The words “diversity” and “inclusion” are thrown around a lot in the workplace today, but what do they actually mean for our working environments? When we talk about a diversity and inclusion policy, we mean a set of strategies and practices that an organization will adopt to welcome, support, and leverage a diverse workplace.
According to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey, nearly three-quarters of diverse—non-male-identified, non-white, and/or LGBTQ— employees don’t feel like they’ve benefitted from their employers’ diversity and inclusion programs.
Read on to learn what employees really want when it comes to diversity and inclusion policy, how we can improve current practices at work, and how to set organization goals that encourages every employee to participate.
The BCG survey: what employees want
In surveying 16,000 employees in 14 countries, the BCG research found that 96%-98% of companies with more than 1,000 employees have interventions and practices in place to support minority groups. That’s why it’s critical to understand why many who should be benefitting from such programs feel left out.
Perhaps one key yet unsurprising finding in the research is that majority groups underestimate the bias faced by diverse employees. This is notable because 50% of all diverse employees see bias as part of their daily experience and don’t believe their employers have the right processes in place to eliminate it from decision-making.
Which policies, then, appropriately promote diversity in the workplace? According to BCG, the most effective will include “robust, well-crafted, and consistently followed anti-discrimination policies; effective training to mitigate biases and increase cultural competency; and removing bias from evaluation and promotion decisions.”
There were also “hidden gem” policies—ones undervalued by majority groups—specific to certain groups:
- Female employees want policies to support “a “viable path forward,” as well as the tools to balance work and home responsibilities.
- Employees of color want formal sponsorship programs, individual advancement roadmaps, and bias eliminated from daily decision-making.
- LGBTQ employees want to see more inclusive language and communication within their organizations.
The nonprofit sector | Room for improvement
While the BCG research specifically looked at private-sector organizations, its findings are still relevant for the social-impact space; studies have shown that nonprofits do not perform particularly well in terms of diversity, and in fact, a recent study reported that 87% of all executive directors or presidents of the largest nonprofits and foundations in the U.S. are white.
When it comes to hiring, program development, or funding, risk assessment is essential in determining who and what will be part of an organization’s agenda. Take, for instance, the risk assessment that goes into hiring: impressive educational degrees are considered a sign of a strong candidate, but bias and racism can play a much larger role in who has access to that kind of education.
Instead, a more fair and perhaps a stronger indicator of a candidate’s future success may be the strength and quantity of their community relationships, as these may produce more impactful results.
Another challenge is trust; more stock needs to be placed in encouraging an open, continuous conversation about failure, success, challenges, and opportunities. This can aid diverse employees see a path for professional growth and development. By learning from the experience of others, they can nurture the confidence, know-how, and relationships to shape successful careers.
Lastly, leadership needs to more accurately represent the community or cause being served. Non-diverse leadership and staff at nonprofits and foundations can lead to biased funding outcomes, nonprofits are increasingly being asked to be more transparent about staff diversity to counter this issue.
More can also be done in support of diversity and inclusion initiatives within organizations. Here are some goals that may offer some structure to an organization's progress in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) audit. A DEI audit measures where an organization is on its path to meeting DEI goals, and helps organizations strategize. The audit allows leadership and employees to understand and have a greater stake in an organization’s success.
- Transparency Reports. Organizations can commission DEI reports to be shared internally and with interested stakeholders. This information can encourage productive conversations vis-a-vis an organization’s DEI goals.
- Partnerships. Supporting diversity and inclusion means nurturing awareness of your organization’s work. To amplify the reach of your message and attract bright, diverse talent, it’s worth partnering with local educational institutions, community organizations, or other nonprofits supporting similar causes. This becomes especially important when the mission of the organization includes having an internal team that better represents the people served.
Personal accountability | Speak up
It’s easy to believe that your organization’s goals are too large for you to try to drive any of the work toward the mission on your own. But all goals are achieved one step at a time, and there are certainly things you can do:
- Report incidents of suspected bias to your manager or HR department.
- Ask coworkers thoughtful questions to learn more about their experience within the workplace. Avoid anything too personal.
- Speak to a trusted manager, mentor, or HR representative if you believe a candidate or program was overlooked because of bias.
- Participate in shaping DEI goals for your team or organization.
- Volunteer to collect, analyze, or report on data for your organization’s first transparency report.
- Find out about successful partnerships in which your organization has engaged in the past, and how those can be strengthened.
- If no such past partnerships exist, look into potential local partners who can support your organization's diversity and inclusion policy.
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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.