Creating Diverse and Inclusive Work Cultures: Tips for the Organization, the Manager, and the Employee
Today, we live and work in a constantly changing culture, which presents both enormous challenges and immense possibilities. As such, diversity has become a key driver of business success, and the focus has shifted from compliance to inclusion. An inclusive work environment utilizes all employees in the vital business of the organization, which results in a workforce more responsive to change, open to new ideas and challenges, and quick to implement and execute. To achieve this kind of peak performance, every employee must be fully engaged, creating a more synergistic, creative culture.
Such a culture shift demands commitment and integration throughout the organization. Leaders and managers must drive and sustain the change, and all employees must play active roles. Diversity management is not easy work, but it is important work. To be successful, it takes commitment at the organizational, managerial, and employee level. With this kind of dedication, the organization will begin to see a return in the form of higher accountability and productivity, and expansion into diverse markets.
To assist leaders, managers, and employees in their commitment to a diverse organization, Diversity & the Bar® is offering a series of tip sheets in pull-out form. These sheets can be posted for easy accessibility. Remember to commit to the process, value the thoughts and ideas of everyone, and celebrate along the way.
"In an effort to get all employees and managers onboard, it can be helpful to develop a high-level diversity speech that, in five minutes or less, delivers a compelling diversity argument. Always be mindful of opportunities to put the speech into play."
How the Organization Can Support Diversity and Inclusion
- Communicate a clear diversity vision that is linked to the core business objectives of the firm. Commitment to the effort must stem from a respected partner who, in definitive terms, demands the actions of everyone in the organization. Ideally, the partner should establish the diversity business case, chair a diversity council, and/or participate in both internal and external diversity events.
- Become familiar with the current diversity makeup of the organization, and identify diversity strengths and opportunities for improvement. Cultural audits and diversity assessments can be used to gain a deeper understanding of the issues, challenges, and opportunities facing all employees and the firm overall. This review will help clarify areas of focus and gain widespread buy-in.
- Employ recruitment strategies designed to reach women and people of color. Strategies can include supporting diversity career fairs and minority bar programs; advertising in a wide variety of newspapers, trade publications, and intranet job boards; using minority-owned employment agencies and executive search firms; partnering with community networking/affinity groups; and recruiting at colleges and universities with high minority populations.
- Invest in diversity training and education. The program should include two tiers of development: (A) diversity management education that enhances diversity management skills/competencies in its leaders and managers; and (B) diversity awareness and cultural competency training for all employees. This training can be augmented with a combination of internal diversity-related activities and events, external diversity-focused conferences and seminars, and information and resources supplied in the company's library and on its intranet.
- Set measurable goals that are clearly linked to the firm's expressed business case for diversity and inclusion. Put metrics in place to evaluate the impact of diversity activities on business performance and the bottom line. To ensure accountability, consider tying attainment of diversity goals to compensation and award packages.
- Actively engage all employees across all job functions. Senior leaders/partners must clearly and actively communicate the diversity business case, thereby driving diversity from the top. Managers and supervisors create and sustain inclusion and spread the diversity message. Human resources can support the initiative by sourcing and hiring diverse candidates, providing diversity training, and keeping the entire organization abreast of resources and relationships that support the effort. Employees must understand the importance of diversity and how to contribute to the effort, thereby pushing inclusiveness from the bottom up.
- Create an environment of inclusion by ensuring all employees have access to development opportunities, mentoring relationships, and peak assignments. Make informal networking opportunities available to women and minority attorneys by supporting and funding affinity groups and including women and minorities in networking activities across the firm and within practice groups.
- Integrate diversity and inclusion into the day-to-day operations of the firm. Strive to make diverse work groups a natural way of doing business rather than just an initiative. Understand how diversity contributes to business goals, productivity, and market share across all functions of the business. A well-integrated approach allows the organization to pool resources and coordinate efforts.
- Affirm the company's commitment to diversity in its marketing materials, advertising efforts, and annual reports. Strive to be an industry leader with respect to diversity policies and practices, and reserve a portion of the public relations budget for promoting the firm's diversity commitment. Ultimately, the firm should be recognized as an employer of choice that supports an inclusive work culture.
- Keep the organization informed about the firm's diversity activities, evolving goals, and progress. Include diversity-related issues in staff meetings and quarterly reports, on a company intranet, and in regularly published company newsletters. Consider a diversity-focused newsletter that announces upcoming training, internal diversity-focused events and meetings, and tools, articles, and white papers that support diversity and inclusion. While it is important to strive for improvement and sustainability, it is critical to celebrate successes along the way.
How Managers Can Support Diversity and Inclusion
- Understand the firm-specific definition for inclusiveness and diversity management. It is important to know and be able to clearly articulate the diversity goals of the company and how those goals will impact the goals of the firm and the specific practice groups. In an effort to get all employees and managers onboard, it can be helpful to develop a high-level diversity speech that, in five minutes or less, delivers a compelling diversity argument. Always be mindful of opportunities to put the speech into play.
