Engagement: The Game-changer in D&I Practices

By Donna M. Gaines for Today’s Chicago Woman 

Diversity. No, wait a minute. Is it inclusion? Maybe it’s diversity and inclusion? After 50 years of legislation and programs designed to persuade and encourage institutions and individuals to embrace affirmative action and diversity and inclusion programs, it’s time to change the way we think and talk about the subject. We need to expand the conversation to include new insights on how to engage employees to enhance business performance.

It’s safe to say that, at some point, you’ve been part of a conversation about diversity. If you haven’t participated directly, you can be certain that your race, gender and/or age has been discussed and measured as part of a strategic plan. In the workplace, your demographic information helps drive decisions around hiring and promotion quotas, board governance and other operational policies.

So if your professional life is going to be part of a diversity and inclusion solution at your company, you might as well be part of the process, right? Whether your participation is your idea or someone else’s, and no matter where you perch on the decision-making tree, your gender, age, race, sexual preference and/or physical disability helps drive company policies and practices.

But let’s face it, talking about diversity and strategies to include people who are, well, different, isn’t easy. Once you have the conversations, do the work and create the requisite diversity and inclusion programs, how can you meaningfully engage employees and leverage all that cultural intelligence to create innovative solutions that enhance productivity in your workplace and improve your bottom line results?

First, everyone back away from your fears and nobody gets hurt! Most people approach diversity conversations with trepidation. Not only is there the usual fear of the unknown, but also the anxiety that comes with trying to avoid offending someone by saying or doing the wrong thing. That is understandable…and preventable.

Diversity is really just another word for different, so focus on the individual and you’ll see much more than the label. Once you understand the talents, experiences, relationships and spheres of influence that each individual brings to work every day, you will fully appreciate the value of having an inclusive culture with unique perspectives and attributes. And when that happens? Your organization will have taken a giant leap toward overcoming bias and building trust.

Instead of talking about diversity and inclusion as part of a team building exercise, host inclusive conversations regularly on a variety of topics, and ‘diversity’ will become intrinsically woven throughout the fabric of your organization.

Once you create opportunities to actively foster diverse conversations and collaborations, you’ll be rewarded with fresh outlooks and new ideas. Imagine the cultural intelligence that you can harness in the development of innovative solutions that maximize business opportunities!

To instill a more innovative culture in your company, be open to new ideas. Also, ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard and that some action is taken on employee feedback whenever possible.

To start a dialogue, establish employee resource or cultural affinity groups. If this practice is already in place at your company, consider expanding the group to include external stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and community thought leaders. You will most certainly reap the benefits of innovative problem solving from the diverse viewpoints represented.

Inclusion is about bringing diverse people together and recognizing the value of their rich experiences and perspectives. Further, companies that recognize diversity and engagement as a business strategy have employees who are more likely to take an active role in supporting the company’s goals and initiatives.  Importantly, these employees are more productive and less inclined to leave, which is particularly meaningful when you consider a 2013 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the economic impact of employee turnover in the United States is $5 trillion annually.

To ensure that you build a pipeline of skilled and engaged employees, expand your company’s professional development offerings to include mentoring programs that are focused on internal talent development. Also, don’t forget to periodically measure the effectiveness of your strategies by hosting focus groups or utilizing employee satisfaction surveys.

Robust diversity and inclusion programs that are supported at all levels of the organization provide unique opportunities to engage employees and drive business innovation, and the cultural intelligence you gather allows you to understand and respond more effectively to the needs of a broader customer segment.  Engagement is a game-changer, and it will give your company – and you – a distinct competitive advantage.

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