Recently, Netflix announced the appointment of a new executive focused on leading a diversity and inclusion program. The post about it on LinkedIn resulted in a lively if not somewhat divisive discussion. The conversation laid heavy on my mind as diversity and inclusion are a topic near and dear to my heart because we all need to feel we belong. It is a basic human need.
First, let’s start with the root of the issue and clarify what diversity and inclusion mean.
What is Diversity?
Diversity is understanding, accepting, and valuing differences between people including those of different races, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientations with unique variations in education, personalities, skill sets, experiences, and knowledge bases.
Interestingly, research by Deloitte finds that diversity is perceived differently by generations.
Millennials view workplace diversity as the combining of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, and they believe taking advantage of these differences is what leads to innovation. Gen Xers and Boomers, on the other hand, view workplace diversity as equal and fair representation regardless of demographics without necessarily considering diversity’s relationship with business results.
Diversity is not a program designed to meet hiring quotas.
What is Inclusion?
Inclusion is a collaborative, supportive, and respectful environment that increases the participation and contribution of all employees. Inclusion focuses on whether the employer has a workplace culture in which diverse employees feel integrated instead of isolated. An employer can have a diverse workplace without having an inclusive culture. In an inclusive workplace, the employer develops and maintains a culture in which the employer values diversity.
Inclusiveness is not creating programs that look to assume one group to be of higher importance. Inclusion is an environment where everyone has the opportunity to belong.
The importance of Diversity and Inclusion programs
Diversity and inclusion are a company’s strategies and practices to support a diverse workplace and leverage the effects of diversity of thought and experience to achieve a competitive business advantage. Diversity and inclusion assure all employees feel included and have an equal opportunity for success along with feeling comfortable and valued. It takes active leadership to bring these programs to life.
What it is not.
Diversity and Inclusion are not Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action laws focus on specific groups based on historical discrimination and disadvantage, such as individuals of color, women, individuals with disabilities, and veterans. Affirmative Action laws require all companies to take Affirmative Action to defeat and counter past instances of discrimination in the workplace. Affirmative Action is about achieving equality in the workforce by reaching out to previously disadvantaged groups and eliminating barriers to hiring and advancement.
Unlike Affirmative Action, diversity refers to a broader and more inclusive concept of valuing people of different races, religions, national origins, genders, sexual orientation, economic status, and other differentiators in the workplace. It is premised on the idea that organizations and companies are most effective when they leverage and include the views and abilities of employees of all backgrounds. The goal of diversity is to foster a culture of mutual respect, leading to a more productive workforce and one that better reflects the diversity of customers and global markets.
Inclusion maximizes the ability of all employees to contribute to an organization and employers benefit by having different approaches and views to making decisions and solving problems. As a result, having a diverse and inclusive workforce can lead to increased productivity and improved communication.
With that, I commend Netflix, Deloitte, and all companies that choose to focus on diversity and inclusion. Who would not want to feel included?
Are Diversity and Inclusion a problem in IT?
It seems like the Information Technology field has everything going for it. It is a career choice that appears to be doing fine with diversity from the outside. Despite all the positives, there’s a lingering sore spot in the IT and technology world: diversity in leadership positions. The tech industry has long been accused of favoring white males in their hiring practices, especially in executive positions where white men make up 80 percent of the jobholders. Many IT leaders that I meet are very proud of their diversity stats. I most often find their pride is based on comparing IT diversity statistics to peer departments in their company. It can be quite sobering when we take a hard look at the ratios of diversity between IT leadership and IT workers.
Inclusion is a much larger issue. People must feel a sense of belonging—a connection to an organization and team that makes you feel you can be yourself. Not only does it result in higher employee engagement and productivity in the workplace, but it is also a basic human need.
Unless you are the individual who does not feel included, it is easy to let your diversity stats lull you into a false impression. To retain great talent, it is critical that organizations take an honest look at the end to end employee experience with intent towards creating conditions that promote inclusion daily.
Some will say, “You can’t make people like someone” or “How can I make people be friends.” You can’t.
You can teach people what it means to be inclusive. You can foster activities that build bonds and common goals. Most of all, you can model inclusive behaviors yourself. Like any form of behavior change, inclusion is a process of identifying key moments in which to build new habits by taking daily actions that can be practiced and measured. When these habits are put into action in an environment that supports honest conversations and healthy tension, real change becomes possible.
Let me tell you a story about the power of belonging…
A client company’s IT Infrastructure technical engineers are located in various offices scattered around the US. The leadership and majority of the IT infrastructure team is located in a city several states away from the corporate headquarters. Wisely, the client has a senior network engineer residing at HQ to assure timely support of the executive leadership team. Coincidently, he is African American.
When I first started to work with this team, I observed that the senior network engineer was often hanging out chatting and did not appear nearly as busy as the other IT team members in HQ. No one seemed to know what his role was, but many people voiced the question to each other and me. I took the time to talk with him and discovered him to be very bright and very underutilized. Though he was the most senior member of the engineering team, he was not included in technology projects or upgrades outside of HQ. It was easy to spot his frustration and loneliness. His direct manager and members of the engineering team would often visit HQ, but rarely did I see them interact with this local senior engineer. I also knew for sure they did not spend social time together. It was quite sad.
Fortunately, my consulting role allowed me access to observe as well as to mentor his manager. I talked with the manager about the engineer. He had inherited him from another team. It was apparent that he did not know him well. The next time the manager came to town, I invited a group of IT team members, including the network engineer and his manager, out for a happy hour. During those two hours, the manager and engineer talked to each other more than they ever had. Their behavior changed from the point forward. They began talking more and the engineer was included in larger efforts. That one happy hour event did not turn the tide; it opened the door.
I am delighted to report that the employee is not only engaged, he is now a technical leader in his space who is looked to for ideas and thought leadership. He told me recently that he finally feels he belongs at the company. Can you imagine how much better he feels about himself, his work, his peers, his manager, and his employer?
Let me leave you with a parting thought. As you work towards building a more diverse and inclusive organization, it is important to consider what your employees are saying about you and your company outside of the office. What is their feeling of inclusion and belonging saying about who you are as a culture? In what ways is your employee message out of alignment with your customer? A diverse employee base who knows they are included and belong matters.
Until next time, have an effective week!
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