- Be aware of the demographic makeup of your team and the resulting diversity challenges, opportunities, and advantages. Recognize what each employee brings to the table and how to leverage the unique perspectives, ideas, and customer knowledge in the group. You may be surprised to discover just how many diversity elements are present in your work team.
- Keep diversity at the forefront when hiring for an existing or new position. Work with your human resources department in a combined effort to source a diverse group of candidates. Be patient, because it can take additional time and effort to attract this kind of diversity into the candidate pool, but the resulting benefits far outweigh the short-term costs.
- Become a culturally competent manager. Take the time to learn about different cultural and religious practices and policies. Consider important holidays when planning work assignments and responding to requests for time off. Take advantage of diversity training offered by the company. Regularly visit diversity web sites like diversityinc.com, MCCA.com, and hirediversity.com, as well as sites that speak to specific diverse groups such as HRC.org, nbmbaa.org, wmfdp.com, and hispaniconline.com. Take an interest in each employee personally. Ask everyone to share a bit, and feel free to respectfully ask questions.
- Set clear expectations for all your employees. Be sure that everyone in your group understands the importance the firm places on diversity. Demand respect, and ensure that supportive behavior is the only acceptable standard of interaction between you and your team and among members of your team. Hold everyone accountable to the diversity goals and the vision.
- Seek partners and allies within the organization. Marketing departments and community affairs departments can be a great source of information and may also have substantial budgets dedicated to diversity efforts. Human resources and/or diversity departments can help you increase the diversity in your group and improve your diversity management competencies. Leverage these relationships to pool resources, build a solid business case, and share ideas for taking inclusiveness work to the next level.
- Create a positive, supportive environment. Demonstrate your commitment with your actions as well as your words. Make sure that women and minorities have equal access to high-profile, challenging assignments and mentors. Provide honest feedback in a way that sustains the growth and development of all employees. Foster a committed team by empowering employees to participate in key decisions and offer bottom-up feedback.
- Understand the difference between issues that are diversity-related versus performance-related. Clearly communicate the expectations and job requirements of each role within your team and expect no more or no less from any employee.
- Commit to continuous improvement and manage your diversity goals. The outcomes resulting from your work can provide excellent opportunities to leverage what works and grow in areas where there is room for improvement.
- Provide your employees with a continual flow of information relating to your diversity goals and progress. Make it known how the diversity in your practice group contributes to the success of the firm. Celebrate the wins and strive for improvement.
How Employees Can Support Diversity and Inclusion
- Know the diversity goals and vision of your organization and its connection to the overall business objectives. Commit to the process by understanding how inclusiveness impacts your role, and how your role impacts the success of the diversity initiative.
- Participate in employee opinion polls and respond as openly and honestly as possible. Finding an internal champion with whom you can comfortably express concerns and/or elicit advice can provide a tremendous source of support.
- Actively engage in the diversity effort. You can take part in or start an affinity group, or volunteer to chair or serve on committees that organize diversity-related events and activities. Consider becoming a mentor, mentee, or part of a co-mentoring relationship. These activities require a commitment of time, but represent a valuable opportunity for personal and professional development.
- Become culturally competent. Take the time to learn about different cultures, races, and religions represented by your colleagues. Ask your coworkers to share some of the customs and practices associated with their cultures. Become familiar with diversity-related terms and, if you err, apologize and ask for help.
- Practice the "Platinum Rule"—do unto others as you would like to have done. Common social activities and practices that are comfortable for you may not be comfortable for everyone. Do not tell offensive jokes that may alienate those who are different from you—even if they are not present at the time. Most importantly, be respectful always. Diversity exists everywhere—not just in the office. Take these diversity principles into your community and your home.
- Drive positive change in the organization. Be a spokesperson for diversity issues that are not necessarily your own. Any organization will find it difficult to ignore the powerful voice created when groups representing different diversity elements unite.
- Welcome ideas that are different from your own, and support fellow teammates. The creativity that comes with diversity can help you generate new ideas or improve a process already in place. It can also make work more interesting, engaging, and fun.
- Understand the diversity elements you personally bring to the organization. Inclusiveness comes not only in the form of culture, race, and gender but also includes elements such as socio-economic background, education level, geographic location, sexual orientation, and many others. Each of us brings to the table a lifetime of experiences and knowledge. Each of us is different and adds value to the organization because of these unique qualities.
- Commit to continuous improvement. Be willing to learn, accept feedback, and listen to the concerns of those around you. Even the most enlightened individual can find opportunities for growth.
- Communicate and educate. Diversity work is a journey, not a destination. It takes time, patience, and perseverance. Be tolerant of coworkers who do not yet appreciate the value of inclusiveness or who may not always behave respectfully. Often, negative behavior comes from ignorance rather than malice. A willingness to educate can go a long way.
Robin Pedrelli is the co-vice president/program director for Linkage's Diversity and Women in Leadership Practice, which offers a full suite of programs, products, and services to build diverse work cultures and connect women leaders to the futures they want to create.
From the September/October 2005 issue of Diversity & The Bar®