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     The term “diversity” is a bit “yesterday.” It is associated with quotas, affirmative action and other artificial means of reducing homogeneity in an organization. In favor or out, diversity alone is not necessarily of great value. To have a successful diverse team, and to maintain diversity, the culture must be “inclusive.” Great cultures have both diversity and inclusion!

Diversity is about who is in the organization and differences and similarities in terms of race, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, age, etc. Broad definitions of diversity include lots of invisible areas of difference and similarity–personal life, educational and work experiences, geographic and socioeconomic roots, cognitive differences like thinking and communication styles, cultural knowledge, language abilities and religious or spiritual perspectives.

If a leader assures that hiring creates a diverse workforce—or the workforce is naturally diverse because of the talent pipeline—the leader must assure that the culture is “inclusive.” Otherwise, dis-engagement, turnover, conflict and mis-communication may be high. “Inclusion” is about the culture and how all of those people experience the workplace. An inclusive leader creates an environment in which as many in the organization as possible, regardless of their “profile,” are engaged. Engagement is the product of feeling valued and heard, experiencing a sense of “belonging,” and believing one has full access to opportunities for growth and can succeed. Engagement enables people to perform to their highest potential. Not surprisingly then, studies show inclusive cultures have higher retention, customer satisfaction, productivity and profitability.

Though businesses often invest significantly in recruiting diverse talent, in most cases, creating inclusiveness is more of a challenge. My advice is to start with the group that offers the largest “bang for the buck” and practice inclusion on that group. The skills of thinking and leading inclusively can be applied to all kinds of differences! In much of U.S. business, the profile of leadership tends to be white heterosexual Christian males of European decent. The largest group not fitting this profile is women. Although women make up 50% of the workforce, they are still “minorities” at the upper levels of business, with a lower percentage of women at each rung of the ladder according to Catalyst. And there is a compelling business case for gender diversity. So starting with gender-inclusion may offer a great return.

First, determine if you have gender diversity and if retention and promotion of women is an issue for you. Here are the steps:

  •  Look at the numbers. What is the percentage of women at each level of the organization? If women aren’t proportionally represented at the upper levels, you don’t have gender diversity.
  •  Next, look at whether turnover rates for women are higher for women than for men.
  •  Measure the relative engagement and job satisfaction of women vs. men. Surveys, interviews and focus groups can reveal the degree of engagement among groups of employees. And if engagement is lower among women, these techniques can help identify barriers to full engagement.
  •  If women in general are less engaged or turnover of women is higher, you must understand the causes. While “work-life balance” (i.e., raising children or caring for elders) is often seen as the culprit, I advise business to focus on the inclusiveness of the culture. (If a person loves the job, he or she will be more willing to juggle work and family responsibilities.) Take a look at possible causes for the pyramid problem that may exist in your organization.  

If you understand the business value of gender diversity and have determined your organization hasn’t achieved or sustained gender diversity at upper levels, it’s time for action. I’ll suggest powerful action steps in a later post.