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How to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Written By: Mary-Devon Dupuy

Most businesses in 2017 are making diversity and inclusion in the workplace one of their top priorities. Regardless of one’s individual stance on the importance of multicultural work environments, it is undeniable that “straight white males” are the most visible group in the highest paying fields. Not only is boosting minority and women representation essential for socio economic progress, there’s evidence to suggest that diversity awareness in the workplace improves companies’ bottom lines and makes people smarter. Let’s take a look at how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace

What is diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

For women, people of color, and the LGBT community, the benefits of diversity are obvious. People in all fields want positive representations of those with whom they share common backgrounds and perspectives. Furthermore, a lack of diversity often causes workers to tokenize their peers who fall out of the “straight white male” category.

A study by the Harvard Business Review demonstrates the numbers behind this common, intuitive response to diversity. According to the study, “Without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of color are 24% less likely; and LGBTs are 21% less likely. This costs their companies crucial market opportunities, because inherently diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets.”

What are the benefits of diversity in the workplace?

When it comes to the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the numbers back up the platitudes. If creating a more fair and just world is not a major selling point, money likely is. Ostensibly, women, POC, and LGBT are less likely to give their money to companies that do not make diversity a priority. Americans spend a lot of money on luxuries, according to a July study by market watch. The wealthiest earners spend 65 percent of their earnings on non-necessities. As incomes go down, so does luxury spending. However, America’s lowest-income earners still spend 40 percent on luxuries. With that amount of money still going to luxuries, people are more likely to spend it on products and services provided by companies that have a history of promoting diversity.

To help paint the picture of the racial divide in the American workforce, the Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled a breakdown of employed people by occupation, race, and ethnicity. 39 percent of white people are in management, but only 29.5 percent of black people, and 20.8 percent of Latino or Hispanic people. 50 percent of Asian people are in professional and/or management positions. When it comes to gender, only 24 percent of CEOs are women, 31 percent of lawyers, 33 percent of doctors, and 4.3 percent of engineers.

Such stats are alarming for people who are intimidated by certain fields, fearing discrimination and/or harassment. Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between instances of harassment and a lack of diversity. For instance, most sexual harassment is committed by men, making gender a factor worth considering when building an office team. However, statistics about the gender of a “typical sexual harasser” can be harmful and promote a new set of stereotypes. Men can also be harassed by women, or other men. In 2011, men filed roughly 16 percent of all sexual harassment claims. No single group is immune to workplace harassment. If a person, or group of people, expresses concern about another individual, or group, on their team, one option is to require everyone to undergo a comprehensive diversity training and participate in diversity awareness activities. If it’s required, then no individual is singled out. Of course, matters that go beyond ignorance and misunderstandings, such as harassment or blatant bigotry, should be handled swiftly and directly by executives.

Perhaps one of the most vulnerable groups is people suffering from mental illness. It’s difficult for professionals to broach topics such as mental health. An overly aggressive or accusatory approach could further harm the employee in question. People may quit their jobs rather than seek help. Companies are responsible for making it loud and clear that their employees have open and safe access to human resources personnel, who can refer them to the proper channels for issues of mental health, harassment, discrimination, and other sensitive matters.

Why should diversity be valued in the workplace?

With that information in mind, the next topic is ways to promote diversity. As SHRM points out, the first step is to collect data. Once companies have assessed a multitude of factors, from gender identity, to religious stats, to veteran status, human resources departments must get down to the business of assessing themselves. Ideally, an outside agency could observe and assess office culture and behaviors, in order to provide recommendations.

Much of the work companies do to attract diverse hires overlaps with the general work that goes into creating a positive workplace culture. We’ve mostly addressed inherent diversity such as gender, sexuality, and race thus far, which is not to discount factors such as ageism, and policies that benefit child-free people at the expense of parents. Give employees opportunities to provide anonymous feedback. Most importantly, listen to employees. Whether their concerns are valid or not, give your employees a voice within the company. Respect, communication, and equal access to human resources are critical to promoting diversity and inclusion.

Mary-Devon Dupuy is First Impression Liason for Acrew and a local comedian in New Orleans.

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