Developing an Inclusive, Diverse Workforce

Just as the U.S. population grows more diverse, so must the average company's workforce. To remain on the cusp of innovation, leaders must conduct an internal audit to explore their brand's current scope and expand future outreach initiatives.
Employee Engagement Strategies

Just as the U.S. population grows more diverse, so must the average company's workforce. To remain on the cusp of innovation, leaders must conduct an internal audit to explore their brand's current scope and expand future outreach initiatives. Examining how present employees and existing strategies align allows executives to identify areas in need of improvement and ways in which inclusion can support growth. "To understand the true DNA of the organization, identify your leaders and find your highest performers," says Alys Reynders Scott, senior vice president, marketing and communications, at PeopleFluent. "Understand who those people are and why. Are they generally all alike in their gender and ethnic profile? The opportunity is to unlock much more of the human potential in organizations by creating a culture of inclusion that is reflected holistically in leadership, programs, and actions across the business."

Here, we speak with Scott to explore the complexities of enterprisewide diversity and inclusion in order to determine what companies must do to remain competitive and innovative:

1to1 Media: In today's ecosystem, what does it mean to create a diverse workforce? What components help support continuous innovations and the development of new ideas?

Alys Reynders Scott: Today's leaders realize that diversity is fast becoming the demographic of success. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau distributed population numbers by race, indicating white, non-Hispanic people represented 65 percent of the total U.S. population. By 2050, that same demographic segment will be 46 percent of the U.S. population, with Asian, Black and Hispanic individuals representing 50 percent of the population. Today, Millennials and Gen Z (those currently under 20) already account for more than half the population in the U.S. and, within five years, will participate as 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. Women who matriculate into college after high school at a rate of 71 percent in the U.S., compared to 61 percent for their male counterparts, represent 50 percent of the workforce. Understanding not just the responsibility, but also the value of building diverse workforces that exemplify the racial, gender, religious, age, and economic diversity populations that businesses serve--today and in the near future--is driving new and better recruiting initiatives from organizations globally.

While there is an increased effort to bring broader teams of talent into companies, there are not always the right programs and philosophies in place to retain and engage the highly valuable diverse employee groups that organizations fight hard to recruit. Diversity efforts will never be successful if they are simply about numbers. The core of a successful diversity effort is not about the count, but about actually making it count. Companies must focus first on changing the diversity landscape of their organizations, and then work hard at building initiatives that breakdown biases and truly drive talent inclusion.

1to1: What are the primary benefits of closing the diversity gap? How will this impact internal operations and the bottom line?

ARS: In a global workplace, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and general global and cultural fluency are a distinct competitive advantage. In January of this year, McKinsey released a study showing that gender diverse companies had financial performance that was 15 percent higher than the national industry median, and ethnically diverse companies had performance that was 35 percent higher than the national industry median. Studies have also shown a statistically significant relationship between more diverse leadership and better financial performance and, alternatively, a lack of diversity at the top is shown to stifle a "speak up" culture of idea generation and engagement. It is no surprise that better decision-making comes from informed and diverse views that enable objections, alternatives, and efficient solutions that are more readily adopted. In the end, homogeneity has impeded innovation, and leading businesses have been on to it for some time.

1to1: What steps must senior executives take to understand their organization's DNA?

ARS: It's one thing to write a diversity mission statement for a business, to embrace the ethical imperative, and to understand the business impacts of a diverse workforce. It's another to build a culture, processes, accountability, and success with diversity and inclusion initiatives. Most large organizations conduct compliance studies and address their diversity agenda in the context of an audit. This is an important count providing a sense of the landscape. It is of little use, however, if the business is not prepared to act on the information outside of the confines of the count. Once again, it is about making sure the diversity efforts of the organization count.

In a 2012 CEB Corporate Leadership Council Global Labor Market Study, the organization assessed the impacts of both diversity and inclusion on an employee's discretionary effort and on their intent to stay. While an increase in diversity delivered a measureable increase in all employees' discretionary effort and intent to stay, the much more significant delta came in organizations that had both highly diverse populations and a strongly inclusive workforce. In these more sophisticated inclusion environments, discretionary effort was 1.12x higher and intent to stay 1.19x higher.

1to1: How can leaders create an inclusive culture that attracts this desired group of diverse candidates?

ARS: Extending diversity beyond the compliance count and the recruiting initiative takes an important change management process. An organization must truly aspire to create a culture of inclusion that will harness the potential of everyone in the organization. While the aspiration drives the assessment necessary to uncover the DNA and landscape of a business, effective integration and execution of any diversity program comes when the leaders of a business are committed to architecting the right strategies for inclusion and acting consistently to drive integrated inclusion environments that have a strong business impact.

Critical to success is an executive leadership view and representation of diversity. This matters at the board level and across the management team. Programs and communications strategies fall flat in environments that show incongruent outcomes at the top. In addition to visible and relevant leadership, organizations need to align individual goals with business goals. Metrics should be set for managers that drive and deliver alignment with corporate inclusion efforts. Assess growth and development of critical diversity employees and, likewise, examine attrition rates of key employee groups under specific leadership. Build meaningful leadership development paths, assign mentors to underrepresented constituencies, and create appropriate learning paths for succession. Building a palpably inclusive culture that delivers the promise of a diverse workforce with business success is the best thing any organization can do to attract the next wave of highly qualified diversity candidates into the business.

1to1: What can companies do to empower and educate their current workforce so they may also support growth and diversity efforts?

ARS: Sharing success statistics, aligning business goals and individual goals, and building in training initiatives around natural biases and impediments to diversity and inclusion success will always reinforce and accelerate initiatives. But that will never be enough. All of these efforts must be derived from true organizational aspiration and consistent and authentic inspirational leadership. We can talk about diversity and inclusion, but success comes from uniting in action. As Malcolm Forbes suggests, "Diversity is the art of thinking independently, together." Organizational excellence in the 21st century will come with the integrated excellence of all members of an organization thinking independently, together.