Running Your Business

How to Build a Diverse Workplace

  • Building a diverse workforce is a vital part of any organization's success

  • Implementing strong diversity and inclusion policies helps employees feel valued, protected and supported

  • Remember, everyone deserves the ability to be who they are

Posted by June 14, 2018

What does diversity mean, exactly? What makes a workplace diverse? We use this word so often as a synonym for racial diversity that we forget there are all types of diversity.

According to Merriam-Webster, diversity simply means “an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities.” Therefore, every workplace that employs two or more people is a diverse workforce simply because no two people are alike. But some groups of people are more similar than others. And your clientele is likely to represent people from many different backgrounds.

It’s important to know how to build a diverse workplace and implement strong diversity and inclusion policies so employees feel valued, protected and supported. Here are some questions to consider when looking to diversify your company’s workforce.

What Makes a Diverse Workforce?

If your office employs individuals from a number of different ethnicities, but everyone graduated from the same university, attends the same church, has the same marital status and binges the same shows on Netflix, you’re not really part of a diverse workforce.

You want people who have different viewpoints, attended different schools and see things from different points of view. You want true diversity.

The most important thing is that people feel comfortable being themselves. If Jane can have a picture of her husband on her desk, Steve should also feel comfortable having a picture of his husband on his desk. If Mohammed feels comfortable taking time out of his day to pray, Maria should also feel comfortable wearing her necklace with a cross on it.

Why Is This of Value in the Workforce?

According to a survey conducted by the Williams Institute, “employees who spend considerable time and effort hiding their identity in the workplace experience higher levels of stress and anxiety, resulting in health problems and work-related complaints.” As the study notes, supportive policies and welcoming workplace climates are linked to “greater job commitment, improved workplace relationships, increased job satisfaction and improved health outcomes.”

If you have to worry about your co-workers finding out about your private life, that’s going to stress you out. Making everyone feel comfortable can go a long way toward a more productive workforce. In fact, a report by Out Now says that the U.S. economy could save over $9 billion a year if organizations were better at implementing diversity and inclusion policies.

What About “Conflicting” Diversity?

Everyone deserves the ability to be who they are. But sometimes this can cause conflict. A religious co-worker may not approve of a gay co-worker’s lifestyle and vice versa. What do you do in this situation? Well, first of all, you begin by demanding respect. Respect doesn’t mean everyone agrees with everyone else—it means that you are considerate and thoughtful toward another person. It is perfectly reasonable to require everyone to treat everyone else with respect.

If two employees want to have a conversation in their native language, that is fine in the hallway or on break, but in a meeting where not everyone speaks the same language, it’s best if they respectfully use the common language. There is strictly no mocking other people for their beliefs allowed. Everyone should be kind and respectful.

An Easy Trick to Test for Diversity

We all do a ton of things on auto-pilot. For example, if you drive to work every morning, sometimes you arrive and can’t remember making every turn. You did, of course, but you’re so used to it, your brain just takes over for you.

This is a necessary skill for survival, but it can also cause problems when it comes to diversity. We all have biases, even if we aren’t conscious or aware of them. Human Resources executive Kristen Pressner shared a simple test she developed called “flip it to test it.” Here’s how it works.

Steve comes to you and says, “Is it OK if I put a picture of me and my husband up in my cube?” Flip that to Jane saying, “Is it OK if I put a picture of me and my husband up in my cube?” The answer should be the same for both of them. If it’s not, you may have an implicit bias and need to change your response. If Maria asks if it’s OK for her to pray over her lunch, flip that to Mohammed asking if it’s OK to take a break for prayer. The answer should be the same for both of them. Incidentally, no business is required to allow people to put up family pictures, but reasonable religious accommodations are required by law.

Any time you’re in doubt, simply flip the situation and note your response. If you want to know how to build a diverse workplace and ensure your employees feel valued, protected and supported, this is a great place to start.

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