’, where an individual with known stigmatized identities makes a great effort to hide or downplay that identity. Erving Goffman, who first coined the term in 1963, uses the example of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt always being seated behind his desk before allowing his Cabinet to enter his office. They all knew he was in a wheelchair, but he effectively minimized that stigmatized identity by being behind his desk.
This concept of covering is divided into four axes: appearance-based, affiliation-based, advocacy-based, and association-based. 61% of all survey respondents said they actively ’cover’ along at least one of these axes, meaning they try to hide or downplay some aspect of their appearance, affiliations, advocacies, or associations to better fit in with their workplace culture . While not legally reprehensible like overt discrimination, this impulse to effectively diminish their true selves in order to fit the perceived company culture, conscious or subconscious, is a direct result of a non-inclusive environment. As evident in survey responses, this disproportionately affects minority groups in the workforce: when they can’t see themselves (in management or in implied cultural norms) they do not want to be seen, and therefore become what they think they should be. This hinders not only self expression but creativity, leading to employee dissatisfaction that can hurt company performance.
The best answers to this are inclusive leaders and conscious employees. Leaders, anyone from the CEO to managers, set the tone at the top; 53% of survey respondents stated company leaders expected employees to ‘cover’. While this can be implicit or explicit, leaders signal to employees how they’re expected to think, act, and be. When leaders use this ability to create an inclusive environment where employees are their true selves, those employees will feel a greater sense of belonging and opportunity within the organization. For employees, the best way to create change is through awareness, and being conscious of how certain company values or systems only benefit or acknowledge certain groups.
How can you cultivate inclusivity?
- Pay attention to how a company talks about diversity and inclusion: Does it feel authentic? Is it reflected in their values and everyday operations?
- Ask the right questions.
- Be aware of whom these initiatives exclude, and why that is detrimental.
- Combatting biases still matter, and the best way to get rid of them is by first acknowledging them.
- Start conversations now with peers: ask about their experiences at different companies and what they look for when considering potential employers.
- Attend Defining Her Future: A Women in Leadership Conference on April 14th and hear from professionals at the Dynamic Diversity Panel.