By Deanna Lanoway, Executive Consultant
Canadian employers have recognized that focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a critical component of their Talent Management program. Immigration is the driver of growth in the Canadian workforce, and employers are ramping up their DEI programs with a focus on race, culture, and religious diversity to ensure their work culture is inclusive and welcoming to diversity. Beyond attracting top talent, companies that prioritize DEI initiatives are more likely to drive innovation and create a positive organizational culture.
Employers who have a very long-tenured workforce may be both very concerned about the high rates of retirements looming and struggling to keep younger employees. It is possible that their workplaces may not feel inclusive to younger employees, who feel that expected conformity to established norms in the long-tenured workforce is not letting them be their authentic selves.
Even organizations with a high degree of racial and ethnic diversity represented in their workforce and leadership can lack inclusivity if they have very rigid expectations about how people think, behave, and communicate. Many workplaces in engineering or other STEM disciplines have a very high degree of racial and ethnic diversity, but very little gender diversity, for example.
When we partner with employers to train on DEI, we present multiple levels of diversity. On the outer edge are different experiences that may be unique to individuals because they lived in different places or times. For example, generational events like the Great Depression or more recently, the pandemic which affected everyone’s experience for a period of time, leads to aspects of intergenerational diversity.
Then there are more unique differences – where someone grew up, their socioeconomic status in childhood, what subjects they took in school, religion, language, and cultural traditions – can be a large part of how we identify ourselves. Then at the core of diversity is the personality. Most researchers believe that personality is largely inborn but then interacts with our experiences in childhood to develop our own unique ways of thinking and processing the world around us. Note that this type of diversity is largely unseen, but universal. It’s the reason why sometimes we define diversity as the presence of two people in a room… because we are all so unique.
Keeping this in mind while we craft our DEI strategies is wise. Because while all DEI work can be beneficial, focusing too heavily on a single dimension of diversity, like race or ethnicity, does not address the patterns of thinking that can help you create a truly inclusive environment.
As organizations increase their focus on DEI, leaders and HR can take the following steps to ensure that all the different dimensions of diversity are recognized and valued.
- Put it in writing: If you don’t yet have a principle statement outlining your organization’s commitment to DEI, or if you haven’t reviewed it recently, this is an excellent time to ensure that diversity of all kinds is recognized and included within your statement. Avoid specifying certain types of diversity, as it can be hard to ensure that you include all the identities and experiences that drive our uniqueness.
- Measure with care: DEI surveys can help you understand the experiences of your current employee base and determine if your culture needs work to feel truly inclusive. Measuring for representation, however, takes more forethought. Ensure that you consider what you’ll be using the data for, whether you’re seeking anonymous data or not, and how it will be kept. We recommend consulting with experts for best practices on self-declaration.
- Train on perspective: Recognizing and valuing diversity among team members is vital in small workplaces. Different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives bring unique strengths to the team. However, these differences can also lead to misunderstandings or conflicts. At the heart of successful diversity programs is a deep commitment to perspective. Most of us need some help to truly embed perspective into our thinking. You can begin training perspective with non-threatening assessments like DiSC and a fun team session to discuss how each of us has different approaches and styles.
- Complement your DEI training with critical leadership training: Leaders may need support and training to adopt inclusive leadership styles that value diverse perspectives and foster a sense of belonging. This includes active listening and other communication skills, conflict management, empathy, and empowering employees.
Your DEI program needs to recognize and plan around where you want to increase representation, but also ensure that it supports the individual uniqueness that each employee already brings to your workplace; that is how we support authenticity at work.