Figuring out how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace is critical to business success. An inclusive workplace is an empowering one, of course. And, according to Deloitte research, it can also drive ‘measurable and predictable business outcomes’. Think higher cash flow, improved team performance, better decision-making, capturing new markets, and more.
As we celebrate Pride Month, we recognize that it’s not just a celebration, but a call to action, too! It’s a call to support and promote sexual orientation and gender diversity in the workplace, along with other DEI efforts. It’s always a good time to embrace or renew efforts to promote fairness and participation in the workplace. All the way from the recruitment and onboarding process and throughout the entire employee journey.
In this article, we explore how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, including eight best practices. We’ll also include how and why hybrid working is so beneficial in these efforts. And we’ll look at concrete steps OfficeSpace is taking to create a more inclusive environment for everyone on our team.
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It’s difficult to overstate the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (often shortened to DEI or DE&I) in the workplace. These are the organizational efforts and frameworks that companies use to ensure that all team members are treated fairly and equitably. Especially those folks who have historically been underrepresented or faced discrimination, due to either their identity or disability.
“Every policy must be put under a microscope to ensure it includes a promise of better equity; otherwise, the company risks a backlash among current employees and job candidates,” says Art Mazor, Deloitte principal and global human capital practice leader, as told to Chief Executive.
DEI initiatives ultimately center around creating a welcome and supportive environment and inclusive for all people, irregardless of:
Workplace diversity is linked to a variety of benefits for both employees and employers.
For example, Gartner HR research finds that employees in high fairness environments have 26% higher performance and are 27% less likely to quit. And Deloitte research finds inclusive work cultures enjoy higher team performance, better decision-making, and more collaboration in the workplace. Meanwhile, the Global Parity Alliance (GPA), a cross-industry group committed to advancing DEI around the world, launched their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program to identify initiatives that have resulted in significant, quantifiable, scalable and sustainable impact, and uncover what those initiatives have in common. That’s just to name a few findings.
And for those concerned expressly about the brass tacks, diverse companies and leadership teams also generate higher performance and better innovation… Leading to 19% higher revenue than their undiversified competitors.
Ultimately, DEI is about creating an equitable workplace and work culture that is safe and engaging. Not to mention creating a space that makes people excited to show up and bring their best selves with them.
In other words, diversity initiatives aren’t a ‘nice to have.’
They’re foundational to creating a future-proof and thriving organization.
“Different ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds create a stronger and more creative work environment that delivers better results,” says Lexi Jones, Chief People Officer at OfficeSpace.
Inclusion initiatives have rightfully tended to focus on ensuring that underrepresented groups are represented, all the way up to the C-Suite. And that people from diverse backgrounds have safe spaces, pay equity, and every equal opportunity to thrive at work.
Beyond specific efforts to directly address DEI, inclusion efforts also need to ensure that everyone in the company is free, able, and encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work. A truly inclusive company culture is one where everyone on the team enjoys a sense of belonging and security.
“Employees who differ from most of their colleagues in religion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background and generation often hide important parts of themselves at work for fear of negative consequences,” says Karen Brown in the Harvard Business Review. “We in the diversity and inclusion community call this ‘identity cover,’ and it makes it difficult to know how they feel and what they want, which makes them vulnerable to leaving their organizations. The key to inclusion is understanding who your employees really are.”
This is why OfficeSpace recently revamped our values, to now include:
Adding diversity and inclusivity to our values wasn’t an accident. Our diverse workforce, spread across three countries, is one of our biggest strengths. And one that our People Ops team is committed to supporting.
“At OfficeSpace Software, we value authenticity over perfection. We know that coming as you are can feel unsafe in some work environments. OfficeSpace employees are working to create an empowering environment for everyone,” says Jones.
Vista Equity Partners, the private equity company that backs OfficeSpace, was built on a mission of using technology to impact social change. Its ESG goals for the 80+ technology companies it holds outline critical expectations for environmental, social, and governance outcomes. Targets include board, team, and supplier diversity, DEI hiring and training policies, environmental impact tracking and reduction strategies, focused philanthropic giving, and responsible procurement.
