In 2022, diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) progress stalled in the workplace. According to CNBC's article "DEI programming stalled in 2022," this was primarily due to the recession which led to businesses cutting costs and leaving DEI efforts on the back burner, resulting in lower engagement from employees receiving less DEI support.
A separate CNBC article noted that some of the mistakes companies made last year had hindered progress as well. These included insufficient support for DEI plans and having a 'one size fits all' approach. The former refers to DEI strategies not being included in budgets, which is why they don't thrive in the workplace. Meanwhile, the latter involves companies employing standardized DEI efforts - different groups have different needs, so cookie-cutter inclusion strategies don't work well.
Such mistakes must be addressed if you wish all employees to receive the support they need to work better and more comfortably. Here's how you can foster a more inclusive workplace this year.
Inclusion must start at the top. If the C-suite prioritizes and practices inclusion, it shows the rest of the company that they are committed to creating a better workplace. Hiring a chief diversity officer (CDO) can help hold other chief officers and the employee base accountable for DEI efforts. Other CDO responsibilities include forming a DEI budget, creating inclusion strategies, and ensuring that a company aligns with its inclusion goals. Having a CDO who will help company executives practice inclusivity at work is vital, since executives are strict upholders of company values whom employees look up to. To improve workplace inclusivity in this way, hire someone with a background in HR and who has experience in handling company diversity.
According to McKinsey's November 2022 report "Unlocking the Potential of Chief Diversity Officers," 53% of Fortune 500 companies currently have a diversity executive in place. Microsoft is one example you can take after, as their diversity officers pushed it to offer inclusive benefits like daycare services, promote employee-formed resource groups, and set up a diversity and inclusion hiring policy. Today, Fortune's "Top 20 Fortune 500 Companies on Diversity and Inclusion" reports that 49.8% of Microsoft's workforce comprises of racial and ethnic minorities.
Knowing your employees personally encourages them to be themselves, even at work. When you take an interest in their personal life, you know them as a person and not just as a colleague. However, there are limits to what and how you can ask. For instance, if an employee is part of the LGBTQ+ community, don’t ask them sensitive questions—such as if they've come out to their family—as you may make them uncomfortable. Instead, try asking about their partner (remember to avoid gendered terms), hobbies, and the like. If they speak about something related to their identity, listen attentively to show that you care about them.
Efforts to create this inclusive company culture can begin by hosting social events, such as get-togethers or happy hours. Professional coaching company TeamBonding also suggests developing activities that suit employees’ interests, like games or sports.
Neurodiversity refers to the difference in how people’s brains work. This term is often used in the context of neurological or developmental conditions, such as ADHD and dyslexia. Because of this, neurodivergent employees may experience discrimination or isolation. This can make them uncomfortable and less engaged, which is why you must support neurodiversity in the workplace. It’s essential to include their needs in your inclusion efforts to show them—and the company's stakeholders—that you value these employees and their unique talents. This is even more important as it is estimated that between 20% and 40% of the population is considered neurodivergent, so you may already have a few employees that will benefit from this.
One way to show support is by implementing inclusive technology at work, such as speech-to-text tools and predictive text for dyslexic employees. Another thing you can do is hold training sessions for neurodivergent support like IBM does. Its sessions are open to all employees to help them learn more about neurodiversity and how to work with neurodivergent colleagues.
Employees of color experience discrimination, imposter syndrome, or microaggressions that their white counterparts do not—simply because of their race or background. In fact, 26% of Black employees rate their mental health as fair or poor due to the reasons above. Employees of color may also experience issues outside of work that can affect their mental well-being, such as recent instances of violence against the Asian community. This deteriorating mental health can negatively impact your company by distracting and disengaging your employees.
That's why you should seriously consider providing these employees with mental health resources that cater to their demographic. Zee Clarke, a mindfulness expert for BIPOC communities, suggests one example: giving Black employees access to a Black therapist who understands their concerns. Providing tailored mental health resources to employees is a much more effective strategy in the long run.
Improving inclusivity in the workplace ensures employees’ comfort, engagement, and belongingness. By following the tips above, you can help employees thrive in a supportive and considerate workplace.
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Article contributed by Reena Joyce