A diverse workforce does not necessarily imply an included workforce. Acquiring this particular feedback from an organization’s employees might just be the key to optimizing a diverse workforce in the ever-changing workplace environment of the post-COVID-19 era.
Keep on reading to find out:
- The definitions of the widely used terms “Diversity” and “Inclusion” and the important differences that must be kept in mind.
- The importance of the existence of the two variables in an organization for both the employers and the employees:
o The negative results that surface in an organization when there is a lack of the above variables.
o Why the creation of an inclusive environment is beneficial for both of the aforementioned parties.
And last but not least:
An overview of the correct approach to the introduction of inclusive practices in the workplace.
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) : How do we define them and why are they separate terms?
Diversity: One may simplistically suggest that diversity exists in whichever team consists of people of different identity being at the same place. An alternative definition for the term which narrows the scope of the definition to the workplace, is that diversity constitutes the culmination of the ‘varied perspectives and approaches to work members of different identity groups bring’. In general, diversity focuses on the differences between the members of a group, whether they are characteristics that you are visible when interacting with a coworker (gender, race, age, ethnicity) or non-observable individualities, which are usually shared when people feel comfortable enough to discuss them with their team (e.g. sexual orientation, political opinions, socio-economic status).
D&I are terms that have been used interchangeably in the past. It must be understood that although they are interrelated concepts, they are distinct from each other. Specifically:
Inclusion: Involves making people feel that they belong in the team they have been placed in. An accurate scientific definition of the term is ‘the degree to which an employee is accepted and treated as an insider by others in a work system’. But also, it describes the way organizations strive to involve all employees in its goals by respecting and utilizing their individual attributes and talents.
It begins to become evident that, on the one hand, diversity pertains to putting together teams of people who are different from each other on several bases. On the other hand, inclusion is the x-factor that fulfills the employees’ conflicting needs of preserving their uniqueness, while simultaneously providing them with a sense of belongingness and involvement.
Why are D&I important factors for both the employers and the employee?
If you take into account your own personal experience, you might understand how D&I may have an impact on an employee’s mood and overall productivity in their workplace. Especially, if you have ever felt excluded in the past from a group of coworkers because of one of your individualities. Everybody knows the difference between hearing the alarm clock ring and actually looking forward to tackling the day at work, rather than acknowledging you have to interact with several people you feel uncomfortable around.
But, instead of basing the significance of D&I on personal experience, let’s look into the science behind it.
The setbacks of lacking the two variables of D&I
Our psychology tends to affect us in all aspects of life, ranging from personal matters to work productivity. Empirical evidence suggests that discrimination, stigma, and prejudice in a social environment (a workplace certainly qualifies as one) can create a hostile and stressful feeling to employees, which in turn cause mental health problems . Specifically, the scientific framework of social inclusion and exclusion can sufficiently illustrate the mental health effects that are caused when an employee feels that their work environment has not taken into account D&I.
- A sense of threat to the self-concept
- Depleted self-esteem
- Feelings of anger, frustration and emotional denial
- Cognitive impairment (e.g. lack of concentration and focus, memory impairments)
It doesn’t take an expert to infer that the above psychological effects lead to an increased turnover rate, minimized work satisfaction and low productivity. Who would want to spend their career working somewhere they don’t like?
Instead of the above, an employer should seek out to boost employee well-being which will simultaneously increase the organizations’ results. If the former comes first, the latter will follow almost certainly, since happy employees tend to be significantly productive employees.
The benefits of including the two variables in the workplace
First and foremost, it has been scientifically supported that Diversity does in fact pay, meaning that organizations utilizing D&I yield higher returns, based on the “value-in-diversity” perspective  . A financially interesting fact based on a McKinsey report is that, provided the gender gap is reduced by 2025, it will lead to an additional $12 trillion(!) in GDP. But money is not the sole advantage. To be specific, the advantages stemming from D&I, based on empirical evidence [8,9,10,11,12,13] are:
- Greater space for creative output and innovation
- Financial performance and enhance profit as aforementioned
- Organizational adaptability
- Increased capacity for problem-solving and information processing
- Higher employee retention rate
- Promoting a more responsible and humanistic corporate image
Unfortunately, to reach the above results, an organization needs to pay close attention to the approach selected in the utilization of D&I in the workplace, before implementing any changes.
An overview on approaching D&I as an organization and indicative inclusion practices
It may seem easy to include the variables of Diversity and Inclusion in the management of an organization’s image, but there is more to it. Based on Wilson’s equity continuum , it is possible to categorize the adoption of equitable practices by an organization based on their underlying motivations. The categorizations range from 0 to 5:
“Diversity and Inclusion are:”
- 0: No Problem Here!
- 1: Legislated Fairness or “the Sheriff is on the Corner”
- 2: Good Corporate Citizens
- 3: The Business Reasons
- 4: Transition to a Better Tomorrow
- 5: Still Only a Goal/ D&I Utopia
As depicted above, the categories ranging from 0 to 3 hide ignorant and greedy motivations, whereas stages 4 and 5 show an organization’s pure motivation to increase the well-being of employees that belong to a minority group.
If the employees realize that the organization has been motivated to implement D&I simply for the sake of legitimization against the regulations, only to enhance the corporate responsibility image of the organization by creating a facade, solely to maximize profits or due to a combination of the above, then several negative effects may commence, including lowered self-esteem, a breach of trust and a newfound sense of exclusion.
Hence, it is important for organizations to inherently comprehend the “whys” and agree with the need of Diversity and Inclusion practices included in the workplace. Because what is even worse than feeling neglected because of being different, is to realize that any attempt made by an organization for you to feel included in a diversified environment, is solely for appearances.
5 Ways to Boost your D&I
But what kind of practice would assist the minimization of feelings of exclusion and the integration of D&I in an organization? Below you may find some suggested interventions to prevent employees from feeling excluded, based on a 2005 scientific study :
- Optimizing communication in the workplace via communication workshops, leading to decreasing interpersonal damage and solidifying transparency and justice in all of the organizations’ processes. Because any social interaction is based on the type of communication between the parties. Learning to belong and form connections with each other is of utmost importance.
- Creating opportunities via team-building exercises in order to establish interpersonal relationships that exceed organizational hierarchy or individual characteristics. Via this method, employees start feeling like a team, each member of which has a special role to fulfill, rather than cogs in a corporate machine that keeps churning. The feeling of being recognized by a more experienced “teammate” substitutes being the identity of a worker, with being a more happily employed individual.
- Offering opportunities for alternatively defining the self (self-expression). Simply knowing that one may be herself or himself in a social environment is empowering of its own and provides a sense of comfort and inclusion.
- Encouraging dual identities and assisting in their maintenance (employee – mother/ employee – amateur athlete)
- Re-categorization via common group membership. Essentially, belonging under the same umbrella increases team-like hierarchy and reduces intraorganizational conflict. Even criticism is perceived as productive by the recipient when they feel they are “taken care” by a “more experienced teammate” for the sake of the team, rather than “scolded by a demanding superior”.
In conclusion, the implementation of D&I is just the tip of the iceberg for improving employees’ work satisfaction and consequentially, increasing employee retention, productivity, and profits. Some of the other variables that will be analyzed in future articles contain leadership potential for creating an inclusive climate in the workplace or the internal friction that can be caused by overemphasizing diversity in an organization.
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