As McKinsey identified in its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses 2023 Report, there are five success factors common across DEI initiatives that yield the most “significant, scalable, quantifiable, and sustained impact for underrepresented groups.” Vista’s approach aligns with them directly, with “a nuanced understanding of the root causes; a meaningful definition of success; accountable and invested business leaders; and a solution designed for its specific context; and rigorous tracking and course correction.”
Perhaps unwittingly, many of the companies who made the recent big pivot to hybrid work may have also buoyed their DEI. That’s because embracing hybrid and remote work is proving to be a great way to support women and minorities in the workplace.
Specifically, major polls show that the majority of women and people of color prefer working from home and feel more ambitious when they do so. Studies also show that remote and hybrid employees tend to view their company culture more positively than their fully in-office counterparts do. Women feel safer in hybrid working environments, and knowledge workers with a disability feel more respected. Indeed, location and schedule flexibility can be incredibly useful when trying to remove barriers to people with disabilities.
“I think what you’re seeing from this data is that COVID, perhaps accidentally, has very much liberated workers, particularly women and BIPOC workers,” says John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll. “Companies could undo significant gains in diversity, equity and inclusion, and culture building with return-to-work mandates.”
To promote diversity and inclusion, companies need to understand that this needs to be a continuous process. They’ll have to ask the right questions and be willing to change approaches based on what works ‘on the ground’. They need to continually assess company policies and their impact on DEI.
Similar to other hybrid workplace change strategies, companies should start small. They need to test ideas, create their own internal metrics and benchmarks, and track the results. That way, they can iterate what works, and eliminate what doesn’t.
Moreover, as with any efforts towards workplace transformation, what works best or needs to be tackled first can vary from company to company. “Our goal in 2023 is simply to identify barriers to diversity and inclusion and remove them,” says Jones of OfficeSpace’s current plans.
The following eight best practices have proven to be some of the best ways to create a more diverse workplace.
First and foremost, implicit or unconscious bias (i.e.: the ingrained attitudes and assumptions that all people carry) is a challenge for every organization. The more individuals and the company as a whole can become aware of unconscious bias—and then take steps to counter it—the more they’ll help employees of all different backgrounds throughout the employee journey.
In particular, it can be incredibly harmful when managers and leaders don’t understand how much their decision-making and attitude is impacted by stereotypes. Stereotypes that they may not even be aware of! To tackle the issue, companies can use corporate training sessions and online tools to help educate employees and mitigate the negative effects of bias.
Efforts to build a more inclusive workforce need to start right at the beginning. They should be playing a big role during job recruiting and talent attraction overall. We know now that top talent is diverse talent. HR professionals therefore need to ensure that they address unconscious bias in their recruiting process, from writing to job descriptions to how they onboard new hires.
People don’t exist in a vacuum; they bring their various social and cultural identities with them. A big part of improving employee experience is respecting and embracing this intersectionality and diversity.
There are tangible ways to acknowledge intersectionality. Even simple steps like using preferred pronouns and inclusive language can have a big impact. And things like inclusive company holidays can also go a long way.
For example, at OfficeSpace, we have three official offices with employees around the world.
Because we have offices in three different countries, we offer our employees holidays that reflect their location in the USA, Canada, and Costa Rica. This, along with a flexible and generous PTO policy, ensures that everyone is able to celebrate as they see fit.
“Whether it’s benefits packages, time off policies, and just a general culture of respect and welcoming, we want people to feel comfortable here first and foremost,” OfficeSpace Chief People Officer, Lexi Jones.
Companies committed to promoting diversity and inclusion often embrace employee resource groups, or ERGs (also called affinity groups). In fact, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have them. These are shared communities of workers, which can provide resources and connection for underrepresented groups.
