Diversity in the workplace isn’t just a “nice-to-have” — executed properly, it’s a proven driver of better performance.
The key phrase there is “executed properly.”
“Diversity without inclusion leads to a revolving door of talent,” says Khalil Smith, head of the diversity and inclusion practice at the NeuroLeadership Institute.
While it might seem easy to hire more minorities or women and call it a day, the reality is that diversity only succeeds as a business priority when leaders also make it a priority to promote inclusion. This, it turns out, is much harder to get right at a diverse organization. People may come work for you because the role sounds interesting and fulfilling, but if they don’t feel like they belong, don’t expect them to stay.
“Inclusion absolutely is the device that unlocks diversity,” Smith recently told the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Diversity is valuable on its own because more diverse organizations can draw on a fuller range of experiences to think more creatively and avoid biased decision-making. However, as Smith pointed out for SHRM, leaders must first create “an environment of inclusive behaviors where people genuinely feel and believe and see it demonstrated that the way that they think, the way that they act, the way that they approach problems, their background and who they are” are valued.
That’s how diverse employees come to feel engaged: Repeated behaviors from others demonstrate that their ideas and contributions are welcome.
The fact that inclusion is what unlocks diversity is also why we at NLI advocate for cultivating inclusion first, before tackling matters of diversity. Human beings are all but wired to notice differences in others, as multiple studies have shown. We aren’t so great at finding the similarities. It’s up to leaders to unite employees around shared goals and foster other habits of inclusiveness before doing the work of diversifying their team.
We can think about it like baking a cake. If the cake goes into the oven before the oven has gotten a chance to come to temperature, the cake won’t turn out right. Likewise, employees should first be given the tools to form smarter teams if leaders want new, diverse talent to feel engaged.
If teams don’t equip their staff, they won’t collaborate effectively and those who feel left out may leave for good.