It’s no secret that organizations with a diverse, inclusive workforce create expansive economic value. They are more creative, more innovative and more agile. I see it firsthand not only as a management consultant who is exposed to many work cultures but as a diverse professional myself.
However, I hear senior executives express frustration regularly because they can’t find and/or retain the diverse talent they seek to cultivate a heterogeneous work environment with a unique, competitive edge. One executive at a prestigious company shared that while his team has been successful at hiring diverse professionals, those new hires don’t stay for long.
I know many talented, diverse professionals who were excited about joining a company only to find that months later, they didn’t feel completely welcomed, their career wasn’t entirely supported or they didn’t believe they could be their authentic self at work for fear of alienation.
If we look at these basic human needs using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, discomfort at this level can and will affect an individual’s ability to perform. After months or years of a fragmented employee experience, talented individuals who feel insecure or like they don’t belong will eventually leave. Inclusion is an emotional state every human being feels at the physiological level. In other words, everyone is wired to want to belong. This inclusivity disconnect creates a vicious, ongoing cycle of frustration for both employers and diverse professionals alike.
Though it may not seem like it, closing the gap is easier than you might think. Here are seven easy steps toward a more inclusive organization.
1. Widen your definition of diversity.
Many view diversity as one-dimensional and focused on only gender or race. But diversity means much more than that. McKinsey & Company mention that other kinds of diversity, such as age, sexual orientation and experience (a global mindset and cultural fluency) bring a competitive advantage. Consider these and other forms of diversity, such as veterans or people with disabilities, in your talent acquisition strategy.
Widening your definition of diversity can help you reframe how you might view external talent during recruitment initiatives, all while discovering ways to maximize the employee experience of the talent you currently have in-house.
2. Infuse authentic leadership and energy behind intent.
If you are looking to close the diversity and inclusion (D&I) gap simply to meet a performance metric or manage optics, your efforts will not be sustainable. You may attract talent initially, but they won’t stick around. People sense ingenuity a mile away. So walk the walk. Authenticity is the secret sauce in creating a better employee experience for diverse professionals.
3. Focus on creating inclusivity in your culture rather than just diversity.
Diversity without inclusion creates a disconnect, which can create an illusion of progress. As a diverse professional, microaggressions are one of the main symptoms of a culture lacking inclusion. If people join your company and do not feel a sense of belonging in teams or in the office, you run the risk of not getting the best out of them, which results in higher-than-expected attrition.
The best way to find out how to create an inclusive culture is to ask your employees. Find ways to gather information such as focus groups or surveys. Identify organizations with inclusive cultures and learn what practices they have put into place. Infuse inclusiveness as a core value that can be seen and felt in small, day-to-day interactions.
4. Understand that it starts at the very top.
Take a top-down, bottom-up approach to create a diverse, inclusive workforce. This means your board and senior leadership should reflect the type of organizational culture you want to have.
It doesn’t matter how much an organization may invest in its own D&I. People ultimately look at the makeup of the leadership team as a barometer. If your diverse talent looks up and there is no one at the top who looks like them, it can affect their perception of how much inclusion really is a priority.
5. Incentivize and recognize small acts of inclusiveness in your organization.
People do what they are measured on and recognized for, period. Ensure leaders are not only modeling inclusive behavior but are being recognized for it. Diverse professionals take notice and internalize little gestures more so than grand gestures or actions.
Again, inclusion lives in the small, day-to-day interactions that collectively create the sum of an employee’s experience. For example, a senior leader taking a genuine interest in a diverse professional by taking them out to lunch to hear firsthand about their experience goes a lot further than having a happy hour networking event that feels forced and manufactured.
6. Invest in talent development.
Invest in programs that identify high-performers in your organization. But don’t over-program. I’ve seen organizations create empty mentorship programs that fizzle out after a fiscal year. Instead, focus on career sponsorship, which is a true barometer of talent retention. When employees feel genuinely valued, they not only stay but are more likely to refer other like-minded professionals to your organization.
7. Partner with key organizations that provide expertise and resources.
Regardless of your talent budget, there are hundreds of companies that specialize in diversity recruitment and talent development you can outsource to. Many services and non-profit organizations help companies close the gap across the talent life cycle, from recruiting and onboarding to employee development to succession planning and senior leadership grooming.
Becoming an inclusive culture takes time and emotional labor but, most of all, a genuine intent in order to materialize results. Once an organization has truly created an inclusive culture, it will pay off in dividends, not only with happy employees but with continued success in the marketplace.
Originally published on Forbes.com