Taking Action to Create a More Inclusive Workplace

This piece was originally published in HRMAC's HR Leader Spring 2018 edition.

Everybody is talking about diversity and inclusion these days, it seems. This is a wonderful thing. Finally, the business community and society have realized that building inclusive, vibrant, and welcoming businesses means building successful businesses. More and more companies are genuinely excited to explore ways to foster more diversity and inclusion.

Here’s the issue: too many companies don’t know how to put this into practice. There’s energy, positive emotion and desire to make progress, but there’s not a plan. There is no infrastructure in place.

You can’t wave a wand and have a diverse and inclusive business. You have to thoughtfully build the infrastructure to support this type of endeavor. It’s like a foundation for a house. You can’t just start throwing up walls and expect it to stand.

Don’t despair, though, because what we are finding is that there are techniques to build an infrastructure for these programs, methodologies and activities in your business. You can borrow best practices from other businesses, other fields, and adapt them for your business. I call them “building blocks,” because they are transferable and fundamental. In this article, I’ll share three techniques that you can put in play today at your business. They are meant to be actionable, adaptable, and to create measurable results.

STACK THE DECK

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One building block is called “Stacking the Deck,” which means setting yourself up to be dealt a favorable hand. In cards, a “stacked” deck gives one player an advantage. In this example, you are building the advantage for yourself by doing some extra work on the front end to create a situation that lends itself to more diversity and inclusion. A good example is in the hiring process.

In a normal situation, the hiring manager is encouraged to “consider diversity and inclusion when making a hiring decision.” Very difficult to do, particularly when the candidates may not be particularly diverse or inclusive. The way to stack the deck is to be thoughtful about creating and surfacing a diverse slate of candidates before they ever get to the hiring manager, by making the job description available to certain community groups, non-profit organizations, job organizations, and by buying targeted ads to ensure a diverse slate of candidates. If in a normal situation you might have had one or two candidates out of six meet an inclusion standard, and you can stack the deck so four or five candidates meet those standards, you’ll dramatically increase your chances for a successful hire and take a lot of pressure off your managers at once.

POLICIES NOT PROMISES

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Organizations are well intentioned these days, but when it comes time to put money where mouths are, too many organizations are reluctant to draw a line. A former attorney I worked with would say, “The problem with policies is that you have to stick to them.”

This is not a problem, this is the opportunity. Creating some specific policies, being public about them, and then forcing yourself and your company to stick to them will provide great value. It is a profound statement about where you are, and it will give your employees cover as they pursue their work.

Some examples of policies might be using inclusion riders in all contracts, thereby forcing your partners to achieve a certain level of diversity, or banning meetings or (especially) panel discussions that are not reflective of the populations you serve (we called this “no manels” at 1871). Another option is to offer a discount to customers who meet certain standards, such as 10 percent off if your company’s employee pool is inclusive.

PICTURES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER

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Pictures are a really valuable tool these days. They are ubiquitous, a statement of values, and they are sitting there waiting to be employed more proactively. A three-part process can help you leverage pictures quickly and efficiently.

First, do an audit of the pictures that are on display at your company, on your website, on your social media pages, etc. Do these photos reflect your customers? Do these photographs tell the story you want to tell about your company?

Second, be intentional about creating additional opportunities to get photographs into your business stream. Company photos, photos of different individuals in your company performing work and photos of customers are all very powerful tools. Too many companies completely neglect, say, the opportunity to capture the awesomeness of their employees pursuing their business. Why?

Finally, be aspirational. Your pictures can actually be more diverse and inclusive than your company is. This will set a standard—and you can continue to work to achieve the level of inclusiveness that your images represent. In the process, you’ll be surrounded by the vision of the environment you are building, which becomes a virtuous circle.

These are a few techniques that you can try now to create a better environment. I always say that everyone who works in this space is dying for the day when they don’t have a job; until then, let’s get back to work.

Tom Alexander