Creating more inclusive spaces requires strategy, sincerity, and a focus on belonging
America faced an unprecedented racial reckoning this year, and in response, several major companies like Apple and Facebook made sizable donations to social justice organizations. But perhaps they would have been better served by fixing diversity within their own walls. At Facebook, for example, the company failed to increase the number of employees from underrepresented groups over a 5-year period. Time and again, corporate America has looked for the silver bullet to tackle diversity — the Diversity and Inclusion Chief, the big money donation, the annual status report. But throwing money at the problem is not enough. To affect change in a meaningful way, there are four pillars that companies must live and breathe, and then weave into the fabric of their organizations.
Diversity efforts won’t make a difference within an organization without buy-in — from leadership, from key stakeholders, from employees. So often, it’s expected that the Talent Acquisition team will bring in a more diverse range of hires and the problem will be solved. But it takes more — a lot more.
Think of a new product. The development team wouldn’t dare ask for funding without explaining the value of the product to the customer and the company. So, why not approach diversity the same way? The business case must be made — diversity drives innovation, attracts top talent, and improves the bottom line. If the people in power understood this, there would be more significant movement.
When there isn’t buy-in, you end up with a company like Nike, where executives embraced gender diversity publicly but fostered a culture of rampant sexism internally. Or you end up with a CEO like Wells Fargo’s Charles Scharf, who sent an internal memo about the “limited” pool of qualified Black talent in finance. In both cases, leaders talked the talk, but they didn’t believe in the mission enough to walk the walk. When everyone is bought into diversity, the company applies more substantial resources, executives know and understand the statistics, and most importantly, there’s a measurable change.
To achieve diversity, leaders must understand what it means for their organization. Not every company needs to hire more Black employees — perhaps you need to tackle gender diversity or age diversity instead. There are 34 ways that you can define diversity, and there has to be a consensus among those in power about what a more diverse company looks like.
Often, and incorrectly, leaders think that making a workplace more diverse is about excluding some demographics in favor of others. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Diversity and inclusion efforts have been designed to stop the exclusion that has taken place in professional organizations for decades. By bringing more diverse people on staff, you are not excluding anyone. You are achieving a level of balance that will only benefit your morale and business results.
Diversity is NOT a numbers game. When new hires finally step foot on the inside, they need to feel that they belong. It’s a basic human need. Each of us needs to feel wanted like we have a purpose within a larger group. Just as we want to connect with others and contribute to our communities, families, and circles of friends, we want to feel similarly valued at work. Without belonging, we feel disconnected from the culture. In the case of diverse employees, this can cause them to leave in search of another company where they’ll find their sense of belonging.
But don’t approach belonging like you would a business metric. Recognize diverse hires’ differences, but don’t overemphasize them. Instead, create identity-safe spaces, show support for everyone’s contributions, and be sincere.
When your workplace lacks a sense of belonging, it has pervasive effects. Just think about those new hires who don’t last. They go on to tell others about their experiences — face-to-face, on social media, and on job sites like Glassdoor. Your organization may preach a message of diversity on your website and in your advertising collateral, but that messaging won’t match the reality presented by former employees. The result? You lose control of the narrative, and it becomes even harder to find and retain diverse talent. But, if you live your values, you don’t have to worry about this. A fair and equal workplace will speak for itself.
Diversity continues to mystify corporate America, but it’s not as hard as these companies make it out to be. The fix is simple — they have to want to improve diversity, they have to define what they’re doing, they have to make people feel welcome, and they have to embrace the reality of their situation. That’s it. These steps would be no-brainers for new products and services. It’s time to take these actions for diverse employees.
 GrantWatch. (June 10, 2020). 23 Large Brands That Have Pledged More Than $1M To Social Justice Causes. Retrieved from: https://www.grantwatch.com/grantnews/23-large-brands-that-pledge-more-than-1m-to-social-justice-causes/
 Guynn, Jessica. (July 15, 2020). Facebook diversity report: Efforts still failing Black and Hispanic employees, especially women. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/07/15/facebook-diversity-african-american-black-hispanic-latino-employees/5430124002/
 Mead, Ursula. (July 24, 2018). Executive buy-in is critical for diversity initiatives. Retrieved from: https://www.bizjournals.com/bizwomen/news/out-of-the-office/2018/07/executive-buy-in-is-critical-for-diversity.html?page=all
 Sweet, Ken. (September 23, 2020). Wells Fargo CEO apologizes for comments about diversity. Retrieved from: https://apnews.com/article/archive-charles-scharf-fa3ea27361567b3cf1f4c011467194ec
 Reiners, Bailey. (October 28, 2019). Types Of Diversity In The Workplace You Need To Know. Retrieved from: https://builtin.com/diversity-inclusion/types-of-diversity-in-the-workplace
 Slepian, Michael. (August 19, 2020). Are Your D&I Efforts Helping Employees Feel Like They Belong? Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2020/08/are-your-di-efforts-helping-employees-feel-like-they-belong