diversity and inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Turning Intention into Action

by | August 28, 2020

As civil rights protests have swept the nation, more companies are announcing initiatives aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion within their walls. But in looking at the data, it is clear just how far we must go before our businesses are truly reflective of the makeup of our society at large.

The benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace are vast, and companies that don’t make it a priority are likely paying the price on their bottom line. According to a 2018 report by McKinsey & Company, gender-diverse and ethnic-diverse companies outperform their below average-diverse counterparts by 21% and 33%, respectively.

Most companies realize the value that diversity provides and have made good faith efforts to improve. But despite their best intentions, they have difficulty taking their intentions and putting them into action. Further, companies can end up in legal trouble if they attempt to enhance diversity in the wrong way. Rejecting a white applicant due to their race is just as illegal as rejecting a minority applicant because of their race. So, how can we approach the question of diversity and inclusion in the workplace? How can we make diversity a priority in a practical and legally compliant way? Here are a few steps to consider:

Gather the Data

Before employers can make strides in their diversity and inclusion efforts, they must first know what their workforce looks like compared with the labor market. The more employers know about the demographics of their workforce, the more proactive they can be in affecting real change and creating a productive work environment. Start by conducting an audit on employee demographics to better understand the diversity of your employees and identify any areas of concern or trends. Demographic data might include the following:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity/national origin
  • Gender/gender identity
  • Language fluency
  • Life experiences
  • Race
  • Religion, belief, and spirituality
  • Sexual orientation
  • Veteran status

Do not force employees to disclose this information or confront them face-to-face to pressure them into doing so. It is especially important to be aware of federal and local equal employment laws when gathering & presenting this information to ensure you do not violate applicable laws. Instead, make the surveys anonymous and give employees adequate time to respond. To increase the likelihood that employees will provide the requested information, consider taking the following steps:

  • Assure employees that their privacy will be protected, and they won’t experience adverse actions in response to their answers.
  • Explain the reason for collecting this information and its uses.
  • Only ask questions that you think will help the company in its efforts, results, and expectations to improve workplace diversity.
  • Make the questions optional and allow employees to skip any questions they do not feel comfortable answering.

Form Diverse Hiring Teams

To hire diverse candidates, start with ensuring that the people making the hiring decisions think differently from one another and come from different backgrounds. Biases are not just limited to factors such as race, gender, or age. Interviewers’ perceptions can be biased based on their academic or career experiences, inadvertently causing them to favor candidates that come from a similar background. Although the final hiring decision may rest with the business owner or another senior member of the company, various perspectives in the company should inform their decision.

Modify Job Descriptions

Most companies continue to use the same old job postings and descriptions that they have been using for years. What these companies might not realize is that their job postings may include biased wording that can send subtle messages to candidates and influence them not to apply. A 2011 study published by the American Psychological Association explains that certain gender-coded words have a strong impact on the likelihood of women applying to the job. Terms like “dominant,” “guru,” “ninja,” and “rockstar” have different connotations when perceived by men and women. To make your job descriptions more inclusive, consider replacing these gendered terms with more generic and straightforward terms to appeal to candidates of all backgrounds. Tools like Textio Hire and the Gender Decoder are great resources that analyze job descriptions, assess the neutrality of the wording, and suggest improvements to make the language more appealing to all applicants.

Think of Diversity and Inclusion Separately

If diversity is a measure of the makeup of your workforce, inclusion is a measure of the culture that enables diversity to thrive. To have a truly inclusive culture, employees must feel that they are valued and belong. As a business leader, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I an effective mentor and champion of my diverse employees?
  • Do I meaningfully participate in diversity and inclusion initiatives, or do I delegate these responsibilities?
  • Do I take time to consider the experiences of all my employees?
  • Do I make an effort to speak with my employees and participate in business and social activities alongside them?

It is the responsibility of leadership to make the changes necessary for a workplace to feel inclusive and thrive. Business leaders should have honest conversations with their employees about their workplaces and the steps to making it a more welcoming and supportive environment.

Enlist Help

You are not alone – Speak with an attorney to discuss your efforts to improve workplace diversity and inclusion without running afoul of applicable discrimination and employment laws. Contact us at 425-250-0205 or contact@equinoxbusinesslaw.com.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general information and should not be viewed as legal advice. You should talk with counsel familiar with your unique business needs before taking or refraining from any action.