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Building Diversity and Inclusion Into Company DNA

Laura Gallaher
Laura Gallaher

Making diversity part of a company's DNA requires an ongoing commitment to embracing all races, religions, nationalities, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities.

Businesses across the nation are working to get workplace diversity and inclusion right. The Mercer 2019 Talent Trends report revealed that 49% of U.S. executives are concerned about delivering on diversity. They recognize that not only is diversity a moral imperative, it is a business imperative too. Diverse teams offer broader perspectives, drive more innovation and creativity, and promote better decision-making. 

Multiple studies confirm these benefits: 

  • The McKinsey Delivering Through Diversity report found that gender and ethnic diversity clearly correlate with profitability. Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity on their executive teams are 33% more likely to outperform companies in the bottom quartile. 
  • Boston Consulting Group study suggests that increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance. Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19% higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity. 
  • According to SCORE data, small businesses with above-average diversity earned 45% of their revenue through innovation, and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to overperform. Also, diverse teams make decisions two times faster with half the number of meetings, and their decisions deliver 60% better results. 

Here are some of the strategies you can implement in your business to establish a culture of diversity and inclusion.

1. Develop an inclusive hiring strategy.

Diversity starts with hiring practices. You can increase diversity by widening the recruitment pool, developing clear and inclusive job descriptions, ensuring hiring panels represent diversity, implementing a structured interview process, and creating a blind hiring process. 

Widening the recruitment pool

To develop a recruitment program that supports diversity goals, recruit from a wide variety of sources, including universities and online job boards that focus on diversity. Broadening the recruiting pipeline by considering applicants with nontraditional backgrounds and experiences will also make the recruitment process more inclusive. 

Avoiding biased language in job descriptions

Tailor the language in your job postings to attract a diverse range of applicants. To develop such job postings, examine job descriptions and eliminate any wording that includes unconscious biases. Research from Textio found that words and phrases like "driven personality," "work hard, play hard," "competing," "ruthlessly" and "maintaining control" used by some tech companies in job listings statistically resulted in a higher proportion of applications from men. This research confirms that gendered words associated with masculinity can deter female candidates from applying. 

Assembling a diverse interview panel

When creating a hiring panel, keep diversity in mind. Ideally, the panel would include at least three members in the organization, representing a variety of levels, ages, cultures, backgrounds and beliefs. This strategy can go a long way in improving the hiring process by reducing the likelihood of bias, increasing the perception of fairness and allowing a greater scope of evaluation. 

Implementing a structured interview process

In the structured interview format, all candidates are asked the same questions in the same order and evaluated using a common rating scale, and all interviewers are in agreement on acceptable answers. Consistency in the interview process ensures candidates are compared based on the same questions, leveling the playing field for all candidates. Structured interviews have also been shown to have up to eight times the predictive power of pinpointing the best candidate compared to unstructured interviews.  

Creating a blind hiring process

Research shows that pre-interview information significantly affects impressions formed during the interview. Removing personally identifiable information such as gender, race and other demographics from applications can reduce bias. This hiring process focuses on candidate experience and achievement and yields better hiring decisions. 

2. Offer diversity education and training.

You can support diversity in your organization through education and training. Be transparent about your company's history with diversity and inclusion, highlighting past mistakes as well as contributions from a diverse array of current and former employees. 

Diversity without inclusion is problematic, so regularly engage employees in conversations about how they feel things are going and what ideas they'd like to see implemented. These conversations not only create inclusion, but can also help build trust. 

3. Embrace workplace flexibility. 

Offering flexible working options can help you attract a more diverse talent pool. A survey by FlexJobs found that respondents rated work-life balance (73%), flexible work options (69%) and work schedule (67%) as some of the most important factors in their evaluations of a prospective job, ranking these factors ahead of health insurance, retirement benefits and vacation time. 

Flexible working arrangements, including flexible hours that allow employees to observe cultural and religious holidays, remote options, and part-time options not only support your diversity initiatives but can increase retention: 30% of respondents in the FlexJobs survey reported leaving a job because it did not offer flexible work options. 

4. Create a culture of inclusion.

Creating a culture of inclusion and psychological safety is critical to maintaining diversity in the workplace. An inclusive and psychologically safe workplace culture supports employees and welcomes and respects different perspectives without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status or career. In this environment, employees are free to be themselves and feel secure that their uniqueness is valued in the organization. 

The key to achieving a diverse, inclusive workplace is to look at the self first. The maturity required to create true inclusion begins with the self, and as a leader, you can create an environment for psychological safety and inclusion through your own self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-accountability. 

Diversity and inclusion together are powerful forces for creating better business outcomes. Research by Deloitte shows that organizations with inclusive cultures are two times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. 

A study by Accenture found a "perception gap" between senior leaders and employees that could have significant financial ramifications. According to the study, senior leaders believe only 2% of employees don't feel included – an estimate that is 10 times lower than the 20% of employees who indicated they do not feel included. Accenture noted that if this "perception gap" was narrowed by 50%, global profits would be higher by 33%, equivalent to $3.7 trillion in 2019 – in the U.S. alone, this number is $1.05 trillion. The bottom line is that companies that do not prioritize inclusion are missing a significant financial opportunity. 

5. Track and measure progress.

Accountability is key to sustaining and improving diversity and inclusion programs. For these programs to succeed, you need to set measurable, clear goals and objectives for diversity initiatives. You can look at your company's hiring records, turnover rate, employee satisfaction surveys and exit interviews to track the progress of your diversity and inclusion programs. Evaluating what is working and what is not allows companies to course-correct, understanding where there are opportunities to improve and adjusting programs to drive more positive impact. As with any data, inclusive discussions about the data can help you draw meaningful conclusions, without over-relying on metrics to tell the whole story. 

Companies can build diversity and support inclusion in the workplace by developing a hiring strategy that attracts a wide range of candidates, offering diversity education and training, embracing workplace flexibility, creating a culture of inclusion, and tracking and measuring progress. These ongoing strategies help companies that continually strive to improve diversity and inclusion. First and foremost, it is the right thing to do, but also, for businesses that get it right, building diversity can lead to gains in innovation, productivity and profits.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Laura Gallaher
Laura Gallaher Member
Dr. Laura Gallaher is an organizational psychologist, an expert teacher, trainer, speaker and consultant, particularly in the concepts of self-awareness, accountability, trust building and team cohesion. She began her career at NASA after the Columbia exploded upon re-entry in 2003, where Laura and a team of organizational psychologists were hired to change the cultural influences that played a role in the accident. While at NASA, Laura founded Gallaher Edge – a management consulting firm that creates transformational change in businesses through meaningful and impactful human experiences. At Gallaher Edge, she helps a variety of companies and its leadership teams navigate changes and improve their organizational culture through workshops that help build trust, promote open dialogue, and align on agreement on the future vision of the organization, and the strategy to get there.