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4 Actions To Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

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Emma Siemasko
Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
August 7, 2020

Many companies have made public commitments to creating more diverse, equitable and inclusive (DE&I) workplaces. From a moral standpoint, it’s the right thing to do. But it’s also good business, companies with diverse teams:

  • 20% higher rate of innovation and 19% higher innovation revenues (BCG)
  • 35% more likely to have returns above national industry medians (Fortune)
  • 2.3 times the cash flow per employee (Josh Bersin)

Despite this evidence, many organizations struggle to align their impact with their intention. Even with the many public statements, there's still significant underrepresentation from managers to leadership. But with deliberate action, positive change is possible. 

Thanks to insights from David Simmonds, SVP Communications & Public Affairs at McKesson, we’re sharing four things you can do to make your workplace more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

4 Actions to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

1. Create room for a multitude of identities

Ever hear of code-switching? It’s the idea that we use a different accent or manner of speaking when around certain people. Throughout history, minorities have been pressured to code-switch to act like the majority of those they work with. 

Code-switching:  adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities.

Harvard Business Review, The Costs of Code Switching

“Many corporate environments make minorities feel as though they need to code-switch, shifting the way we present ourselves and the way we interact to make others feel more comfortable,” said Simmonds. “But expecting someone to code-switch does not recognize and support their full multitude of identities.”

President Barack Obama entering the locker room of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team

Simmonds gave the example of Barack Obama meeting the Assistant Coach of the U.S. men’s basketball team and Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the NBA. Obama shakes the hand of the coach, then goes in for a dap and a hug to Durant. Even though Obama is the one with more power, he switches his code rather than expecting the coach and the player to do so. He meets each on their level.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, many forget about inclusion. Yes, your workplace may be diverse, but does it make room for every individual? Do employees from different backgrounds feel like they belong?

Those in leadership positions need to recognize and support the multitude of identities in the workplace, celebrating who someone is, rather than expecting them to act in a certain way. They can do this by sharing their own vulnerabilities and acknowledging the differences and similarities in one another. According to the Harvard Business Review, managers need to be included in DE&I initiatives and training from the start.

“As leaders, we cast a long shadow. It’s easy to forget that our words, actions, and the way that we show up give other people license to be their true selves,” said Simmonds. “Sharing our own multitude of identities allows people to show theirs.”

2. Build your diversity, equity and inclusion toolkit

It’s not enough to simply say you want your workplace to be equitable, diverse, and inclusive. You must take action. At McKesson, the HR and Communications teams have put together a toolkit to help the company be more inclusive.

No matter the size of your organization, it’s worthwhile to consider what goes into your toolkit. Here’s what Simmonds recommends:

  • Create a curriculum. Without a curriculum, leaders are flying blind when trying to create a more inclusive workplace. It’s essential to give your team the training and tools to make change. You should also provide data on where you are and where you hope to be. 
  • Facilitate small forums and discussions. At McKesson, the communications and HR teams have partnered together to create discussions around EDI. Using Ten Thousand Coffees, McKesson leaders are hosting Office Hours. Recently, one of the president’s hosted 50 colleagues for an intimate conversation about diversity and inclusion. Afterwards, she took the feedback and shared it across the business.
  • Build a DE&I roadmap focused on impact. If you want to make meaningful change, you need a measurable plan. “We're building a diversity roadmap that's focused on impact, which will be measured and communicated to our employee population,” said Simmonds. If you want to make a change at your organization, you’ll need a roadmap.
  • Use automated 1:1s to promote unbiased networking. McKesson also uses Ten Thousand Coffees to match colleagues for coffee chats based on interests and goals, disrupting the tendency that employees have to hang out with people in their immediate network while still providing value to their career development.  

3. Create goals and measure progress

Creating a DE&I focused workplace shouldn’t be wishful thinking. To create a culture that feels truly inclusive, you’ll want to create big picture goals and measure progress as you go along. For example, you might have goals to:

  • Recruit and hire more employees from minority communities
  • Have your employees population mirror the population of your local community
  • Make the environment more inclusive to existing employees, increasing employee retention

Creating goals works. According to the Harvard Business Review, setting goals, collecting data, and measuring change over time is an essential part of making progress. It’s also helpful to compare how you’re doing with your competitors.

At your organization, you’ll need to decide what you’ll measure and how often. By creating these goals, putting together a roadmap, and measuring progress along the way, you’ll see how far you’ve come and be able to show your successes and opportunities to leadership. 

4. Collect candid feedback from your team

Job seekers and current employees care about workplace diversity and inclusion. According to Glassdoor research, 67% of job seekers consider diversity an important factor when assessing an opportunity, and 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more. 

You can do all the work to create a more inclusive environment, but it’s for nothing if your team doesn’t see the positive impact. That’s why you need to seek feedback on DE&I initiatives as you go along regularly. The best way to do this is through facilitated small forums and discussions, and surveys.

No matter how you collect feedback, here are some good questions to ask:

  • Do you feel comfortable being yourself at work?
  • Are there certain aspects of yourself you feel you need to keep separate from work?
  • Do you ever feel left out at work?
  • What could we do better to support you?
  • Have you faced or witnessed prejudice in the workplace setting?
  • How do you feel our current EDI initiatives are going? What’s working? Where do we need to improve?

Making work a better place

There’s no doubt we’ve reached an inflection point when teams are paying attention to DE&I initiatives more than ever. 

It may feel impossible to change the world, but you can make your workplace more equitable, diverse, and inclusive. As David Simmonds noted, “We may not be able to change the world, but we can change McKesson.”

Right now, HR leaders have the opportunity to positively impact the organizations they work for and make life better for their employees. Effecting positive change and building DE&I focused workplaces will be the difference between industry leaders and laggers. With your toolkit, you’re all set to be the former.

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