Every day, businesses are taking steps to diversify their workforce, and why wouldn’t they? Focusing on diverse teams, actively mitigating bias, and fostering creativity through differing perspectives all lead to benefits in the long run.
Despite all the evidence touting a diverse workplace’s advantages, some companies still struggle to implement—or even accept—diversity initiatives.
In many cases, it’s not even done maliciously. Many companies approach diversity through the lens of quotas (“We have X number of Y, so we’re diverse.”) but that only fixes one part of the issue. Additionally, when companies operate in a geographic area that’s not very diverse, it can be easy to never think about diversity. However, that is short-sighted and can lead companies to underperform.
What’s in it for me?
There’s no denying that there’s the strong business case for diversity, but it can be challenging for companies to look beyond their particular situation (i.e., “We’re a tech company in the middle of Wyoming; why should we care?”).
Well, there are several other reasons why organizations should care: One reason is your company ’s reputation. With an increased awareness of DE&I across media, the market responds to companies that are diverse. Potential clients view such companies as forward-thinking. With the U.S., in particular, being a melting pot of different races, ethnicities, and cultures, a company as diverse as America looks very attractive to both customers and potential employees.
Another reason to care: Diverse groups are proven to be more innovative. Diverse groups, including people from all walks of life, can offer varied perspectives when it comes to problem-solving or innovation. This will also foster an environment where employees will feel comfortable sharing their experiences, which will increase productivity and quality contributions. An open and inclusive work environment also does wonders for retaining and recruiting top tier prospects.
Now you’re probably thinking: “Wow, why haven’t we done this sooner?” The good news is, if you have already recognized a need to diversify, you’re already on the right track to making your company more innovative and profitable. Here are some tips to make—and win—the case for diversity at your organization.
The root of the issue: Knowing and understanding
Your organization is probably hampered by bias. At the NeuroLeadership Institute, we often say, “If you have a brain, you have a bias,” because bias is a naturally-occurring, biological phenomenon. We can extend that logic to say, “If your organization has brains, then your organization has a bias.”
Once we recognize that fact, we can take steps to start addressing the problems that bias can lead to in decision making by recognizing and labeling those biases. NLI developed The SEEDS Model®, which stands for Similarity, Expedience, Experience, Distance, and Safety. SEEDS is a tool that can be used to label and mitigate biases that may be holding your organization back.
It’s important to remember that the SEEDs model focuses on changing behavior, not beliefs. You’re not necessarily changing your employees’ actual opinions on diversity, but you’re changing what they do daily at work. Like with most changes, however, actually applying SEEDS is easier said than done.
You can use the SEEDS model to help you pitch the idea of a focused diversity and Inclusion effort. Ask yourself: Is the D&I strategy at your company focused only on the numbers (i.e. Experience)? The area of operation isn’t diverse itself, so the company sees no need to change (Similarity)? After all, if everything’s smooth sailing, why rock the boat?
Perhaps they aren’t aware of the flaws of the traditional approach to D&I (Experience, again). The fact is, mandatory diversity training is ineffective at best or damaging at worst. The best way to increase your organization’s diversity is to create behavior change by building habits, which can be time-consuming. With that in mind, it makes it much easier for the leadership team to check a box on the HR checklist and keep it pushing.
However, since diverse companies do better across the board, how can you get your boss to see where bias is working against the organization’s goals?
Focus on the rewards and manage your expectations
People are much more sensitive to threats than they are to a reward (think of it this way: If you miss a reward—like an apple—you miss lunch. If you miss a threat—like a tiger—you are lunch). We’ll go to the ends of the Earth twice if we think we can avoid a threat, and your company is no different. Especially if things are “good” right now, they can view any change as a threat to that. The best counter to any threats would be to focus on the rewards of leveraging diversity. Any discussion about it will need to focus on the company’s value system and maximize its benefits.
Once you’ve gotten to the root of the issue, you can determine which area appeals to leadership the most (i.e. Are they mostly concerned with the risk of failure? Attempt to mitigate their safety bias). Any discussion about implementing diversity will need to focus on their value system and maximize its benefits.
The next step you need to take would be to plant the seeds with your leadership team. Now that you understand their potential biases and the benefits of being diverse, have productive conversations with them about implementing it.