By Elio Harmon
Diversity and inclusion. There I said it. Now there may be many visceral reactions to that three word phrase but I am going to do the most mainstream media thing to do. I am going to put you neatly into two camps. The black founder of a startup company has met his quota and here comes the white male guilt or whew, finally, I thought he sold out while promptly encasing my black card in gold.
Before you start rolling your eyes because you couldn’t be bothered or convince yourself that you are about to be vindicated, chill out and continue reading. I connected with Kristine Snow & Chelsea Akers of Level D&I to educate myself on the issue of diversity and inclusion.
What is diversity & inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion are two very different things that often get conflated. One of our favorite sayings around diversity and inclusion is “diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance” (Vernā Myers). At Level, we define diversity as diversity of thought – it’s about having people from different backgrounds, with different perspectives, who create a well-rounded way of thinking, present in a given situation. Inclusion is about ensuring that all the different voices and perspectives of these diverse individuals have an equal platform to be heard. It is one thing to have a diverse group of individuals in your organization, it is another for each person to feel like they have a seat at the table.
Why does diversity & inclusion matter?
Diversity matters in the workplace because we live in a diverse world. If your company is not representative of its clients, customers, or consumers, how can you possibly hope to meet the needs of the diverse populations you’re serving? But diversity alone is not enough – every individual needs to feel empowered and inclined to do their best work, to share their ideas, and to innovate. Organizations must create an inclusive environment with equal representation among all levels of leadership and business in order to foster a culture of collaboration.
Moreover, an inclusive, equitable environment leads to higher revenue, efficiency, and innovation. Teams with diverse and representative management earn 19% higher revenue than teams with low leadership diversity. Teams that have an equal representation of men and women earn 40% higher revenue than unbalanced teams. Teams that showcase ethnic diversity outperform non ethnically diverse teams by 35%. All of this to say, prioritizing D&I in your organization improves your bottom line. Diversity and inclusion are important, both socially and economically.
What kind of push back or support do you get when talking about D&I issues?
We tend to have sentimental support from a majority of leaders and companies, but when it comes to investing the time and resources necessary to improve D&I in an organization, things tend to get bottlenecked within the multiple layers of approval. We have found that while many companies tout their support for D&I initiatives, few are willing to take the necessary steps to make a significant impact in this space.
Most companies and leaders seem to recognize that there is some undefined need for diversity; however, it has been a challenge to shift the mindset around D&I from being a way to check a box to maintain compliance, to a strategic investment and initiative for an organization.
What is the difference between a quota system approach to D&I and an inclusive workplace?
A quota system is important – it is absolutely important to track the number of diversity employees in an organization. But it is also important to ensure that every person, regardless of their background, feels that they have equal opportunity and representation in the workplace, and that is where a quota, or purely quantitative approach, is lacking.
Again, diversity and inclusion are two very different things. A quota approach ensures that you have a certain number of “diversity” or minority employees, but if the organization does not capitalize on and value the ideas and experiences of these diverse employees, the efforts spent tracking diversity quotas are fruitless. We cannot solve issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and representation with a quota system alone. “Diversity” is not just a buzz word or a box to check; creating diverse and inclusive workplaces is the only way forward, socially and economically.
How can we improve the conversation around D&I issues and allow all views to be discussed openly without fear of being marginalized or “cancelled”?
The only way that we move D&I forward is through what we call productive discomfort, and it requires us to have tough, raw, and real conversations. It may be challenging in the beginning, but the outcome is a community that is more efficient, more innovative, more unified, and a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable corporate landscape in our city.
Authenticity is one of Level’s core values, and it is something that everyone needs to bring to every conversation around diversity and inclusion. We should all go into these conversations with the intent to learn and to understand, not just to respond. Active listening and being receptive to new ideas are at the core of fostering inclusion and equity.
We have an entire population of people in the workforce who are ready to foster these conversations, and, while cancel culture is a huge problem, the way we fight it is to band together as humans, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
After reading this you are probably thinking to yourself, that wasn’t that bad. In fact, our company checks all the D&I boxes above. I encourage you to question your assumptions and do the work of having some tough conversations about D&I on a regular basis within your organization. Don’t be too proud to ask for help and if I have to tell you where to find help, you have bigger issues than diversity & inclusion.