If a friend asked you what your work environment was like, chances are, you would think about your everyday experience – conversations with coworkers, day-to-day tasks, things you love to do and things that frustrate you.
We think about our work in terms of small, everyday moments, and these everyday moments are the key to creating and changing company culture.
Like any culture change, creating an inclusive culture requires sustained effort that meets employees where they are, in the tasks they already do. Inclusion and diversity (I&D) must be more than an HR initiative, check-the-box exercise or lunch-and-learn topic. It must be embedded throughout the entire employee experience.
While “diversity and inclusion” or “D&I” is the most common terminology, think about placing inclusion first both in your terminology and in the approach you are striving to achieve in building and sustaining an inclusive work environment.
You may have a very diverse population, but that does not mean you are fully benefiting from the differing perspectives, skills and abilities that each one of your associates bring to the table. When you lead with inclusion, you are providing an environment where all people can contribute, progress and thrive – driving higher rates of employee engagement and retention and better business results.
An effective I&D strategy impacts all employees at all stages of their career – from hiring to onboarding to development and career progression.
To make sure you’re getting a diverse set of talented employees in the door at your organization, look for possible stumbling blocks diverse applicants may face. A career site that doesn’t highlight your organization’s commitment to diversity, a job description that feels like a laundry list of perfection or an interview process with a panel that doesn’t represent a diverse organization can dissuade candidates from joining your organization. Making sure your organization’s commitment to I&D is well-articulated throughout the hiring process, reviewing your job descriptions for bias or gendered language, and ensuring a diverse interview panel will help you attract a broad slate of candidates.
While I&D starts with attracting and hiring candidates with diverse backgrounds, experiences and expertise, it does not end there. If employees feel like outsiders or believe their contributions are not valued once they join the company, they are less likely to feel engaged in their day-to-day work… and are more likely to leave.
Review your talent management strategy – both the formal and informal touchpoints and processes – to identify gaps and opportunities to be more inclusive. Some questions you may ask in your review include:
Even if I&D is embedded into your talent management programs and processes, the responsibility for making it real falls on supervisors and managers. That’s a good thing, because employees will see the most impact when local leaders and managers drive the changes in their day-to-day actions.
Because managers are busy, it’s important to frame I&D as a strategic way of managing people to achieve better business outcomes, not just checking a box to avoid a lawsuit or bad press. It’s also important to provide managers with the tools, training and resources they need to effectively incorporate I&D principles as they hire new talent, complete performance reviews, help employees develop skills and recognize team members.
Giving managers practical tools and easy-to-implement actions helps them bring your I&D strategy to life. You might provide:
When we think about I&D, we remember that one-size-fits-all is usually not the best approach. It may differ between employees and between different areas of your organization, too. Some areas may already have inclusive cultures, while others may struggle.
When communicating best practices for I&D, give managers room to explore different techniques and processes within their individual teams, instead of prescribing a list of specific actions and requirements. Managers often have the best picture of the unique challenges their team faces, which means they are well equipped to choose the techniques that will have the greatest impact.
Remember, cultures don’t change overnight, so it is important to set both short- and long-term goals so you can track progress along the way. As you build I&D into your talent management strategy, you create a more inclusive culture, one everyday moment at a time.
Andrea Walsh leads Willis Towers Watson Chicago’s Talent Line of Business. She helps organizations embed Inclusion & Diversity into their talent management programs and processes to enhance business results and attract, retain and engage
Alison Thumel is an experienced communication and change management consultant at Willis Towers Watson and is based in Chicago.