Inclusion is the only scalable way to build diversity within an organization. Without thoughtful and deliberate discussion and action to cultivate an inclusive environment, all the energy and resources spent on recruiting a diverse workforce are for naught. The employees, so painstakingly recruited, will be gone within three months.
Why do I know this? Because I was that person who put all my efforts into hiring for diverse candidates, only to watch them fail or walk out the door in less than a year. I didn’t put enough thought into how my team’s or my organization’s culture needed to shift in order to allow this diverse collection of people to coalesce and flourish. Time, money, and talented people were lost because I didn’t proactively address the deeply nuanced issue of inclusion.
At my current role as COO of Startup Institute, I spend a lot of time thinking about inclusion, defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act of including; the state of being included.” A very simple definition that becomes more complicated upon implementation within organizations because of the different affinity groups that can exist and how to discover, fulfill, and include each affinity groups’ unique needs. It’s important to recognize that an affinity group may constitute merely one individual or multiple individuals. Regardless of size, all groups merit the active efforts of inclusion.
We certainly see affinity groups of different sizes at Startup Institute, where we develop and train people whom organizations seek to hire. Because our mission is to give access to the innovation economy to those who want it and need it the most, we are lucky to have students who represent diversity in the broadest of terms: age, race, gender identity, physical ability, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, religion, and socioeconomic status. And that’s just scratching the surface.
As I sat down to write this article, I began pounding out words from my own observations and experiences. That went on for a good half hour before I abruptly stopped. Indeed, I had fallen for the same fallacy that fells those who shape organizational culture. I failed to ask. So, I asked. And our students and alumni responded. Below is a compilation of their experiences and actionable tips as well as my own to the question: What does inclusion really look like and how can you build it?
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a start. It comes direct from current and future employees. Some of these are easy action items that can be implemented today. Many will take the effort of a thoughtful and committed community of diverse individuals with engaged senior leadership. I hope this jumpstarts the conversation at your organization. It sure has at mine.
By Peggy Yu
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