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Six Ways to Advocate for Diversity & Inclusion at Work

The definitions of diverse and inclusive workplace keep on evolving. As these terms are no longer one dimensional, diversity does not mean merely having people with different skin colour or ethnicity at work. Similarly, inclusion does not mean merely paying lip service to fair treatment and equal chance. 


You’d be hard-pressed not to come across an organization- big or small- that does not have some version of diversity and inclusion efforts in place. But to ensure more accountability and further improve the diversity and inclusion practices at workplace, you need a strategy that is clear, practical and has a 100% team alignment.  


I wrote earlier on the benefits accrued from promoting diversity and inclusion efforts at workplace. Here are six ways to show better advocacy for diversity and inclusion at work. 


Step 1: Using data to advocate for diversity 


It might be the case that some people in senior management might perceive diversity and inclusion as reverse discrimination or a wishy-washy cause with no real business merit. It is your job as the change maker to have a clear understanding of the nuances of diversity and inclusion, how to promote such initiatives with a top-down approach and address any common misconceptions. A few things that might help in undertaking these tasks:


Education – This guide will give you a strong starting point, but you can also get an in-depth understanding from books such as Driven by Difference, Giving Notice and the Inclusion Dividend and adequately handle objections.


Data – There are studies and statistics that show the benefits of diversity. Arm yourself with statistics that show diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by 35% and that inclusive companies are 1.7x more likely to be innovation leaders. As there may be skepticism around diversity initiatives, it is important that your case is grounded in research and data. 


Profitability – With your data and theory, you need to show the strong correlation between diversity and increased profit. Consider the case about how a diverse team can help you reach a broader range of customers, for instance.


Step 2: Sensitivity training and unconscious bias


Sensitivity training covers topics like harassment, anger management, discrimination, communication skills and diversity among others. Such one-on-one coaching sessions are offered either in the context of leadership development or when there is a violation of workplace policy surrounding any of the above-mentioned areas. We all have biases. The problem lies in the fact that most of us are not aware that we have biases in the first place. And if we are aware, we may not know how to tackle them or may even regard them as rational which might have a negative impact on workplace well-being


Aside from unconscious bias, people may say or do things unknowingly that cause harm to others in the form of microaggressions and microinequities. To ensure inclusion, you might even have to formally introduce training programs offered by third parties that bypass the issue of organizational bias. If you anticipate a lot of reluctance, one way you could conduct sensitivity training is to make it part of general soft skills training such as communication and conflict resolution.


Step 3: Revamping your company culture 


An inclusive culture is one where all individuals feel that they can contribute, be themselves, be treated equally and be in an environment that is non hostile. Change in organizational culture is always a significant endeavour and involves making changes on both the micro and macro scale. Here are some ways you can start creating an inclusive culture:


Solicit feedback – Depending on your current culture, some groups may be more reluctant to participate in discussions and ideation. It may be possible that microinequities exist in your current company culture where certain groups are unconsciously dismissed, isolated or negatively treated. This can turn into a reinforcing cycle which can only be broken by leadership taking an active role to include everyone. One way  to do this is by using anonymous feedback tools before meetings so that everyone can have an unbiased say. 


Embrace disagreement – A key reason why you want diversity in the first place is to generate a variety of perspectives, personalities and ideas. Diversity in its nature is about disagreement so you need to anticipate and prepare for this as you become more diverse. At the same time, you will need processes in place that allow you to effectively explore disagreement in productive ways. 


Empathy – Issues around diversity and inclusion can be solved more effectively if empathy is a part of your culture. The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and imagine their lived experience can create the emotional fuel that is needed to truly implement change. Having your people develop their empathy can not only create a more harmonious workforce, but it can also help you understand and better serve your customers. 


Identify and remove bottlenecks – Within your organization, there may be bottlenecks that are preventing certain groups from rising. There is a widely perceived phenomena of the glass ceiling,imposter syndrome and even ‘glass cliff’ which prevents women from rising up the corporate ladder. Regardless as to the extent that this is created by your organization or that it is a limiting belief, this still needs to be addressed. This means making sure that the women in your organization can see a clear route to promotion and that any supposed or actual biases are actively being dismantled.


Support groups and allies – Consider establishing support groups where women and minority individuals can discuss concerns that they are specifically having. Sometimes, they may not have a place where they can voice these concerns as speaking with a line manager may result in conflict or neglect if they aren’t empathetic or prepared to deal with it. These support groups should also include members of majority groups to help bridge the understanding and act as a way to communicate the nuances.


Inclusive socializing – Undeniably, a significant factor in workplace promotions is the quality and quantity of relationships that an individual is able to cultivate. Depending on culture such as in Tokyo or London, much of these relationships are generated after work, usually with alcohol involved. This can create problems for some groups who don’t drink or may have other responsibilities such as looking after young children. You don’t need to remove aspects of your culture that you enjoy, but you should also make sure that you add additional means for people to build relationships such as with lunch and learning retreats. 


