4 Diversity Pitfalls to Avoid for an Inclusive Workplace

Leaders are eager to grow their companies with more diverse perspectives — but they may be sabotaging their own efforts in four key areas.

The benefits of diversity are clear — diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by as much as 35 percent. Yet plenty of companies continue to drag their feet on the issue. While more businesses are taking diversity seriously throughout the hiring process, diversity needs to be a fundamental part of your business as a whole.

One of the most serious ways companies go wrong with diversity is by thinking about it too narrowly. Diversity means diversity of all kinds and in all places, from top to bottom. It’s not easy to take a step back and think about how you can shift your business itself to be more inclusive.

A little guidance can go a long way, especially with areas you may be currently overlooking.

A diverse organization can spark everything from increased productivity to higher morale, but “diversity” means more than you probably think. If you’re looking for some less-talked-about areas of diversity your company should look into, start with these:

1. Age

One of the least recognized areas of diversity at work is age. A PwC survey found just 8 percent of CEOs mention age in their diversity and inclusion strategies — four times fewer than those that include gender or skills, knowledge and experience. Yet team members of varying ages bring different spins to their company’s culture.

Both outlooks have business value, so strive for a multigenerational team. Better yet, encourage cross-generational mentorship, but be clear that all members should be prepared to play mentor and mentee roles. There’s always something more to learn.

2. Suppliers

Your company might have its own diversity policies in order, but that’s not all you can do as a business leader to promote a diverse landscape. Most companies gravitate toward the most well-established names when looking for vendors. Price is usually the right way to go, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you think about. By overlooking smaller, more diverse vendors, you’re forgoing the opportunity to build valuable partnerships in favor of saving a few dollars.

Looking for smaller, more personal suppliers is much easier said than done, of course. Thankfully, some companies are helping to bridge that gap. IBEX IT Business Experts, No. 806 on this year’s Inc. 5000, developed its Certifiably Diverse platform to connect companies with vendors who have fresh perspectives and business practices. As easy as it might be to connect with large vendors, choosing their smaller competitors can better meet your needs while promoting business diversity in the process.

3. Education
Virtually every university-level business program in the country teaches a similar set of competencies: accounting, marketing, management and entrepreneurship. But think about how many must-haves in business don’t fall under one of those categories: What about writing? Statistics? Qualitative analysis? Web development?

Even functions that seem monolithic can benefit from teams with broad academic experiences. At project management provider Mavenlink, a 2019 two-time Stevie Award winner, Principal Software Engineer James Thomas’ background is in religious studies; one of his peers studied English literature. Thomas notes that a wider collection of experiences means the team can come up with more creative ways to solve coding challenges.

4. Socioeconomic status
One of the dirtiest secrets of entrepreneurship is how heavily it’s skewed toward those with social and economic privilege. When the Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship and education nonprofit, studied the subject, it found that more than 90 percent of entrepreneurs come from middle- and upper-class backgrounds. And because 73 percent rely on their own networks to build their companies, most of the people they hire do as well.

The trouble with that is that empathy might be the single most important ingredient in business success. Businessolver’s 2019 “State of Workplace Empathy” report showed that 91 percent of CEOs think empathy is linked directly to their firm’s financial performance. If everyone at a company comes from the top 10 percent, how can they hope to connect with the other 90 percent of their customer base?

The crux of the diversity discussion is this: All backgrounds, traits, and ways of thinking have business value. But it’s meta-diversity — a variety of human varieties — that brings companies closest to the experiential vastness of the customers they serve. 

© Inc. 2019

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