Diversity is an important component of a thriving and productive workplace. Heterogeneous companies are more productive and innovative than their less diverse counterparts. What’s more, diversity and a culture of inclusion are differentiators for companies that want to be seen as desirable and relevant by top talent, customers and suppliers.
Every company’s journey to a diverse and inclusive workplace is unique. This topic was discussed at the inaugural Worklife Live! event held in Boston. The event, sponsored by Staples and Fast Company, featured a panel of experts in inclusion, diversity and human resources discussing the successes and challenges they’ve faced as they’ve developed diversity programs at their own organizations.
Here are five takeaways from the panel.
1. RECOGNIZE THAT DIVERSITY DOESN’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT
Building a diverse workforce takes careful planning. And sometimes, the results aren’t immediate. But the slow work of building a strong foundation for a diversity program can help ensure success down the line. “It’s progress over time, not overnight,” said Camille Chang Gilmore, vice president of human resources and global chief diversity officer at Boston Scientific.
Five years ago, her firm launched an initiative to hire more black engineers. The program began with a meeting between CEO Mike Mahoney and 15 deans of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which graduate 30% of black students who go on to hold science and engineering doctorates. The meeting allowed Boston Scientific to learn about the schools’ curricula and provide feedback about the types of skills the company looks for in new hires. As a result of this initiative, said Gilmore, the company was able to establish a pipeline of talented individuals from these institutions, and five years later it has increased its on-the-spot offers to black engineers sevenfold.
2. INCLUDE EXISTING EMPLOYEES IN THE CONVERSATION
As recently as five years ago, diversity was thought of as a recruitment issue, said Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, senior vice president for global diversity and inclusion at Liberty Mutual Insurance Group. Now, companies realize that developing a diverse workplace goes beyond hiring diverse personnel. Companies must create an inclusive environment where employees continue to feel comfortable being themselves. “If you’re not thinking about the environment that you create for people to feel like they’re connected, you miss a lot of the opportunity to retain people and really get the best out of folks,” Frazier-Bohnert said.
Education can help create an inclusive environment, as can companies giving employees the space—both literally and figuratively—to come together to discuss important topics and changes they’d like to see. But support from the top of the company is critical: Getting buy-in from executives can help sew these groups more tightly into the fabric of the corporate community. And once executives are on board, it’s more likely that financial resources can be freed up to continue supporting these groups.
3. GIVE EMPLOYEES THE TOOLS TO TALK DIVERSITY
Education is key to encouraging company-wide inclusion, in part because it provides employees with the vocabulary to discuss important issues. Frazier-Bohnert’s team even created a lexicon to help employees avoid verbal landmines when topics of diversity come up in conversation. “People would say to me, ‘Dawn, I don’t know what words to say.… Should I say black? Should I say African American? And LGBTQ—what does that mean?’”
Tools like these were helpful during the company’s first education program on unconscious bias, for example. “I really think that helped people feel like there’s no shame, blame and attack here around the fact that I need to grow in this space, that it is about process,’” Frazier-Bohnert said.
4. ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEES TO CONNECT
Employee resource groups (ERGs) can be a powerful way for like-minded employees to engage. The groups give employees a forum for discussion and a conduit for their ideas and concerns to reach upper management.
How companies set up these groups will vary. For example, Boston Scientific has nine ERGs with 94 chapters around the world, including networks for LGBTQ, Hispanic and disabled employees. Leaders within the ERGs work directly with the presidents of divisions, who then report to the CEO.
Eric Phillips, senior vice president of pricing and revenue management, and chairman of the diversity and inclusion council at Delta Airlines, explained how the company has worked to refine the structure of these groups to better serve both Delta and its employees. “We had employee resource groups,” he told the panel audience. “And we shifted the name just a couple years ago to business resource groups to make sure that there was a real connection to the business.” He said that helped ensure meetings were not only seen as networking events but also as forums to help solve the business issues faced by Delta.
5. MEASURE YOUR PROGRESS
What progress is your company making toward its diversity goal? Those taking diversity seriously are tracking their progress toward well-defined goals. Take Boston Scientific’s 2020 targets: The company aims to be in the top 10% on a variety of rankings, including inclusive leadership and HBCU’s top places to work. It’s also aiming to have 20% of management positions held by people of color, and 40% of manager and supervisor ranks by women.
Boston Scientific’s Gilmore noted that the company is close to meeting all these goals, in part because of the goals themselves: They weren’t dictums sent from the C-suite demanding department heads hit hiring quotas. Rather, the company’s diversity and inclusion council asked for support from the company’s leaders to achieve these goals. “That’s where language is important,” she said. “It wasn’t about ‘This is what you have to do.’ It was, ‘What can you do to help us achieve this goal?’”