Diversity, while important, means nothing without giving those diverse folks a voice in the workplace – without making those diverse voices feel included. There are numerous ways to create inclusion, but they must have strong buy-in from leadership.
To create inclusion, it’s important to first understand the concept of “covering.” In its 2013 study Uncovering Talent, Deloitte explained why true inclusion is elusive: “The ideal of inclusion has long been to allow individuals to bring their authentic selves to work. However, most inclusion efforts have not explicitly and rigorously addressed the pressure to conform that prevents individuals from realizing that ideal.”
That pressure to conform is “covering” or hiding parts of us to avoid stigmatization. Deloitte found that an astounding 61% of workers cover parts of themselves at work, including 45% of straight white men. People may hide elements that could draw unwanted attention to their race, religion, health, parental status, political party, and so forth. And when people can’t fully be themselves at work, they under-perform.
How do we create a workplace where the pressure to cover is minimized, where people can truly feel like they belong and can bring their full selves to work? Here are five best practices:
1. Create psychological safety. Truly inclusive work cultures have psychological safety. This means that people feel safe enough to bring their ideas to the table without fear of rejection from their team. They feel safe enough to take risks. One way to create psychological safety is for leaders to demonstrate this themselves, to show genuine emotion and be vulnerable enough to admit failure, talk about their own fears, concerns, and areas to improve. Google conducted a two year internal study and found that the number one indicator of high performing teams is psychological safety. This really matters.
You can start small to create psychological safety. One health care organization asks employees to smile and greet anyone who comes within 10 feet of them. That’s a small, actionable habit that creates a welcoming environment at work.
2. Train your team on unconscious bias. Trainings are safe places for people to learn how to behave, and then truly understand that DEI strategies are financially prudent and good for them as leaders. A comprehensive training on unconscious bias, the science behind it, and how to reduce it can go a long way towards better understanding and then empowering the whole team.
3. Create a DEI council or committee. The goal here is to enlist leaders who will use their seniority to advocate for DEI initiatives. Involve 8-15 volunteer leaders from all parts of the organization, especially those with a large span of responsibility. Their role will be to educate themselves, then drive and inform DEI strategy and initiatives, particularly advocating to the “resisters” at the firm. These council members are not subject matter experts nor a stand-in for a paid DEI team.
4. Create or strengthen Business Resource Groups (BRGs). Your firm may already have BRGs (also known as Employee Resource Groups or ERGs) – the women’s group, the veteran’s group, the LGBT group, etc. These groups are important spaces for employees to connect with one another while also supporting the firm’s business goals. BRGs should always have a business imperative, which can lead to them being more highly valued by leadership. BRGs should each have a unified strategy, even when there are chapters in different offices. BRGs are an important space where employees can find their voice and sense of belonging in the workplace.
5. Develop sponsorship programs. Sponsors are senior executives who directly enable their protégées with career advancement, and increase objective career outcomes. Deloitte embedded sponsorship in its culture after a pilot program that paired women in a leadership training program with an executive sponsor. Within a year, nearly all participants had received promotions. You can start small with a sponsorship program, even beginning with one department as a pilot.
Kelly Rau from KPMG wrote in the 2018 Prequin Investor Study, “It also takes having senior men in our industry to sponsor women and help them progress inside of their organizations. Given the number of firms that are run by men, it is vital they be involved, to enable this process to happen much faster.”
This work is not easy, but it’s important to make your firm a more attractive place to work, to reduce turnover, and increase revenue by better understanding the market.