How to contribute to an inclusive and diverse workplace

Kathleen Furore Tribune Content Agency

ALL READERS: DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) is a hot topic these days. How can companies engage employees in their organizations from top to bottom to ensure that everyone contributes to an inclusive and diverse workplace?

As important as DEI has been, recent economic challenges are affecting the way workplaces manage DEI initiatives, according to Amri B. Johnson, CEO and founder of Inclusion Wins and author of “Reconstructing Inclusion: Making DEI Accessible, Actionable, and Sustainable.” In times of economic turmoil DEI is usually the one that gets noticed.

“Usually it’s not a careful choice; it happens by default. But inclusion is important regardless of the state of the economy, and it should be at the center of everything you do, especially when things are uncertain,” Johnson says in a statement announcing the release of his book. “Organizations that foster a sense of true belonging—even in difficult times—will attract talent and they attract customers. Their employees are engaged, they’re happy and they come to work ready to bring their best, which is good for them, good for the leaders and good for the customers. In a weak economy, that’s what you want.”

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Paul Lewis, chief customer officer at job search firm Adzuna, shares data that backs up Johnson’s assessment.

“Extensive evidence shows that diverse businesses are ultimately more successful,” reports Lewis. “During the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, stocks of inclusive companies rose 14%, while the S&P 500 fell more than 35%, according to the Boston Consulting Group.”

So how can companies make sure their companies are making progress? Lewis and Johnson offer several pieces of advice.

  • Recruitment processes should be fair and inclusive. Lewis says this should include a “renewed focus on hiring culturally complementary and not necessarily just cultural fit,” and shares Dove’s recent campaign to combat the prejudice black women and men face in the workplace, particularly around hairstyles, as an example. .

“Cultural identifiers, such as hair, should not be used as a substitute for real determinants of qualifications or experience, and campaigns like this emphasize that no one should be denied employment or professional advancement because of their culture or ethnicity,” says Lewis. “Adopting equitable and inclusive hiring practices will allow companies to bring in workers from diverse backgrounds with varying levels of experience and seniority.”

  • Re-examine your talent pipeline. This is especially important if there have been layoffs, Johnson noted.

“Are you recruiting and retaining talent from all backgrounds? Make sure to cast a wide net,” he says. “If you realize that many or most of your employees were attending the same category of universities, it’s time to expand. And of course, make sure you’ve designed your talent attraction/candidate experience to attract talent from a wide spectrum of identities and lived experiences.”

  • Implement unconscious bias training. Lewis says this is one way to ensure the entire workforce understands what constitutes acceptable and inclusive behaviour.

“We all have unconscious preferences that negatively impact our actions and behaviors. Organizations committed to inclusion must educate employees about biases and address ways to prevent biases from negatively impacting individuals or groups,” says Johnson. “It starts with recognition and awareness.”

  • Make sure team building and social activities are inclusive. Johnson recommends bringing people from different groups together to break down stereotypes and prejudices and foster relationships between people who might not otherwise interact, while Lewis points out situations to avoid.

“Having group social events solely or entirely customized around alcohol can exclude various groups of employees if it’s because of religion, location, remoteness or lifestyle choices,” says Lewis.

  • Take surveys. Doing this regularly gives employers a sense of how their employees are feeling and gives employees a chance to gauge the culture, Lewis says, adding that surveys can be anonymous.

“Do people like coming to work every day? Do they feel free to speak up with leadership and colleagues if they disagree? Are they allowed to share their honest opinions? Everyone, especially workers from historically marginalized groups, need to feel like they won’t be punished, interrupted or criticized for speaking up,” Johnson concluded.

Kathleen Furore is a writer and editor in Chicago. You can email him your career questions at

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