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Blog - Workplace DEI
City of Burlington
Economic Development Department
October 29, 2022
The Importance of Workplace Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
These days, more than ever, diversity has become a buzzword in mainstream media, educational institutions, and businesses. A large part of the problem is that the word is used without an understanding of its depth. What really is diversity?
Diversity refers to the coexistence of people from varying abilities, genders, ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions, and classes. However, the identities listed above merely scratch the surface of everything included under the scope of diversity. The pandemic has made way to increase the diversity of teams within companies, as employers hire remote workers across the globe. There are numerous benefits to prioritizing diversity in the workplace.
Diverse companies should reflect the communities where they conduct business. People tend to relate to others with similar backgrounds. Therefore, employees that reflect the identities of your consumers can understand the concerns and interests of diverse audiences. Additionally, creativity is often tied to diversity in thought. Employees within a diverse workplace have access to a greater variety of different perspectives with fresh innovative ideas. Harvard Business Review found diverse teams to be more equipped at solving problems faster than teams with a more homogenous makeup.
Where great ideas lie, money often follows. McKinsey & Company, a global management firm, conducted a study that led to the discovery of diverse companies being more profitable than their less diverse counterparts. Since diverse teams are better at making decisions faster and developing new ideas, they have a greater advantage over their competitors. This advantage is tied to greater results, which lead to maximizing profits.
Losing employees often causes financial distress in small businesses. Employee retention is a benefit of workplace diversity. Deloitte’s research suggests that diversity and inclusion yield higher engagement in the workplace. When employees feel included, they are more inclined to stay with their employer. People are attracted to diverse companies, especially when there is a proven track record that a company supports and values diversity and inclusion.
It is impossible to build a diverse team without inclusion. Simply hiring diverse candidates is only one part of the overall mission to contribute to a more inclusive and equitable environment. Providing equal opportunities to all employees is the bare minimum. It is imperative that company leaders reflect and improve upon their systems and procedures regularly to ensure they don’t privilege some employees over others.
Additionally, employees should feel empowered to be their authentic selves, and contribute to defining the atmosphere of the business. Business owners must be open-minded to receive feedback and to utilize the feedback from their employees. Moreover, entrepreneurs must recognize societal issues or any external factors that may be impacting their employees.
Diversity and inclusion are often hot topics, but it requires more intentionality than often portrayed. This year is the deadliest year for trans people yet, especially Black transwomen. At least 28 women, mostly Black and Hispanic, have been killed in 2021 thus far, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Many companies are guilty of rainbow washing tactics, which is when companies use Pride Month as a front for support for the LGBTQ+ community but their internal policies do not reflect a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ persons. Beware of the harm that can be perpetuated through inaction.
This inaction, like being a bystander to conflict or unacceptable behavior in the workplace, can negatively effect minoritized members of your team by making them feel ostracized and unsupported. Doing nothing signals a lack of care towards colleagues and cause rifts in relationships. The infamous saying “if you don’t stand for something, you fall to anything”, bears truth especially in this situation. Stand firm on your values and treat others the way you’d want someone to treat your mother.
A huge part of creating an equitable environment for others to work and feel included is to understand your own identities and the way your identities may afford you certain privileges. Below is a list of common identities that contribute to a diverse workforce (Source: Elon University Center for Race, Ethnicity, Diversity, Education). Choose one of the identities that you think about very often. How does this identity affect your life? Does it make your life easier or harder (or both)?
- Number of years lived or a general age group.
Ex: 18-year old, 50-year old, young adult, older adult, infant
- Refers to a person’s physical, developmental, and/or psychological ability.
Ex: Physically able, hearing impaired, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer’s disease
Religion & Spirituality
- A set of beliefs about life’s meaning and the ultimate purpose of the universe, if any.
Ex: Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist
Socioeconomic Status & Class
- Combined total of an individual’s or family’s economic and social position. Measures not only income, but also:
- Assets & inheritance
- Access to resources
- Ex: Lower class, working class, middle class, upper class (these are just broad categories)
Sex & Gender
- Sex: Category based on anatomy and physiology.
Ex: Female, male, intersex
- Gender: Attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with an assigned sex.
Ex: Cisgender female, transgender male, bigender, agender, gender fluid
- Cisgender: Gender identity matches sex assigned at birth.
Ex: Assigned female at birth and identifies as female
- Transgender: Gender identity does not sex assigned at birth.
Ex: Assigned female at birth, but identifies as male (and may or may not have taken steps for transition)
- The direction of one’s attraction; to whom an individual is sexually and/or romantically attracted to, if at all. Ex: Straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual
- Cultural, linguistic, spiritual, and traditional ties that describe people, often linked to a group or regional identity. Examples: Italian, Jewish, Korean, Latino/a/x, Colombian, Arab, Scandinavian, Ethiopian
Race & Color
- Assigned categories of people that are seemingly based on biological characteristics, geographic origin, skin color and/or physical appearance
But race is actually an ideological social construct created during colonial times to assign and maintain power (and it still used that way today.) Our racial categories continue to change and evolve, depending on the institution. Ex: White, Black, Latino/a/x (though not officially on 2010 census), Asian, American Indian
To learn more about the history of race in the United States, click here.
Ethnicity vs. Race
Ethnicity: Based on culture, language, spirituality, and traditions, can be self-identified
Ex: Italian, Jewish, Korean, Latinx, Colombian, Arab, Scandinavian, Ethiopian
Race: Social construct based on history, plays out largely by appearance everyday, it is assigned
Ex: White, Black, Asian, American Indian, Latinx (though not officially on 2010 census.
In the end, taking diversity equity and inclusion seriously will yield positive results in all aspects of your business. Forrester found that workplace belonging leads to a 56% increase in job performance and 50% reduction in turnover risk. Take care of your employees and they will return the courtesy through their productivity and dedication to your company. Take action today and gather more resources here. In the words of one the greatest entrepreneurs of all time, “don’t just talk about, be about it (Beyonce)!”
Chandler Vaughan, Project Manager, EYOS Fellow
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