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Don't Just Invite Them; Ask Them to Dance
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Ever been invited to a great party full of interesting people – only to feel like a wallflower once you've arrived?

Then you get the difference between diversity and inclusion.

In my last article I reviewed three ways to improve your diversity recruiting efforts. But inviting a phenomenal group of individuals to your workplace "party" is only the first step. Once they're a part of your organization, how can you get diverse employees out on the floor – and really "dancing" with one another?

Foster a culture of inclusiveness.

Inclusive work environments go way beyond recruiting candidates who are diverse in terms of gender, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, disabilities, religion and/or sexual orientation. These companies have proactive policies and behaviors that make each employee feel welcome and a part of the organization.

And the benefits are huge. This Deloitte University Press article cites several business advantages of creating a work environment that promotes inclusion, such as:

  • Accessing top talent. When considering employment opportunities, top performers of all kinds seek out inclusive companies, where they're confident they will "fit" into an organization's culture.
  • Driving performance and innovation. Research proves that inclusive businesses reap the benefits of innovative ideas, healthy debate and smarter business decisions.
  • Retaining key employees. Employers that fail to build inclusive cultures risk alienating or excluding employees. Not surprisingly, these people are then more likely to leave for another organization where they feel they will "belong."
  • Understanding customers. A broad range of industries (especially retail, hospitality, food service, oil and gas, insurance and banking) stands to benefit from the breadth of ideas and experience only diverse employees can provide.

So don't just invite diverse employees to your party…

Ask them to dance.

As you build a more diverse workforce, make sure employees aren't wallflowers. Use these suggestions to overcome apprehensions, prevent misunderstandings, nurture an inclusive culture – and create a higher-performing organization:

Take the lead. Management sets the bar for inclusiveness in organizational culture. Show an interest in other cultures, religions, ethnic backgrounds, etc. and a respect for differences. Make it clear that diversity is not merely tolerated, but truly appreciated – and that all employees are equally valuable, regardless of how they're different.

Educate your team about the benefits of a more diverse workplace. Be sure everyone in your organization knows the real reasons you're fostering a more inclusive culture (i.e., that you're not merely preventing compliance issues). Explain the advantages which I introduced in last month's diversity recruiting article:

  • Better decision-making. Research shows that diversity creates a productive kind of awkwardness and tension that leads to better group problem-solving.
  • Stronger business performance. McKinsey & Company found that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform non-diverse businesses.
  • Deeper talent pools. Expanding recruiting efforts to make them more inclusive instantly boosts your talent pool – especially for "traditionally male" roles in IT, engineering, data sciences and more.

Cultivate champions at all levels in your organization. Building an inclusive work culture requires commitment from everyone from the front lines to the corner office. Key leaders can create policies and help set the right tone, but you'll also need volunteers to champion programs and ensure that initiatives are consistently executed.

Offer flexible work policies and paid parental leave. Formalize and implement policies that make it easy for individuals to be productive employees:

Keep the lines of communication open. For culture change to take hold, you must establish transparent, two-way dialogue about proposed processes, policies and practices. Otherwise, diverse team members may wind up feeling like they don't have a voice. Whenever possible, create both formal and informal communication opportunities to gather feedback and involve employees in developing solutions solutions (instead of merely mandating change from the top down).

Anticipate challenges. Prevent diversity-related issues that may stem from stereotypes or preconceived notions. Encourage honest communication to allow employees to air concerns. And if issues arise, use sound conflict management principles to overcome them:

  • Listen to each party's viewpoint.
  • Work to understand the underlying cause.
  • Find resolutions that are fair and non-threatening to all parties involved.

Be mindful of the power of micro-messages. Small messages, both conscious and conscious, impact the way employees feel about themselves (including how welcomed and valued they believe they are). This article by Helen Turnbull, PhD, does a great job illustrating the ways micro-messages inform the negative judgments we make about others, as well as ourselves.

Thankfully, micro-messaging can also work in the opposite direction. By habitualizing small activities that convey positive messages, both verbally and non-verbally, managers can foster inclusion by:

  • making direct eye contact;
  • encouraging participation from all employees;
  • asking questions to ensure understanding;
  • listening without interrupting;
  • using inclusive language and representative images in daily employee communications.

These actions may seem little, but they have a big impact on how much employees' sense of value and belonging.

Onboard new hires. Make it clear from day one that your organization appreciates diversity and fosters inclusiveness:

  • Include diversity and inclusion messaging in your employee handbook.
  • Cover the ways you promote inclusion during new hire training.
  • Meet with new employees shortly after they start to discuss their experiences in your organization and make sure they feel welcomed, respected and heard.

Learn from employers who get diversity and inclusion right. Need a little inspiration? Check out Profiles in Diversity Journal's 2016 Women Worth Watching® award-winners. These trailblazing women are leading the way in building diverse, inclusive and incredibly successful organizations.

How does your organization recruit a diverse workforce and promote inclusion? I'd love to know. Please share your story below.

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