Corporate Diversity & Inclusiveness

Corporate Diversity and Inclusiveness (D&I) programs are getting more advanced, utilized, and respected. Many corporate D&I programs are starting to include the importance of belonging as well. Diversity is something that makes us different from somebody else. Inclusiveness is the practice or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized. Belonging is when the employee feels comfortable being who they are at work.

The six steps below were designed to help organizations with their D&I. These tips are not exclusive of one other. Hence, success depends on utilizing one area in coordination with all the others. Besides, keep in mind that a linear path is not always the quickest means to achieve a goal. That said, here are the tips to a better D&I strategy:

"If we wish to ensure everyone's peace and happiness, we need to cultivate a healthy respect for the diversity of our peoples and cultures, founded on an understanding of this fundamental sameness of all human beings"
- Dalai Lama


An authentic approach is a genuine one. Any person or organization can claim to focus on D&I, but that doesn’t always translate into actual action.


Why is corporate diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) so complex?

"We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads are equal in value no matter what their color."
- Maya Angelou

D&I is a complex area to manage and develop in any organization. However, it is even more challenging in a global organization. You see, corporate cultures are not entirely separate from cultures outside of the workplace. Thus, an HQ organization in Switzerland will have a different influence on the corporate culture within its Switzerland offices versus offices in other parts of the world. While this variation is neither good nor bad, it poses several challenges for a D&I program. A well-designed D&I should be flexible enough to incorporate the unique needs in different regions.

Diversity in itself may be evident in differences in gender, race, physical appearance, physical abilities, ethnic group, thought process, age, generation group, personality, style, sexual orientation, social-economic status, religion, education, perspective, procedures, etc. These issues are not limited to corporations as we experience them in our daily lives outside of work. As such, how we see each other and ourselves is just as important.

In other words, perception is vital. A lack of familiarity and comfort around different people is common, but that can be overcome. If we look at cultural research, we often find more diversity within a respective country than between countries. Yet, we tend to see people from other countries as more different. Even within small countries, you can see a richness in diversity if you take the time and effort to look, listen, read, and ask questions.

While a lot of diversity is not something we can immediately observe with our eyes, we all have some diversity and similarity when you peel back the layers. However, some of our diversity and similarity may be more prominent than others; thus, people by nature tend to make quick overt judgments. Therefore, to truly understand somebody and respectfully learn about their diversity, it is crucial to have open discussions with them. If people feel safe and comfortable, you can get to know them. I encourage people to make this a two-way process.

What are the rewards of D&I?

The benefits are quite expansive and worth the investment. Indeed, some research has shown that there is often a direct positive impact on profitability when organizations increase the number of women in their leadership roles. The same thing happens when there is a better mix of racial/ethnic diversity. The research also suggests that an increase in D&I can impact far more. However, there is a need for more studies (both quantitative and qualitative) within organizations that have successful outcomes to prove further benefits. This is where using metrics (the quantitative piece) and interpreting the data (qualitative) come into play. We understand that it can be challenging for organizations to release detailed information about their D&I. They would have to consider the legal, privacy, and reputation issues that may result from releasing too much information. However, no organization is perfect, and like many programs, D&I is also a work-in-progress. Due to the lack of concrete D&I data from companies, the public can generally only access 3rd party research from many organizations and industries that provide aggregated data that are not specific to a particular outcome from that company's D&I initiative. This is not to say that storytelling is not essential as it has significant impacts and may help change a person's bias. The most widely published data tends to be about gender equality in the workplace.

We seen extremely positive results from D&I programs across different organizations in a variety of industries. They invested in D&I because their leaders believed in its intrinsic importance. Employees who feel they need to cover up or hide who they are will use a significant amount of brainpower in those efforts to conceal themselves. For example, people sometimes feel like they need to be a copy of their peers. Comparatively, employees who are comfortable being themselves at work will be happier. They are also certainly more focused, productive, and less stressed. As a result, they are able to handle changes much easier than others, which is a significant benefit.

