You don’t have to search too long to find the top workforce priority for today’s organizations. It seems like diversity is everywhere these days, from the White House to the tech industry, with pledges to create more equity in pay and access to work opportunities. There is increasing recognition that diversity has real financial value for organizations, with research showing better financial returns, improved employee engagement, and higher customer satisfaction for companies that are diverse. The fact that this topic is getting so much attention represents a real success for diverse talent seeking to break down barriers and grow their careers, right?
Well, sort of. Diverse talent, you are being talked about, but very few organizations have truly figured out how to remove those barriers and provide you with equitable access to career-growing opportunities. And so despite considerable investments from organizations in this area, we continue to see stagnant diversity numbers in all organizational levels and especially at the top. In order to drive true, lasting change we have to address one perception that has been impeding business leaders from truly living the diversity promise: that a win for diverse talent is a loss for everyone else.
In 2015 Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced a $300 million, five-year initiative to improve the diversity of Intel’s workforce. Among other mandates, 40% of new hires had to be women or minorities, and as of the beginning of 2016 Intel had actually surpassed this goal. Many influential people and media outlets applauded these forward-thinking efforts, but if you take a peek in the comments section of any major blog on this topic you can see that there has been some significant backlash as well. And if those comments don’t convince you, consider this—Brian Krzanich and his diversity leaders have actually received death threats because of this initiative.
While those cases are more extreme, it is not uncommon for people to fear that their opportunities for jobs, assignments, development, and promotions are in jeopardy when the organization has a diversity focus. A recent study showed that when majority group members (i.e., White males) heard pro-diversity messages, they expressed greater concern that they would not be treated fairly in the hiring process. They also performed more poorly in job interviews and even had higher stress levels as indicated by their cardiovascular activity. This was not just the men who believed in the status quo; these findings were there even for men who generally supported and had positive views of workforce diversity. This suggests a possible self-fulfilling prophecy: majority group members feel uncomfortable in strongly diversity-oriented organizations, so they perform more poorly, which can potentially lead to loss in opportunities they would otherwise be qualified for. In recent years organizations have heightened their diversity messages in order to appeal to a broader range of talent, but they may ironically be disengaging the talent they already have.
So what can organizations do, given this catch-22 situation they find themselves in? Fortunately, there is a way we can address this perception: by building a culture and message of Inclusion. When companies talk about building diversity, what they’re really talking about is building a workforce that brings together diverse perspectives, ideas and skills and incorporating all those differences to create something unlike what has been created in the past. This does not force out current majority group members or devalue or segregate their contribution; rather, it gives other groups a chance to add to this contribution and make it more global, relevant and useful to the stakeholders of tomorrow. Employees of companies that effectively include all types of people and perspectives need not fear that their opportunities are disappearing. Their puzzle piece is every bit as important in the big picture of moving the company forward.