For example, the OfficeSpace Women in Tech ERG has the following mission statement:
The mission of the OfficeSpace ERG Women in Tech is to create a supportive and empowering community that advances the professional development and success of women, both within our organization and the tech community at large. Through mentorship, advocacy, and regular networking and educational events, we hope to make a more inclusive and equitable workplace for everyone.
Originally developed in the 1970s for first Black employees and later women, today they can be created around any number of shared identities or interests. And, according to McKinsey research, employees who rate their ERGs as effective are more likely to report positive inclusion scores than those who believe them to be ineffective or very ineffective.
Mentoring programs provide another opportunity to connect and support employees from typically underrepresented demographics. Good mentorship programs can have a positive impact on employee engagement. This is in addition to dramatically improving promotion and retention for women and minorities.
For better or worse, people at the top of an organization can play an outsized role when it comes to DEI. “If you hire managers and leaders who couldn’t care less about creating a safe space for everyone from all walks of life, then you can’t expect to have a welcoming company culture,” warns Jared Atchison of WPForms in Forbes.
And even once you’ve hired the right people who share your values, they’ll still need ongoing training to help overcome bias and stay on top of DEI best practices.
While the focus of DEI efforts often centers around HR policies, it’s also important that all workers have access to safe, clean, and accessible spaces.
This means that facilities teams need to have the tools, software, and support they need to keep everything running smoothly. Ideally, they’ll also be able to compile workplace data into actionable reports and analytics. These can then be used to improve the workplace.
It’s also critical to ensure that the physical workplace is inclusive. This is why some companies are exploring gender-neutral bathrooms and/or gender-neutral wayfinding. For example, when an OfficeSpace client asked to change the name of their ‘Mother’s Room’ into ‘Lactation Room’ on their floor plans, our floor plan services team quickly made that fix in about an hour or so.
Perhaps the best way to know whether employees feel supported and included is to simply ask them. Employee surveys are essential—assuming all feedback is actually welcome, and that it’s actually used to create needed changes.
Employee surveys should also be part of an overarching commitment to open communication and transparency. This is critical since 70% of employees in Gartner research said they’d take one job over another based on transparency practices.
Like we’ve covered, given the preferences of women and people of color, a remote or hybrid workplace is inherently more likely to be equitable than a strictly traditional one. In fact, one of the main benefits of working remotely may be its impact on DEI.
That said, there are still challenges to promoting diversity and inclusion in a remote/hybrid office. Many of which have to do with leadership and manager training.
“There’s a very different dynamic to managing remote workers,” says workplace strategist Angie Earlywine, Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield, in a discussion on hybrid workplace experience. “When I think of diversity, equity, and inclusion, parity of experience is important to all these things. If you’re that one person who’s always remote, are you going to miss a promotion because your manager hasn’t found a way to engage you in the team discussions?”
Managers need to be able to effectively lead and engage their remote team members. This is while also ensuring they have access to the same opportunities and resources as their in-office counterparts. This is critical, given that a Gartner survey of managers found that 64% consider their on-site employees to be better performers… Despite the positive impact that we know lock-downs and the pivot to hybrid work has had on productivity.
“There are best practices and nuances to managing a mixed remote and hybrid team,” says Earlywine. “And there are benefits to having regular training programs. Don’t assume managers don’t need training. Or that employees know how to not just survive, but thrive in this new model.”
In the context of remote work, managers and employees will need to follow hybrid meeting best practices. Employees will also require hybrid workplace technology that helps them to stay engaged and connected.
Companies should also ensure they have the basics covered for their remote workers. Like WiFi, laptop, and a comfortable desk and working area. For this reason, many companies now offer their remote employees a stipend to outfit their home offices.
You foster inclusion in the workplace by building safe, collaborative spaces—both physical spaces, as well as an employee centric culture that embraces diversity. This includes engaging with employees, and ensuring that they feel free to engage with you.
DEI is a long-term commitment, and one that needs to be continually assessed and improved. While there’s no one single or simple step towards an inclusive workplace, companies that do best are those who highly value DEI and always keep it front-and-center in any decision-making processes.
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