Diversity and inclusion drives employee engagement, generate innovative ideas, and improve products, processes and solutions. So why have organizations been talking about diversity for years with little results to show for it?
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for employee inclusion programs. The mental stress and physical separation people have endured has made fostering an inclusive culture even more valuable.
Yet all too often, programs for promoting diversity in the workplace are just exercises in compliance or focus only on recruiting a diverse set of employees. Poorly-handled diversity training can cause resentment or backfire.
It’s time for a new approach. Doing the same things we’ve always done will create the same results. An ongoing communication and education campaign is required to develop a culture of diversity and inclusion (D&I). These diversity program ideas will help you start embedding positive D&I practices into your organization.
Diversity and Inclusion Program Ideas
- Promote diversity goals and the inclusive vision of your organization. Highly visual messages on corporate screensavers and Lock Screens can passively communicate to employees at times when they are more receptive. Think of how powerful billboard advertising is. Passive yet repetitive communication channels are a superb way to change perceptions.
- Celebrate holidays and events for underrepresented cultures and backgrounds like Black History Month, Chinese New Year and Gay Pride week. Diversity initiatives like these are a valuable way to help every employee feel represented at work.
Plan these events using an annual planning calendar
- Use counter stereotype imagery to overcome unconscious bias. For example, a picture of a woman in a hardhat, a woman at her desk breastfeeding a baby, a Hispanic man in his barristers' gown, and so on. Images like these jolt people into addressing their own unconscious biases. Unconscious bias needs regular confrontation and people need to use conscious thought to overcome them. This takes repetition and practice.
- Highlight executive support in employee newsletters and other relevant internal communication channels.
- Hold international potluck dinners where employees can get together, share their cultures and traditions, and meet each other. Fear of the unknown prevents people from connecting. Once people understand that differences aren’t so significant, it’s easier to break down barriers.
- Use organizational data around diversity and inclusion by tracking changing employee demographics and perceptions. Segment employee experience surveys by diversity groups to see how employee experience is impacted.
- Identify and regularly promote ‘internal champions and inclusion allies’ to ensure diverse employees can seek support when they need it.
- Use employee quizzes to confront people with their own unconscious bias. Many examples can be found online but here’s one example:
A father is killed in a car crash and his son is taken to hospital. The surgeon on duty says, “I cannot operate on this boy because he is my son.” How could that be?
Think about this before you scroll down for the answer.*
- Help people empathize with others. Most people who are in the “inside group” (e.g. white males) are unaware of their privilege. Help them empathize with the experiences of those in the “outside groups” by sharing stories in your company newsletter and in face-to-face and online discussions.
- Deliver privilege tests or unconscious bias tests, such as the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT), to help employees identify their own blind spots. Awareness of unconscious bias helps people use conscious thought to overcome it.
- Consider having a forum or employee survey channel that permits anonymous submission. This allows people to ask ‘dumb questions’ to help them understand the perspectives and preferences of diverse groups. This helps to overcome a fear of getting it wrong and causing offense and breaks down diversity barriers.
- Give everyone a voice. Some cultures are more outspoken than others. For example, Americans tend to feel comfortable speaking up in groups, whereas other cultures see it as disrespectful or threatening. Overcome these natural tendencies by providing ample opportunity to hear voices from all groups. Use Round Robin techniques in meetings and supporting channels like staff surveys to allow less outspoken employees to submit their ideas. If appropriate, keep these channels anonymous so that consideration of ideas is not impacted by unconscious bias.
- Rotate international flags from around the world that represent your employee mix, both physically in your workplaces and digitally on computer wallpapers.
- Promote employee resource groups (ERGs) in your communication channels. However, remember that an inclusion program is about breaking down barriers, not encouraging people to stay in ‘safe groups’.
- Maintain an open dialogue with diverse staff to understand their unique perspectives and evolve your approach as you need to. Accept the fact that you might get some things wrong with your inclusion program. An interactive employee survey, whistleblower hotline and anonymous feedback channels provide plenty of opportunities for dialogue.
* The surgeon is the boy’s mother
Diversity and inclusion is about more than just hiring a diverse group of people. It's about helping everyone feel like they belong and can contribute to their full potential. But it doesn't just happen - it needs sustained effort. You may get some things wrong, but be brave.
Remember that you don’t need to “boil the ocean”. It’s a journey, not a destination. The important thing is to get started.