Step 4: Implementing new company policies


In addition to culture, you will need to create and implement company policies that strengthen diversity and inclusion. Policies are important because they create a referenceable framework and guide for your team to follow that goes beyond cultural concerns. They also reinforce your commitment to your diversity initiatives. Some of the policies you could actively support in this regard may include:


Family leave – Think about ways that you can reduce the inequities that maternity leave produces. For instance, you can implement a policy that allows and encourages men to take time off as well to balance out some of the effect. Consider also fast track programs that keep parents in the loop while they’re away and gets them back to speed when they return.


Diversity targets – Create company wide targets to improve diversity in each department. You need to measure the effects of your implementation to help you identify if anything is going wrong. Also there is not a specific number that you should be copying from other organizations. What is important is to know the numbers of diverse workforce and try to improve it consistently. 


Promotion structure – As promotions in your organization may be dependent on relationships, bias and unequal opportunity may be present. Although there will always be a people aspect to company politics, consider ways that you can create a meritocratic promotion system that favours results as opposed to personal recommendations. 


Commitment – Document your commitment to diversity. Some ways you can do this include: 1) complying with legal issues transparently around diversity 2) publicize your diversity initiatives and progress 3) consult regularly with diverse groups within your organization and external consultants.


Rules and regulations – Create clear and enforceable rules against discrimination in your workplace. This should take into account overt displays of racism, sexism and homophobia but also microaggressions which are more subtle. Go beyond that and create a code of conduct that tackle bullying in general which can also isolate people who are part of the majority.


Step 5: Hiring and outreach process


Diversifying your workforce can only occur if you hire from diverse groups. To do this, there are things you could do such as eliminate hiring bias and increasing your outreach to diverse groups.

Outreach – People from diverse groups may not respond to your outreach efforts if they feel that they are not the recipient. Consider how the tone in your job ads or the language style on your website reflect your commitment to diversity. Think also about reaching out to diverse groups via different channels. For instance, you may consider targeting universities that attract a more diverse student body, or hosting career fairs such as the Sticks and Stones fair in Berlin which specifically targets LGBT candidates. 


Eliminating bias – You need to rethink how you screen and interview candidates to ensure that your team isn’t acting with bias. Consider employing various technology tools to boost diversity in hiring. Things such as asking candidates to submit resumes that give away their gender or minority status or asking for a photo (the latter is still common in some countries such as Germany) could be discouraged. You could also conduct blind interviews by removing personal information beforehand (such as name and address) to better evaluate the skills and competencies of a potential hire. In addition, you could train your staff to also look for competency instead of ‘cultural fit’, as this may be misinterpreted as finding people who they get on with. 


Step 6: Going beyond identity 


When considering diversity, people typically think about gender, race, sexuality, ability, veteran status, religion and nationality. These factors are important and will result in diverse perspectives and thought processes. When it comes to the moral and logical case for diversity, there are elements beyond identity that you should consider. 


Class – The case for diversity can be made from the moral argument of helping to right historical wrongs and current injustices. However, class also plays a role in this. A minority woman whose parents are doctors and went to an elite university has much more privilege than a white working class man who grew up in government housing. Diversity of economic background is important too. You can account for this by making sure to include individuals who went to schools in lower income neighborhoods. 


Work status – When it comes to inclusion, team members who are not part of the core team such as freelancers or contractors may feel excluded from the group. This can be even more prevalent among remote workers. Their opinions may be discounted or not consulted at all for instance. To get the maximum amount of perspectives and ideas, ensure that you include all members of your workforce.


Education background – The problem with hiring is that recruiters often receive too many resumes and have too little time. This results in shortcut taking where candidates from only top universities are considered for instance. With the internet, many people come from a self-educated background and their credentials are in the work they’ve produced – not their degree or lack of one. Consider ways to account for individuals with great skills but don’t have a traditional education. 


Going forward


The world is getting smaller each year. We are hyper connected with ubiquitous internet access, social media and smartphones. Virtual reality is continuing to progress – giving way to a potential future where we can connect on a global basis more effectively. English is becoming a common language globally and culture is becoming more standardized. Although we are becoming more similar to each other, we still live in a diverse world. As the economies around the world become more developed, new customer markets and educated workforces with more spending power are springing up. 


For business leaders with global ambitions, diversity and inclusion will be a key tool to reach out to emerging business markets. Companies such as Intel are even tying executive compensation to diversity targets. With a planet that is expected to comprise of 9.7 billion humans by 2050, not orienting towards diverse business practices will result in a significant reduction for your business’s ability to compete. 


About the author

Stefan Beiten

Stefan Beiten is a lawyer, international entrepreneur and investor from Berlin. With more than 20 years of experience, Stefan is an expert in building, scaling and managing successful businesses.

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