Cultivating Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Many of you reading this have heard or read an increasing amount of coverage of diversity and inclusion in the media. In fact, in recent months, major hotel chains, fashion houses, financial institutions and other businesses have enlisted the services of HR teams to train its employees on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Why now, though? Why all the buzz? Having a diverse group of people as part of a business is not a novel concept. It is, however, one which more employers and leaders are acknowledging the significance of, by creating environments where diversity and inclusion are priorities.

Last week, during New York’s Advertising Week, I attended multiple speaking engagements where diversity and inclusion were the key topics. Microsoft, Google, Coca-Cola, Verizon Media and other conglomerates have all taken active steps towards producing marketing campaigns that emphasize diversity and improving their employees’ workspaces so that they are more inclusive.

For the system to work, we must first understand the difference between ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion.’ As MJ DePalma—Head of Multicultural and Inclusive Marketing for Microsoft—stated, “Diversity is a fact and inclusion is a choice we make.”

Photo courtesy of AWNewYork/Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of AWNewYork/Shutterstock

When people work in an environment that feels secure, welcoming, values self-expression, appreciates input from others and is free, they tend to thrive personally and professionally. And, ultimately, that personal and professional growth translates to increased profits for the business!

As the world itself becomes a more diverse and inclusive place with each passing day, we must not allow workspaces to fall behind. We must be vulnerable enough to challenge and hold ourselves accountable to our own beliefs and unconscious biases. Unconscious biases are often quick, inaccurate judgements based on our own experiences—many times, we fail to notice them (albeit not deliberately). To combat this, we can take steps to reframe our thinking and tailor it to be more aware of perspectives that differ from our own.

“If everyone agrees right off the bat, there is something wrong. It is important to have a diversity of opinion in the room,” DePalma adds.

With that said, how do we get to a place of inclusivity? Many agree that having empathy is the key. Empathy is being able to feel what someone else is feeling. When we stop and learn to be more curious about and interested in our neighbors, be brave enough to ask questions about them and open ourselves enough to listen to and understand them, our empathy grows.

Once we have strengthened our ability to empathize, we can learn to work more closely with others and innovate more together than would be possible as individuals.

During hiring practices, we gravitate towards applicants who we have common interests with, such as similar backgrounds and physical appearances—this is often referred to as affinity bias, and it is disturbingly common in the world of business. Affinity bias can be overcome, however, by for example asking interviewees open-ended questions, having a diverse panel of interviewers conduct interviews, and recognizing our own generalizations about people who are different than us.

It does in fact take time, consistency and considerable effort to recognize our own biases—after all, our brains take in approximately 11 million bits of information per second! (That’s a lot of information to handle!) As a result, we take mind shortcuts, and our biases—form based on our experiences—solidify soon after. What we see and hear in the media, what our friends and family tell us, and influences we are under while at work, all fuel our inherent biases.

When we take the steps to learn to reframe our thinking with the view to assuming responsibility for who we are and how we think, only then we can move forward on personal and professional levels.

“When everybody plays, we all win!” - Microsoft

Much love,

Inez xo