Written by Ryann Norman. Ryann is the Marketing and Product Development Manager for Peak Performance. She has a proven track record for implemented training programs and managed relationships resulting in improved business efficiencies and processes.
Businesses must strive to improve engagement; counteract unconscious bias and actualize practices that promote equity in the workplace.
As a child, I can remember standing in the grocery store checkout line with my mother when I was roughly four years old. In front of me was a man, standing with one hand down to his side, which landed in my direct line of sight about six inches from my face (long before social distancing was even thought about). I innocently lifted my hand up to touch and almost caress his soft, dark skinned hand, like it was something I had never seen before. My mother was a little embarrassed and whispered “I’m sorry” to the man whose hand I was now holding. He recognized and understood, I was a harmless child who was first noticing someone different from me, and quietly smiled back at my mother.
Thirty-seven years later, I’m still unsure what exactly was going through my undeveloped brain at the time, but it was the first time my mother says I actually saw color and it registered. It’s been long said that children don’t see color, but they do. Of course they do, most have eyes to see and know the difference between brown, black, peach or anything in between. The difference is they do not have biases that are attached to those different colors/races that adults do and unfortunately those biases are learned throughout our adult years whether we want to admit it or not.
For decades we have been watching many social injustices happen to people of color, most recently being the 8 minute and 46 seconds that led up to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. We should all feel righteous anger over his death, an anger from systemic injustice and dehumanization, an anger that should perpetually burn deep in our guts, hearts and head.
Now, I understand that overcoming racism as a country is a huge undertaking and who knows if I will ever see a world where true equality exists but I do know that workplaces across the globe must do their part by taking steps to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in their workforce. The differences that exist among employees are what makes an organization its strongest. Recruiting a diverse workforce allows for a wider set of skills among teams and also fosters better decision making by bringing a wide range of perspectives to the table when tackling business challenges. Different thinking perspectives also allows other team members to grow and learn how to help the organization perform more effectively.
While many organizations are having diversity and inclusion discussions and are developing company initiatives around the subject, it is no secret how easy it is to fall short of completing these initiatives because diversity is a goal that can be abstract and utopian. Knowing the difference between diversity and inclusion is imperative in knowing how to achieve both. Diversity focuses on the makeup of your workforce, including demographics such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc., more or less the “what”. Inclusion on the other hand refers to the “how”, the creation of a work environment and culture that enables all employees to participate and thrive. Therefore, having a more diverse workforce results in having a more inclusive company. Many employers have been successful at recruiting a diverse workforce but simultaneously fail at the inclusion piece. It is challenging to create an environment where employees feel safe, respected, valued and included. It is pointless to bring them in, if they don’t feel these things when they get there.
According to SHRM, there are six strategies an organization can utilize to effectively promote a diverse and inclusive workplace. Those include educating your leaders, forming an inclusion council, celebrate employee differences, listen to employees, hold more effective meetings and communicate goals and measure progress.
Having a diverse workforce brings in people with a range of life experiences, each of which will contribute something different to your teams and will at the same time promote an opportunity for better idea-sharing and innovation. Persistent (and sometimes uncomfortable) dialogue and consistent measuring of progress will allow your business to succeed in creating a truly diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace culture.