Let’s start with a difficult truth about diversity: it is human nature to surround yourself with people who are similar to you. From cultural backgrounds to political persuasions, it’s easiest to feel most comfortable with people who look like and think like you. Similarities often grant a common ground and help establish deeper connections.
In the workplace—and even in life itself—these tendencies can cause serious damage. When you gravitate toward people who remind you of yourself, you miss an opportunity to expand your mind and elevate your thinking. Just look at the emergence of social media’s echo chambers during the most recent election for a survey case in possible damage.
Promoting diverse thinking isn’t just about the greater good; it’s also about good business. A recent study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) suggests that organizations with diverse leadership—in thinking style, in culture, in gender, in background—are more innovative, efficient and deliver on average 19 percent higher revenues than those without. A Deloitte studyfound that 72 percent of working Americans say they would leave their organization for one with a more inclusive culture.
In terms of effectiveness and morale, taking a passive stance on diversity is setting your organization up to fail. Here’s how you can take a more active and effective role to promote inclusiveness:
Diversity Starts at the Top and Extends All the Way Down
While diversity is important at all levels, it starts at the top.
Company leaders are the ones who shape an organization’s culture and processes. If those leaders all look alike, think alike and share similar experiences, they may inadvertently set expectations or policies that leave certain groups behind.
Maybe they’re not recruiting from a diverse population, or maybe entrance hurdles favor a particular type of applicant. A diverse leadership team is more likely to recognize obstacles and work to remove them.
In addition, a diverse leadership team sends an important message to workers at all levels at the company that there are no glass ceilings and no closed doors.
Recognize Unconscious Bias
Often, managers have the best of intentions when it comes to promoting diversity. They believe in the principles of equal opportunity, and they agree that a truly diverse team is a worthy goal.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough to combat deeply ingrained unconscious biases that seep into workplace environments. From performance reviews highlighting different qualities for different groups to instances where higher-ups choose mentees that remind them of themselves, unconscious bias can have real, lasting and harmful impacts.
If your company isn’t actively working to recognize and combat unconscious bias, you’re probably suffering as a result.
Expand Your Definition of Diversity
If you think you can look around the room and decide whether your team is diverse based on what you see, you’re wrong.
Diversity is about more than just checking boxes, and it extends beyond gender or race. Those aspects are certainly important, but that’s where your diversity efforts should start, not where they should conclude.
At its core, true diversity is about bringing people together who take different approaches to the same problem. Try thinking about diversity in terms of representing different skill sets. For example, instead of siloing employees based on their main skill set, build teams that include a salesperson, a marketer, a designer and an engineer that work together.
Promote a Culture of Inclusion
Once you’ve successfully built a diverse team, you must take active steps to ensure that each team member feels empowered to speak up. Let each employee take ownership by creating clearly defined roles for each person, allowing them to serve as the true expert in what they do.
Not only does that approach help with true inclusion, but it also helps with accountability. Defined roles mean that it will be easy to recognize a team member for a job well done. It also helps identify the specific contributions of team members so that you can ensure that you’re promoting based on contributions.
These tips are just the beginning; fostering diversity is a continuous process. Those who prioritize it will be richly rewarded, now and in the future.
Steven R. Power is Global President of Deputy, which builds employee-management tools.