How to build a better, happier, and more loyal workforce

Why diversity and inclusion may be the secret to building bridges and closing gaps

(Note: This is part two of a series analyzing diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Part one detailed five business benefits of a total-organization commitment to diversity and inclusion.)

This article will look at the transformative impact that a total-organization commitment to D&I can have on your workforce—especially if employees come to believe in your commitment. Topics include:

  1. Better employee experience
  2. Higher retention
  3. Better recruiting results
  4. Stronger leadership bench
  5. Greater employee trust in the organization

Commitment is a two-way street

Most workforce benefits of diversity and inclusion efforts can only be achieved if you overcome workers’ skepticism about D&I efforts. Nearly three-quarters of employees belonging to underrepresented groups (women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ)“do not feel they’ve personally benefited from their companies’ diversity and inclusion programs,” a recent study of 16,000 workers found.

Let’s think of it a different way. Imagine if every time you heard “diversity and inclusion,” you substituted it with “culture.”

“Oh, the company culture is great.”

“I love the culture. I feel so welcome.”

“The company culture rocks.”

When a commitment to diversity and inclusion becomes so baked into your company’s DNA that it is just part of the culture, you know you’ve achieved a total-organization commitment.  Without a total-organization commitment, D&I can become a lightning rod for assumptions and lack of action.

“There’s this perception that nothing is changing,” University of the Pacific Prof. Rod Githens told CNN, noting that a common belief among workers that employers just pay “lip service” to D&I.

Employee skepticism, however, also presents an incredible opportunity. If workers from underrepresented groups come to perceive that your commitment to diversity and a culture of inclusion is indeed strong, the impact on their perception of your organization is profoundly positive.

Invest in your workers and they’ll invest in you

Here’s a look at five workforce benefits of a highly effective diversity and inclusion program that your employees believe in.

1. Better employee experience

Employees want to feel at home in the workplace—to feel valued, accepted for who they are, and to have equal opportunity to advance their careers. A diverse workforce positively impacts employees’ daily work lives, especially those from underrepresented groups.

Yet the bigger improvements might come from inclusion. Half of employees from underrepresented groups in the study referenced above reported seeing “bias as part of their day-to-day work experience.” This includes bias in key workforce decisions, such as who gets promotions and stretch assignments. The belief that they aren’t competing on a level playing field, whether true or not, significantly detracts from their employee experience. Eroding or eliminating it will significantly improve the experience.

2. Higher retention

If your workers—especially those from underrepresented groups—have a better employee experience as a result of your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, then they’ll be more likely to stick around.

The degree to which D&I impacts retention is perhaps best seen by looking at what happens when people don’t feel included. A noteworthy example is women in technology, who historically have been greatly outnumbered and often made to feel unwelcome. The Center for Talent Innovation found that 52% of highly qualified women quit their STEM jobs, while a study by AnitaB.org revealed that women leave tech companies two times faster than men do.

Diversity and inclusion greatly impact many workers’ happiness on the job, and in turn their retention. A 2017 SHRM survey found that 65 percent of workers considered respectful treatment of all employees as having a very important role in their overall job satisfaction.

3. Better recruiting results

Successful D&I efforts can positively impact recruiting in a number of ways, including:

  • More referrals, especially from employees from underrepresented groups. Referrals are popular because they are associated with lower cost and higher quality of hire, but they can negatively impact diversity because employees tend to refer people with similar backgrounds as them. However, if your workforce is diverse and your employees from underrepresented groups feel valued, then you can expect diverse referrals. These diverse referrals can actually help make your diversity efforts self-sustaining.
  • Candidates love D&I. Sixty-seven percent of job seekers told Glassdoorthat a diverse workforce is important when considering job offers. Further, a 2017 report by the National Institute for Public Relations found that “nearly half” of millennials reported that a diverse and inclusive workplace was “an important factor in a job search.”
  • Superior employment brand. Your employees will recommend your organization as a great place to work, and you can use the richness of your diverse, inclusive culture as a key selling point to candidates.

4. Stronger leadership bench

Higher employee satisfaction, improved retention and better recruiting all combine to expand your pool of potential leaders. High-potential employees from underrepresented groups, for example, will be more likely to stay with your organization, instead of bolting for advancement opportunities with competitors.

This is a key benefit considering that 67 percent of HR leaders say that building their organization’s leadership bench is a major priority for 2019. Further, 45 percent of HR leaders reported that their leadership bench lacked diversity.

5. Greater employee trust in the organization

A 2015 study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology revealed that a strong causal link exists between diversity and employee trust. Further, employees’ perceptions of inclusion were found to play an important factor in their level of trust in the organization.

Trust, of course, is the foundation of the employer-employee relationship. High levels of employee trust are associated with higher productivity, better morale, and increased engagement. Trust levels can also greatly influence whether employees positively or negatively perceive organizational changes that are likely to impact them.

Tips for improving employee perceptions of D&I efforts

As emphasized earlier, to get the full workforce benefits from diversity and inclusion efforts, you may need to overcome employee skepticism about D&I programs. Here are a few tips for improving their perceptions:

  • Leadership involvement: As the Boston Consulting Group notes, “Superficial words and platitudes are insufficient … Leaders must build a clear case for change and set concrete goals, prioritized in concert with their diverse employees.”
  • Metrics: Use metrics to evaluate your results, so you can rate your progress and identify areas of improvement.
  • Two-way communication: Communicate results to employees, and also create a climate in which employees are encouraged to share their views and concerns.
  • Impact areas: Employees’ perceptions of D&I are heavily impacted by what they see every day. As a result, it’s important to have diversity across departments and to build diversity in the management and leadership ranks. This sends a powerful message to employees from underrepresented groups that “people like me succeed in this organization.”

Your workforce is a prized possession that requires nurturing. If you follow guidelines, such as those listed above, your organization will see the impact made through your investment. By adopting new technologies and techniques with people power, organizations can and will thrive in today’s challenging market.