Nonetheless, some pitfalls can also hurt an organization that doesn't understand how a D&I policy, or even earnest attempts at increasing it, can backfire. Therefore, more informal and formal discussions need to take place about change in general in the workplace at all levels. For people to be more open-minded and less resistant to change, real shifts need to happen in a corporation's culture and strategy. Policy-making is never enough! Yes, a policy can be an enforcement tool but, people will always find loopholes, grey areas, or ways to hide their anti-diversity efforts within the workplace.

Programs like mandatory diversity training, candidate assessments, and grievance systems have had mixed results. When these programs are forced upon a system, employees might rebel and find ways around them. Some folks that refuse to adapt and change might fall away, but the system as a whole will still suffer. If minimization or prevention of lawsuits for discrimination is the primary goal, there will be limited benefits. Voluntary D&I programs are statistically far more promising. The chances of success will be far more significant when the acceptance and encouragement of diversity are part of the organizational culture.

Why is diversity of thought so important?

Diversity of thought is very important. Why? It increases creative thinking and enhances problem-solving skills. Consequently, a lack of it can lead to bad decision making like "Groupthink." That sometimes occurs when a person with a powerful personality leads a group and is not open to different ideas. It can also happen in groups where the people under a leader are too afraid to voice their opinions as they don't know if the leader will appreciate it or not. Due to this, leaders can develop "yes-people" without even realizing it. Leaders that are open and give voice & support to others are more likely to avoid groupthink's toxicity and negative ramifications.

"Diversity: the art of thinking independently together."
- Malcolm Forbes

Ageism is an ever-increasing problem in many countries and corporations. However, it is more easily hidden than some other types of discrimination. As such, the global statistics on the issue are conceivably not close to being accurate. Many older people are forced into retirement earlier than they want by being fired, laid off, or downsized. Even worse, more often than not, it is usually more challenging for older candidates to get a new job. One of the most common excuses companies give is telling older people that they are overqualified. However, the underlying factor is usually a fear of hiring somebody who knows more and likely has more experience than the person they will report to for fear they will take their job. Of course, retention and money are perceived issues, but these issues rarely come up in interviews with older applicants. However, many organizations have recognized this as an essential D&I initiative and have changed their talent acquisition practices to attract a larger pool of older applicants. Personally, I happen to enjoy working with people of all ages.

Benefits of Older Workers:

  • Fully Engaged and Happier 
  • Highly Skilled
  • Great Mentors
  • Good Problem Solvers
  • Less Absent and Loyal
  • High Interpersonal Skills

Some companies say that a college degree doesn't equal success and have eliminated higher education requirements for certain positions. That's great as I know many executives who do not have a college degree and are quite competent and have impressive careers. However, I think there could be a healthy debate on what success means. Nonetheless, it is a great shift as it is an effort to stop a form of discrimination. However, we often see changes swing too far in the opposite direction. Tons of people got the message that they would advance in their organization if they got higher degrees. Those people spent a great deal of time, energy, and money getting those degrees. What if they start hearing they are "overqualified" (i.e., cost more money)? What if people fear working with someone with higher degrees?

There needs to be a balance in a corporate policy that impacts organizational development strategy. In an attempt to be fairer to one group, it is far too easy to become less impartial or even prejudiced towards another. Furthermore, there is a tendency to oversimplify these issues; thus, missing their overall impact on an organization. However, many people could be hired for their ability rather than acquired skill if given the appropriate training and mentoring.

How Do You Define Talent?

Corporations that have a more open definition of talent will see a significant and positive impact on their organization. This might require a change or something bigger like a transformation in talent management and development. A cultural shift or full transformation can happen if leaders genuinely believe in it and the staff at all levels support it. There is a more in-depth discussion about transformation in my article, "Successful Strategy for Organizational Transformation III," which is available in 5 languages under Change & Transformation Management.

Companies that have invested in D&I, onboarding, training and mentoring have been more successful at attracting a wider pool of employees. A diverse workforce is more productive and creative. Likewise, a diverse work environment is likely to increase retention rates and a more positive employee engagement. Business leaders who engage in forward-thinking towards an infusion of diversity in the workplace will see their organization grow stronger & more sustainable in the future.