Fostering A Diverse and Inclusive Workplace - It Just Makes "Cents!"

Turn Up Your Dimmer Switch!
Mary Jane (MJ) Paris, President
Positive Impact Consulting Services, LLC

We hear so much about "diversity" these days. In many organizations, much attention and effort has been given to promote diversity by increasing the representation of people of color, women and other groups in the workforce. However, by just increasing the numbers represented of any population is not enough to make a real difference in individual or organizational performance. To most people "diversity" means those differences that we can see. It's much more. It's also about what we can't see - disabilities, different experiences, personality styles, lifestyle choices and perspectives. Diversity exists in just about every organization; differences, however, are seldom understood and rarely regarded or used as an asset.

The issue becomes more about just having diversity (those things that make us different) in an organization. It's about understanding the true meaning of diversity and its powerful impact (both positive and negative) on individual and organizational performance. What then is the true meaning of diversity? Diversity is about how we see the world on three levels - (1) who we are (things we cannot change - race, gender, ethnicity, age, differing abilities, etc.), (2) who we choose to be (religion, education, physical appearance, etc.) and (3) our current work situation (title, corporate employee, self-employed, cube dweller, posh office, manager, non-manager, etc.) These three levels affect our thoughts, behaviors and outcomes of any given situation. They impact how we behave and act as individuals at home, at work or at play.

Few organizations devote much effort to enabling new or existing employees to feel included in the life of the organization. Surveys indicate that very few people feel welcome or able to contribute their full range of skills, experiences, ideas and opinions. Most feel they are expected to think, act and express themselves in conformance with a fairly narrow range of behaviors. As a result, few people fully invest the bulk of their energy to their job or the organization.

Changing an organization's work culture is not something that can be accomplished through a new mission statement, employee handbook, recruitment policy or mentoring program. It requires new ways of thinking about and working with people, both as individuals, in teams, inside, outside and at all levels of the organization. It's about creating a workplace environment where our differences and our similarities are fully appreciated and utilized. It's about creating and sustaining an inclusive workplace environment where:

  • People feel a sense of belonging
  • People feel respected, valued and SEEN for who they are
  • There is a level of supportive energy and commitment from leaders, peers, and others so that all people can do their best work

Having "diversity" without "inclusion" is not enough. Simply stated, Diversity = Differences. Inclusion = Action. And action is the key word! Every day, we can each contribute to a more inclusive workplace environment through our own individual actions by becoming more aware of our implicit biases, attitudes and behaviors in every situation or interaction. More importantly, we need to recognize and respond to situations where co-workers and customers do not feel included. Inclusive workplace environments that leverage diversity and practice inclusion have seen measurable, positive change, such as increased productivity, improved customer service and reduced turnover. The leaders of 21st century organizations must manage diversity and practice inclusion well in order to make the Positive Impact on their organization's performance, profitability and market share. You can start first thing tomorrow morning by greeting everyone you see and calling those you know by name. It all starts with a simple "hello."
It just makes "cents!"

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To love what you do and feel that it matters how could anything be more fun?
Katharine Graham