We find ourselves in a unique time. It’s clearer by the day that the pace of social change in our country is simply not fast enough, and the resulting effects are being underscored in the business world.
Movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up are transforming the workplace, and companies worldwide are working overtime to learn how to build progressive organizational cultures as quickly as possible.
Diversity and inclusion are nothing new. These are topics I remember hearing about as a kid in the ’70s, only a few years after the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Yet last month as the world celebrated International Women’s Day, it seemed as though the cry for diversity and inclusion was louder than ever.
Perhaps it was.
Men and women alike are openly pushing for a more balanced world. In 2012, McKinsey & Co. reported that about 50% of all U.S. companies considered it a priority to hire and retain women. Today that number is 90%.
The 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenue annually. At the same time however, the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report estimates that it will take 217 years to close the gender parity gap.
There’s been progress, but there is still a long way to go.
Gender parity isn’t the only battle cry. When it comes to building for the future, studies show a company’s ability to recruit top talent increases dramatically when it improves its inclusive workplace culture. That means more respect, more mentoring and better opportunities for women, people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBT communities, millennials and a host of other demographic groups. Inclusivity is not just making sure everyone has an equal seat at the table; it’s creating an environment in which everyone feels able to truly engage in the organization. As author, activist and cultural innovator Verna Myers says, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
Studies show organizations that are committed to and see the value of diversity and inclusion not only improve their candidate and employee experiences but also add to their bottom line. A 2016 national survey by Future Workplace found that 83% of human resources departments said that “employee experience” is either important or very important to their organization’s success.
So how do we move the needle? Like most things, real organizational change starts at the top. Executive leadership needs to be committed to diversity and inclusion as part of the organization’s culture and align them with a business initiative so they are seen as valuable investments as opposed to a fleeting “feel good” project. When it comes to creating high-performing teams, neither skin color nor age nor gender nor handicap should matter.
The only way to develop diverse workforces is through a continuum of time, exposure and regular practice. And it’s not just demographic diversity; we can close the gap with cognitive diversity, experiential diversity, diversity of thought and diversity of leadership. All of this collectively affects our ability to recruit, retain and promote.
The message in all of this is clear. It starts at the top. It starts with us. It starts now. It’s time to get uncomfortable about diversity and inclusion.