The global landscape of the labor force is undergoing a massive social and economic shift. With more access to information, people know more about different thinking and are aware of disparities in workforce participation, earnings, and treatment often based on characteristics like gender, ethnicity, background and age.
Because of this landmark shift, plus the COVID-19 pandemic, which illuminated these disparities, many employers are increasing their diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts. However, some employers remain resistant to D&I—and fear is often the reason. What are these employers afraid of? What are they losing by failing to diversify? How can they overcome this fear and build a diverse and inclusive workplace? Below we explore these three questions.
Why Employers Fear Diversity and Inclusion
Some business leaders may simply be unaware of the ways in which D&I can improve their organization. Others are driven by fear—which comes in many forms, including fear of the unknown. For example, “Many employers are afraid of hiring someone with a disability because they don’t know what to expect,” according to an article published by Human Resources Director magazine.
But it’s not just employers who fear change; many employees do, too, including those who have historically benefited from the vocational status quo. In an op-ed published by Black Enterprise, D&I expert Risha Grant says that when she asks employees for their opinion on their company’s intention to hire more diverse workers, they often say it feels like a quota system or that white men are going to lose their jobs or won’t be hired because of the new diversity policies. These employee viewpoints may discourage some employers from pursuing D&I.
Business leaders may also be afraid to broach difficult subjects relating to D&I. For instance, they might fear offending someone by misunderstanding a topic or misspeaking. Harvard Business School professor Lakshmi Ramarajan explains:
Talking about and studying diversity is often complicated and raises a fair amount of anxiety for people…A lot of times the context of the conversation is around diversity as a problem—isolation, prejudice, conflict—that seems to be so closely associated with working across group lines and group differences. And I think that makes a lot of people wary.
Another source of fear for employers is how insurmountable implementing D&I initiatives might seem. Keeping in mind that every individual has unique characteristics, experiences, backgrounds and abilities, how can an organization possibly include or represent everyone?
In a study conducted for the Society for Human Resource Management, respondents were asked to name three groups that should be better represented by their company. A staggering 79 percent said women, 46 percent said individuals over 50 years old, and 39 percent said ethnic minorities.
Determining exactly where to focus D&I efforts may vary from company to company, and some employers would rather avoid the challenge than try to include more types of people. But by shunning diversity and inclusion they might be missing out on several competitive advantages.
Benefits of a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace
A survey by McKinsey & Company found that businesses in the top quartile for gender, racial or ethnic diversity are more likely to have higher financial returns than their competitors. Further, racially/ethnically diverse teams have a 35 percent likelihood of outperforming their less diverse counterparts.
Hiring from a diverse pool of candidates can introduce the company to new opportunities. For instance, employees who speak multiple languages can help you reach new audiences and build stronger relationships. Those with unique experiences can also bring fresh ideas to the table. In addition, focusing on D&I is good for a company’s reputation as consumers grow increasingly concerned with achieving a more equitable society.
Moving Toward Diversity and Inclusion
Once you understand how diversity and inclusion can benefit your company, you’ll be able to confidently mount a solid D&I program. When creating relevant policies:
- Remember that for diversity to work, inclusion must be present. Your diverse staff must feel included in your company’s mission and vision.
- Concentrate on the positive aspects of D&I and have a strategy for overcoming obstacles.
- Listen to employees’ concerns to cultivate an inclusive workplace. Empathy is key.
- Counteract the issue of white men fearing the loss of their jobs. You can, for example, include them in conversations about D&I. As noted by Risha Grant, “We must get away from the thought (and practice) that the white male has no place in conversations about diversity and inclusion.”
- Encourage employee feedback when enacting D&I changes instead of forcing change from the top down. After all, the point of D&I is to gain perspective from others, not fit everyone into the same box.
- Invest in ongoing D&I training for employees and leaders to foster a culture of acceptance, trust and cooperation.
When it comes to D&I, doing the bare minimum is not enough. Merely giving the appearance of a diverse workplace might boost your reputation in the short term; however, you’re likely to lose out on the value of truly incorporating different voices into your company. So, starting today, abandon your fears and prepare to usher in a new era of diversity and inclusion.