History of Workplace Diversity
It is often argued that diversity and inclusion are too often used as watered-down or performative terms to fuel sales efforts towards value driven consumers. So what do these terms really mean?
According to Vernā Myers’s analogy to describe the terms, “diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance”. In corporate America, we can think about this in terms of hiring underrepresented talent and then retaining and promoting talent.
Looking back at a brief history of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the first equal employment law that even mentioned the word diversity was around the recruitment of military veterans into the workforce, Executive Order 9981. In 1987, one of the key insights in a research exercise Workforce 2000-Work and Workers in the Twenty-First Century was that “Minorities will be a larger share of the new entrants into the labor force” and “more women will enter the workforce”. Gradually, diversity expanded to include initiatives around race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and an intersectionality of historically marginalized identities.
In 1964, The Civil Rights Act was put into action stating that firing someone based on discrimination was illegal. Xerox was the first company in the 1960s to house an employee resource group for Black employees called the “National Black Employees Caucus”. The first corporate diversity training was in the 1980s with the sole goal to protect against lawsuits with a very narrow scope. If you’ve been on LinkedIn, you may have noticed that there are an increasing number of roles open in the diversity, equity, and inclusion realm - from Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) to Program Managers. Many of the more senior roles require 20 years of experience in DEI. While this uptick in importance is promising, diversity and inclusion efforts at companies can not be bucketed in silos and should not be something that is just box checked in a job description. Every person and company is on their own journey in doing deep work around equity at work and this includes identifying internal racism, sexism, and other biases.
True workplace diversity goes beyond anti-racism training, strongly-worded company statements, the presence of diversity officers, or even the optics of underrepresented talent at your organization.
Diversity’s Impact on the Bottom Line
Diversity isn’t just a “nice to have” so that when you look at your company or intern photo there’s not just one type of person staring back at you. It’s been proven that more diverse companies produce better outcomes, specifically at least 35% better than non-diverse teams.
Board diversity has also been a topic of discussion as it’s also been proven that ethnically and culturally diverse boards see a 43% more likely return in higher profits. 47% of millennials are actively looking for D&I when considering potential employers, along with 33% of Gen Xers and 37% of Boomers.
Get Specific and Break Down Your Diversity Goals
Companies who are looking to prioritize DEI need to ensure that their efforts are holistic. For example, many businesses are looking to hire talent from underrepresented communities. But these efforts cannot only be about hiring, they also have to be about retaining and promoting talent into decision-making roles.
Diversity also means diversity of race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and more. Are your company’s efforts inclusive of groups that are often overlooked? There are one billion people in the world with disabilities and 80% are of working age. With the movement towards remote or hybrid work for job functions or entire organizations, increased accessibility should be made easier for employees with these different abilities. Does your company have an employee resource group for employees with different abilities and allies? Are there initiatives and ways in which you highlight folks in your marketing material?
As Ed Jaffe, Founder and Lead Coach of Demo Solutions reflects,
“How can I be more inclusive with my own content as I’m in front of audiences? There are a few ways to think about it. Do you have a picture of someone in a wheelchair when that is not the context of the picture? Are you unintentionally reinforcing stereotypes?” An organization doesn’t happen to be diverse, just like any other strategy it is intentional, has a strategic approach, and is dynamic. We’re not talking about something that is set and forget it or a box is checked so we’re done.”
True diversity and inclusion is a comprehensive and continuous effort. It’s reflected in the way an HR team thinks, it’s reflected in software selections, recruiting, hiring, and promoting. It’s reflected in every level of an organization. And, some companies are paving the way.
Take for example, the comprehensive hiring efforts of Thumbtack, as shared by Dionna Smith, their Head of DEI,
“At Thumbtack, we look at data and analytics to compare compensation within a given level to ensure equity regardless of race and gender - we’re also expanding this to include differently abled, sexual orientation, veteran status and age. We also look at reviews and promotions based on race and gender to identify whether the percentages and/rate of promotions fall outside of our company wide averages. Finally, through our employee surveys we gather employee sentiment and monitor if people feel like they are being treated fairly and have equal opportunities to develop and grow at Thumbtack.”
Renu Hooda, Chief Talent Officer at Kinnesso has shared that it’s part of the process for her innovation team to look into their product line to ensure there is no bias. She outlines four pillars to demonstrate how Kinesso thinks about DEI: talent (people), business, clients, and community.
In thinking through the lens of pillar 1 and 2, when hosting or participating in any events do you look at the lineup to see if there are all men, all white men, or all white women speakers. There are countless resources out there to ensure that your pipeline of talent, speakers, vendors are representative of the world we live in.
In thinking about client work, we refer back to Ed Jaffe’s point about photos and references in sales decks. The same methodology should apply to the work everyone does in their day-to-day work with clients.
The fourth pillar is community- every business is part of a local community. Many companies are partnering with large organizations during heritage month celebrations to show their commitment to diversity and also focusing on smaller grassroots organizations who are in the places their business operates.
Theresa Watts, Vice President Human Resources at True Religion Brands shares that,
“ We prefer to work with smaller grassroots organizations who are there in the community, in the community where people are underserved. We can work alongside them to build a better opportunity.”
It is my hope that organizations prioritize creating an equitable workplace in every decision made at the company by offering space, time, money, and resources to do the internal work.