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Rebecca Green | SBJ

Part of the Picture: Research shows unlocking a company’s diverse potential can increase the bottom line

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More and more workplaces are opening up diversity, equity and inclusion, with some larger organizations hiring executive-level DEI professionals to help maintain high standards in those areas.

Drury University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion defines diversity as differences that make people unique, including age, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious belief, dimensions of race and other ideologies. Equity means all people have an equal share of the same rights and resources.

But inclusion is where the rubber meets the road. Drury defines it as the way people engage differences to create a genuine community.

Tyree Davis IV, community diversity and equity director for Community Partnership of the Ozarks, said all three parts of the DEI triad matter.

“I don’t think that you can have one without the other,” he said. “They’re all three equally hard to attain.”

While each aspect presents a unique challenge, DEI scholars have determined inclusion is the most difficult to pin down.

The 2021 Harvard Business Review article “How to Measure Inclusion in the Workplace” states inclusion is widely understood to unlock a workplace’s potential, but while it is possible to measure and track diversity, inclusion is harder to gauge.

An inclusion index by international business consultant Gartner offers seven metrics to assess employees’ views of inclusion: fair treatment, integration of differences, involvement in decision-making, sense of psychological safety, trust, belonging and diversity.

Davis called inclusion imperative.

“Inclusion really does just come down to people being able to feel seen, heard and valued,” he said. “People can show up and be their whole selves in the workplace.”

Value proposition
Those who work in the DEI space say inclusion matters to workers’ performance.

“It’s a true sacrifice of self when you really don’t feel included in an organization,” Davis said. “Because you can’t bring your whole self, you have to compartmentalize your life.”

It also matters to a business’ bottom line.

A 2020 report by research firm McKinsey & Co. indicates companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile.

What is true for companies that embrace gender diversity is even more pronounced for those that embrace ethnic and cultural diversity, with top-quartile companies outperforming bottom-quartile companies by 36% in profitability. McKinsey also notes gender and ethnic/cultural diversity progress is slow, as female representation on executive teams stood at 20% in 2019, while representation of ethnic minorities was 13%.

A separate study, by startup recruiting firm Built In, found that groups formerly seen as minorities are projected to reach majority status by 2044 – and the Pew Research Center reports 48% of the Generation Z population in the U.S. identifies as racial or ethnic minorities, while millennials are 16% more diverse than baby boomers.

Built In research notes diverse companies recorded 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee, and diverse management has been shown to increase revenue by 19%. Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to beat industry median financial returns, and – importantly in a time of workforce shortages – 3 out of 4 workers prefer diverse companies.

Meaningful inclusion
Saehee Duran, lead pastor of the Life360 Intercultural Campus and a co-chair of the Springfield Mayor’s Initiative on Equity and Equality, said meaningful inclusion is about cultivating a welcoming environment at the top of the organization.

“It starts with leaders who not only understand the value of diversity, but also welcome, appreciate, love and invite people from diverse backgrounds to collectively and creatively reach the common goals,” she said.“Leaders are like a thermostat. They set the temperature or tone of the work environment and expect others to live up to it. They create a culture that says, ‘You belong here,’ ‘We need you,’ and ‘We are better together.’”

Duran offered some suggestions for ways business leaders can encourage inclusion in their workplaces:

  • Showcase diversity visually. Does the physical environment, such as posters or displays, highlight the diversity that is present in the company?
  • Find ways to move toward awareness, and then to advocacy, celebration and normalization of diverse groups. “The point is to be intentional and create space for such an ongoing process,” she said.
  • Provide regular, ongoing leadership training on different kinds of diversity. “A one-off training or event has no true power to make a lasting impact,” she said.
  • Celebrate diversity instead of merely tolerating it. Organizations can participate in heritage months or other national diversity celebrations.
  • Create a safe space where people can safely voice their negative experiences. Duran recommended having a point person who can provide unbiased support to diverse employees.
  • Enjoy social experiences outside of the workplace. Duran suggested grabbing dinner with co-workers from different backgrounds. “Meet their families, and get to know each other at a personal level,” she said. “Your friendship outside the office will strengthen your partnership at work.”

According to Duran, an inclusive culture leaves room for mistakes, growth, mutual understanding and forgiveness.

“Truly meaningful inclusion is a journey,” she said.

Businesses that don’t feel comfortable going it alone have resources to help them – like CPO, where Davis provides DEI consultation for businesses that want to do better with their inclusion efforts. He offers consultations to nonprofits, large and small businesses, and faith-based organizations.

“I help them the way they want to be helped, because DEI isn’t one-size-fits-all,” he said. “The first thing is to look inward and be internal. We have implicit bias. Every person walking the Earth has a bias.”

Davis proposed three questions for business leaders to ask: “Who will this harm? Who will this help? And whose voice is missing?”

“It can be leadership, but it should also permeate the organization as a whole,” he added. “We have to be able to do the work together and inclusively.”

Megan Short, executive director of the Springfield Contractors Association, said she sees change happening.

“I get quite a few phone calls from business owners or managers asking specifically how they can recruit more female workers,” she said.

The culture is different than it was 10 or 20 years ago, she said.

“A different generation is coming in, with people recognizing we need all of the workers – we can’t discount an entire gender,” Short said.

She added that her organization supports diversity and inclusion, and last year offered DEI training to its members with practical solutions in the workplace. Doing so is not only right, but practical, according to Short.

“Everyone’s trying to hire as many people as they can,” she said. “There’s an element of yes, we want to focus on diversity and inclusion, but we also want to have as many workers as we can. Both are important.”

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