Don’t Bother with Diversity if You’re Not Inclusive
In February, The Council offered its first Insurance Professional School, designed for those who are new to the industry.
Like everything these days, it is virtual. As I looked out on the faces across my screen, I became so excited to see that, for the first time in my insurance career of … well let’s just say many, many years, I saw a sea of faces that more closely aligned with the demographics of our country. “Hooray!” I thought, “our industry is making strides in recruiting diverse talent.” But just as quickly as my excitement rose, it dissipated. We’ve solved only half of the equation.
The other half is inclusivity. It’s one thing to get diverse talent in the door; it’s a completely different thing to keep them. “Inclusion is about welcoming, developing and advancing a diverse mix of individuals,” says Ellen Taaffe in Kellogg Insight. “It’s about making people feel valued, including changing practices that might unfairly benefit any one group and making sure everyone feels they have the same opportunity to advance and make an impact.” Creating this culture and environment is where the true challenge lies.
There are many reasons that inclusivity is so hard to achieve. Christine Riordan, in the Harvard Business Review article “Diversity Is Useless Without Inclusivity,” identifies four dynamics that work against an inclusive culture.
- People gravitate toward people like them. As a result, many organizations have unwittingly created “prototypes for success” that can work against diverse candidates.
- Subtle biases persist and lead to exclusion. Research has shown that individuals who are racially different experience less supervisor support and lower relationship quality with both supervisors and the team.
- Out-group employees sometimes try to conform. In an attempt to fit in, those who are different from the majority will often downplay their differences and take on the attributes of the majority, thus negating the positive impact of diversity within the group.
- Employees from the majority group put up resistance. Backlash can occur when majority employees feel excluded from diversity initiatives. It appears to them to be reverse favoritism.
Taaffe suggests four elements that can help build an inclusive environment.
Be aware of your blind spots. Research shows that people often make decisions based on “just like me” attributes such as same college, same attitudes, same behaviors, same gender, same race. Being aware of this bias will allow you to stop the default when making a decision. Everyone has biases. What is most important is that we manage those biases when working to develop an inclusive culture.
Keep inclusion on the agenda. In other words, make a business case for it. According to Riordan, “Diversity can bring many organizational benefits, including greater customer satisfaction, better market position, successful decision-making, an enhanced ability to reach strategic goals, improved organizational outcomes, and a stronger bottom line.” Emphasize to your workforce that inclusion will help everyone because it helps open up our minds to new ideas and ways to think differently.
Study the data. To make true change, you have to know where you are starting from. Then you can plan your future state. For example, if at an entry level women and men are being hired in equal numbers but few of one group reach senior positions, there may be a problem with how advancements are being made. Looking at the data may cause you to ask deeper questions like who is getting hired, who gets promoted faster, who has access to information and who doesn’t, whose opinions are sought and whose aren’t.
Set clear standards and expectations. To be truly inclusive, you must develop clear standards and expectations and hold everyone to them. Taaffe says, “The more you can hold people to the same criteria tailored to specific objectives, the more inclusive you’re likely to be.” Research has shown that employees who differ from the group in power must often meet higher standards of performance. A recent poll on Monster showed that eight out of 10 women believe that they have to have superior skills and experience to compete with men when applying for a job.
All the research, studies and articles show that, to truly have impact, you must get leaders committed and involved in the process. Most leaders believe and even say that they value diversity in their firms. But without an inclusive environment where all people feel valued and respected and have the same opportunities, your firm will not reap the amazing benefits that a diverse workforce can yield.