Beyond the Numbers: Creating a Truly Diverse Organization

Experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) agree that the long-term success and sustainability of a DE&I initiative depends on an organization’s ability to create an environment in which everyone’s voice is heard and every employee is treated fairly and with respect.

Understand that the relationship between diversity and inclusion is both circular and interdependent. While diversity without inclusion can create a toxic culture, inclusion without diversity runs the risk of creating a stagnant and unimaginative organization.

To be sure, achieving a truly equitable and inclusive culture has many challenges. Perhaps the most common is the trap of tokenism. When organizations make perfunctory or symbolic efforts to give the appearance of inclusiveness, employees (and candidates) from marginalized or underrepresented groups often perceive those efforts as performative and insincere.

Consider the case of a white manager at a medium-sized company whose workforce was 85 percent white who wanted to take steps to increase employee diversity. But when she asked a Black employee whom she supervised to go to recruiting events with her at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the employee was insulted by the request. The employee believed that her participation implied that the company was more diverse and inclusive than it really was.

This response left the manager in a quandary about what to do next. Although she didn’t want to misrepresent the company or disrespect its employees, she felt that it would be helpful to the company’s diversity efforts to have employees from underrepresented groups attend these recruiting events with her.

“It’s not unusual for employees to have a negative reaction to what they perceive to be a symbolic gesture. If an employee doesn’t believe that DE&I gestures are sincere, there’s likely to be backlash,” said Eric Ellis, founder and CEO of Integrity Development Corp., a Cincinnati-based consulting firm. “It’s important to understand the employee’s relationship to their environment. They need to feel a sense of belonging.”

The article was written by Arlene S. Hirsch and published on the SHRM website on January 21st 2022. If you would like to read more please click here.

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