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How to Actually Infuse Diversity into Your Workplace

Many, if not most, organizations today have the responsibility to ensure a diverse, inclusive workforce. The need goes beyond just reaching a magic number of underrepresented personnel. The reality is that travel, the internet and technology, as well as our global economy, is shrinking our world and we find ourselves becoming a grand melting pot. Since people are at different places on the spectrum of assimilation, so are the organizations that employ them.

There appear to be more articles telling us what not to do rather than what can be done to move organizations in the right direction to becoming more equitable and inclusive. Your business is on the right path if it is looking in the mirror and asking its employees, “How do we treat people?” This is the first step. And while an employer may have limited control over what each employee believes or does in their personal lives, it does have the authority and responsibility to expect fair and respectful treatment by employees during their work time.

Organizations must take proactive steps to infuse diversity. It will not happen on its own and you can’t simply rely on employees to lead the way. Scores of articles on the subject have been boiled down to the following four action steps:

  1. Policy
  2. Practice
  3. Promote
  4. Probe

Review your policies and establishing new ones that leave no doubt that discrimination and misconduct will not be tolerated. This doesn’t mean you immediately terminate an employee who makes an unsavory joke. However, it should clearly state what is not acceptable, the degrees of misconduct, and the discipline and consequences of violations.

The next step is to put the right behaviors into practice. Training might be necessary to clear up questions your employees may have. Often, misstatements are unintentional. Regardless, it doesn’t mean it’s okay. Leaders, in particular, are expected to practice good behavior, as they are under the watchful eye of subordinates. Review the results of your inquiry to how the organization is doing. Seemingly simple things like one’s quiet conduct and ethnic dress in an interview could very well be a cultural indicator rather than blatant disregard for American standards. Consider your common practices and assumptions. It may be difficult to see these subtleties through your lens, so consult qualified staff or third party resources as needed.

Once you have a handle on your practices, promote your new beliefs. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as you state your adherence, supported with policies and practices, and communicate to those in an out of the organization what’s expected and appreciated.

Lastly, probe means to examine your progress. Take the temperature of your diversity climate. Ask employees and potential employees about the impression they have of the company and how they have been treated. Of course, you must first create a safe environment in order to gather truthful and accurate information. Your current staff and prospective staff will not share their true feelings if they feel that it will jeopardize their employment opportunities. In fact, chances are, if the climate is really bad, you won’t know until a complaint or lawsuit hits your desk. Don’t let that happen.

Create a culture that welcomes differences, channels the talents of a cohesive and collaborative team, and celebrates the achievement of organizational goals through a blending of perspectives.

Lori Okami is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She has over nine years of experience in local and state government in Human Resources, grants management, and as an educator, as well as over twenty years in the private sector. Lori has written over 400 health and fitness blogs for Hawaii’s premiere online news publication. Lori’s expertise is in organization alignment, change management, and customer relationship management (CRM). You can read her posts here.

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Catherine Andrews

I love the 4 P action steps! I so agree that diversity has to be made a concrete priority with actual outcomes, or it’s super easy to just give lip service to it, with nothing ever happening.

Lori Okami

Thank you Catherine! Some think that just hiring a more diverse mix will change the culture and everyone will automatically get along, but that would be an attitude of absentee management. Needless to say, that’s not advisable. Appreciate your comment!