June 29, 2017
Diversity and Inclusion Are NOT Buzzwords - The Importance of Each in the Workplace

If 2016 was the year of drilling home the importance of “culture” within companies, 2017 looks like “diversity” is the operative word.  

Here’s the thing though…the concepts of diversity and inclusion are not buzzwords like “pivot” and “disrupt," they are critical components to building a healthy organization.

For years, companies got by with tracking and managing to numbers and encouraging a politically correct work environment. “Our leadership team is 25% women!” and “We support an LGBTQ group!” While these are nice indicators of progress, they don’t go nearly far enough. No longer is it a “nice to have” - businesses must integrate a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) strategy if they intend to stay competitive. If your company is proactively leading this way, phenomenal.  If not, here are some things to consider helping to jumpstart your efforts.

Build from the inside out…

When entrepreneurs start a business, they typically work to balance out their skills sets with others who round them out. For example, it’s pretty hard to be a small team of super savvy developers and move your product forward if you don’t have someone who is skilled at selling it. Apply that same spirit to building out your teams. Sure, maybe you’ll naturally gravitate towards people who have a similar background and thought process,but that is exactly the wrong thing to do. Without a team that brings varied experiences and perspectives, you’ll miss out optimal problem solving approaches. A broader mindset among your holistic team will likely net you improved results.

…because the outside is looking in.

Customers, investors, and potential candidates are all beginning to look more deeply at company’s D&I efforts. The outside world is varied; and they want assurance that the company they choose to partner with is representative of them. For instance, a leadership page populated with homogenous faces just doesn’t cut it to the outside world anymore. It sends one specific message: if you don’t look like us, you’re unlikely to be successful.

If you build it, they will come…

Creating an environment that supports different points of view and perspectives organically broadens your network. This is vital, as we all want to hire the best possible people to our teams. When we search for people that are just like ourselves, we really limit the score of possibility. Actively seeking out people who bring a unique perspective provides you with a far large population to consider. And once you’ve started, the word spreads.

…but you’ve got to nurture it or they will leave.

Remember in elementary school when your mom forced you to invite your entire class to your birthday party, when you really wanted to just invite your best buddies? Consciously or not, mom was teaching you a valuable lesson: meet and make an effort with potential new friends, and leave your class feeling that much more connected come Monday morning. That’s what we are going for here. Of course, the effort part is critical. If you decided to ignore those [new] people because you weren’t their friend to start with, it’s easy to create the reverse effect. If you were ever one of those newcomer kids, you know exactly that feeling of exclusion I’m referring to. That’s what organizations need to work to avoid. Plus, now the stakes are raised. You might think you are a great leader because you are broadening the spectrum of people on your team, but if you don’t continually involve them and find ways to embrace their unique attributes, you’ll likely leave them feeling like those unwanted kids at the party. Only this time, they have the power to retaliate by quitting, bad mouthing you and your company publically, etc.. Bottom line: your mom knew what she was doing. Apply those “play well with others” lessons from kindergarten and reap the benefits.  

Beware of unconscious biases…

Perhaps you think you are being open-minded and inclusive. Unconscious bias refers to that which we are unaware of, as in a prejudice in favor or against a person, thing, or group. This can be just as damaging as an explicit bias, because we aren’t clued in we are even doing it. Need an example? Maybe you think you’ve made great strides because you’ve added two women to your technical team. However, if you are creating an environment that doesn’t encourage them to contribute or thrive as readily as you do their male counterparts, you may want to check your unconscious biases about their abilities.  

…because it will bite you in the butt.

Companies don’t have to tackle UBER-sized public relations nightmares to push them into the wake up call about how important these issues are. I repeat: it’s not enough just to tick the box by adding “diversity” to your team. You need to create a culture of inclusion as well. Fail to do so, and you’ve created even larger challenges for yourself, team, and company.  

Yes, things have changed.

Just a decade ago, we lived in a world where grumblings about lack of diversity on teams and in companies were addressed by designating a person to focus on those efforts, measuring progress with metrics and quotas. Today, our global workforce is interconnected through technology and bolstered by brave voices willing to come forward when they feel companies are NOT addressing diversity and inclusion issues. Worse, they will make it very public if you fail to address it quickly, earnestly, and completely.

Today, culture has taken a key place on the CEO agenda, as companies have increasingly realized fostering an environment of shared beliefs, norms, and rituals is just as critical as having a phenomenal product to the health of the organization. Diversity and Inclusion is just as important. Fail to embrace an inclusive style and your company culture (that you’ve likely worked so hard to nurture) can take on the darker elements of being exclusive and discriminatory. No one benefits from that - most of all the company itself.

Our customers and external stakeholders make up a diverse community with complex, dynamic needs and problems to solve. If nothing else this reality requires us to provide with the best solutions we can muster - and that is largely driven by the most innovative approaches. Those come from a workforce that isn’t just diverse, but truly inclusive too. Fail to embrace that notion, and you will likely fail over time. Embody it, and you just may find yourself an exceptional company on numerous dimensions.  Change your mindset, and change your business.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.