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4 common diversity and inclusion myths in the workplace

October 10, 2019
Diversity & Inclusion

My previous article “The Dangers Of Mistaking Workplace Diversity For Inclusion In The Workplace” highlighted the myth of “diversity” and “inclusion” being synonymous concepts and the dangers of not distinguishing the two.

The truth is that this is just one diversity and inclusion myth of many. As organizations scramble to more fully and substantively embrace D&I, it’s critical to fully understand and counteract these pervasive myths that so often inhibit true progress.

Myth #1 – Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) is About Ethics and Morality

Reality – True but D&I is very much about the bottom line as well.

The truth is that while building a more diverse and inclusive work environment is generally considered a nice thing to do, the financial and business justification for such initiatives is quite compelling (and oftentimes the primary impetus). McKinsey & Company’s January 2018 report “Delivering through Diversity” concludes, “Many successful companies regard I&D as a source of competitive advantage. It makes sense that a diverse and inclusive employee base – with a range of approaches and perspectives – would be more competitive in a globalized economy.” Nicole Mitchell, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Cedars-Sinai Health System reinforces this sentiment. “To those unfamiliar with the benefits of a strong D&I strategy, it’s seen as only a feel-good function for business. But when human and financial resources are put behind this work and it’s integrated into an organization’s goals, you can see the true impact: higher retention, higher levels of employee engagement, broader attraction of top talent, better community image, stronger financial performance and more innovation.”

Furthermore, some argue that there’s an explicit cost to not embracing D&I. Former CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Dr. Derreck Kayongo refers to the “Discrimination Cost Index (DCI)” as the price organizations pay when they stay on the sideline and fail to focus on D&I. Kayongo insists that failure to embrace D&I can lead to costly and burdensome lawsuits, brand erosion, loss of goodwill in the marketplace and accelerated employee turnover among other direct and indirect costs. Similarly, McKinsey’s 2018 report concludes, “There is a penalty for opting out. Overall, companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability than were all other companies in our data set.”

Myth #2 – The concept of diversity excludes white men.

Reality – Diversity encompasses all human differences and excludes no one.

Obviously, corporate America’s history is one where white men have been considered “the majority” and women and people of color have faced discrimination in the workplace and beyond. Vernā Myers, Vice President of Inclusion for Netflix addresses this reality within the context of workplace diversity and inclusion efforts.

As humans, we are all diverse. However, there are certain types of differences that have been marginalized and excluded because of historic systems and structures that were intentionally designed to favor one group over another – white, male, straight, etc. The systemic inclusion and exclusion of certain groups over a long period of time allowed access to opportunities and industries for only some groups and those groups gained dominance and power in those industries and became the norm. So I&D initiatives should focus on these groups, but also acknowledge the multi-dimensionality of all groups and individuals.

Vernā Myers, Vice President of Inclusion, Netflix

That said, the diversity umbrella includes everyone and needs everyone’s support to be most successful. Diversity and Inclusion expert and producer of the podcast Every Day Conversations on Race, Simma Lieberman insists “Everyone is diverse in different ways, although not everyone has to deal with exclusion and discrimination. We can’t have full diversity, equity and inclusion without the participation of white men or any other group.”

It’s also important to remember that diversity and inclusion efforts should be tailored to the needs of each specific organization. While D&I efforts are typically focused on engaging underrepresented minorities within an organization, those groups can vary depending on the setting. I worked with an American university that had certain graduate level science departments that were overwhelmingly populated with international students and had very little U.S. student participation. Their D&I efforts focused in large part on attracting more American students to create more diversity for that specific department. Indeed, D&I efforts are not automatically focused on one particular group but instead the intent is to cultivate a diverse environment that is also inclusive. Ultimately, inclusion requires everyone’s participation and excludes no one.

Myth #3 – Diversity is just about gender and race.

Reality – Diversity encompasses many visible and invisible human traits.

While race and gender are more obvious elements of diversity, diversity focuses on a variety of traits. Joni Davis, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for Duke Energy defines diversity as “a wide range of human differences both visible and invisible”. While traits like gender and race tend to come to mind immediately when we hear the word “diversity”, other traits like age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, thinking style, cultural background, marital status, political affiliation, and others are traits as well. Acknowledging the full spectrum of traits is a key factor in encouraging an inclusive environment. The Society for Human Resource Management CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. insists, “A key challenge that many organizations face as the workforce continues to diversify is figuring out how to make all employees feel engaged and motivated.” The truth is that while race and gender continue to be areas of focus for many organizations, diversity today means so much more.

Myth #4 – D&I is a Human Resources responsibility.

Reality – D&I should be a leadership priority and embraced by all.

While it’s common to find D&I staff and initiatives led by Human Resources, organizations who have fully embraced D&I have often made it a leadership imperative. In fact, McKinsey & Company’s “Delivering through Diversity” report identifies executive leadership commitment as one of the four imperatives for delivering impact through I&D. The article asserts “CEOs and leaders must articulate a compelling vision, embedded with real accountability for delivery, and cascade down through middle management.” Ranked #2 on the 2019 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® Salesforce believes that leadership commitment is critical for D&I success. Salesforce’s Senior Director of Global Equity Programs Molly Ford shares, “At Salesforce, we believe that the business of business is to make the world a better place. Our higher purpose is to drive equality for all, and equality is a core value.” Consistent with this philosophy, Salesforce provides diversity data to its executive team on a monthly basis including their diversity numbers and progress. Ford explains, “It’s critical that we engage with our leaders in order to influence major organizational change.”

Ranked #3 on Forbes’ 2019 Best Employers for Diversity listing, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee insists that executive commitment is a key to its diversity and inclusion success. Ronald Harris, Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion shares, “For us D&I has been a top down journey. Our Board, CEO, and executive team have been actively engaged in the conversation.” Harris explains, “While diversity efforts began nearly two decades ago, the company’s office of diversity and inclusion has expanded and began reporting directly to the CEO since JD Hickey, M.D. took on that role.” When asked about his organization’s executive commitment, Harris insists, “Under JD’s leadership, inclusion is a business priority – with metrics and accountability. We just can’t afford to be culturally illiterate.”

Vernā Myers insists that while executive leadership engagement is key, D&I is ultimately everyone’s responsibility.

I think we have become aware that all leaders should be held accountable for building inclusive teams, but it is also true that all of us are leaders when it comes to our everyday interactions and decisions. Employees on every level, role and department have to recognize that they all have a sphere of influence where their attitudes and behaviors can either contribute to or detract from the overall I&D mission.

Vernā Myers, Vice President of Inclusion, Netflix

By Dana Brownlee

Source: Forbes

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