Not just Gender Diversity, building an Inclusive Culture is bigger challenge

Many progressive organizations today have gender-balance targets. The Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiatives in many companies in India is all about recruiting more women and nurturing an environment where women are respected and rewarded for their performance.

Not surprisingly, the media is awash with articles on diversity and inclusion around March every year, coinciding with International Women’s Day.

Unfortunately, the exclusive gender focus has skewed discussion. The practices should be aimed at building and nurturing a workforce that is diverse not only in gender but in a way that reflects the diverse society that we live in.

Diversity & Inclusion: a growth strategy
True diversity is all-encompassing. Besides gender, it includes ethnicity, language, socio-economic status, religious and political beliefs, sexual orientation and even physical disabilities.

It is not just about having a diverse workforce. It is about building a safe and positive environment that embraces and celebrates the uniqueness of each individual, enabling him or her to contribute his or her best by way of ideas and efforts.

Pursuing diversity and inclusion, in the broadest sense, is a growth strategy and has become a business priority for progressive companies. Companies that practice diversity and inclusion statistically outperform their peers, according to a host of research.

According to McKinsey, while gender-diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform their peers, ethnically-diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform peers.

Inclusion is a bigger challenge, takes time
Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) have become buzzwords. Recruiting a diverse team is relatively easy, but building a company-wide inclusive culture is a long journey. It is not easy as it calls for introspection and behavioral changes by leaders who need to set an example.

To excel, the diverse workforce 'must feel valued, respected, accepted and encouraged', in the words of Gallup.

Building an inclusive culture takes company-wide effort and time. It includes establishing behavioral standards and using them in performance evaluation. Company-wide training of all employees on unconscious bias and similar topics is an integral part of building culture.

Diversity adds little value without inclusion
"Different perspectives help us all to achieve more," says Microsoft's D&I statement.

This connects the statement to the company’s mission which is deeply inclusive: “Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

D&I not only permeates the organization, but it expresses itself in external outreach. Technology giants intentionally reach out and connect with minority and women-owned companies.

It may sound strange, but many of the best D&I practices like respecting everyone for their individual talents and listening to every view have little to do with diversity per se. No wonder D&I benefits go beyond innovation and growth. Companies that succeed in building an inclusive culture become great places to work, attracting and retaining diverse talent.