Diverse Talent Isn’t Enough. It’s Time to Get Real About Inclusion

The optimist in me likes to believe American workplaces are changing for the better. Diversity has become a pressing priority inside many companies, and for good reason. With talent in extremely high demand and with the recent “Great Resignation,” 78 percent of technology employees say diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are very important to them when considering whether to accept a job offer.

That said, building a culture of inclusion, diversity, equity, and belonging (IDEB) within an organization involves much more than hiring more “diverse” talent. Most companies know that talent management doesn’t stop with hiring, but diversity efforts too often start and end there. An organization’s intentional focus on the entire employee journey, and how it differs on the basis of each employee’s lived experience, is what it takes to move the needle and truly build a culture of belonging for everyone.

Here are four essential areas for inclusion, diversity, equity, and belonging beyond the hiring process:

Intentional Performance Management


Be aware of the bias that can creep into the performance management process, and truly consider objective contributions against your vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures. Be sure that you’re educating your managers and leaders on the various types of bias and reminding them about these biases before they complete performance reviews and have performance conversations.

For example, the “prove-it-again” pattern of bias is all too familiar to historically excluded groups, who often need to prove themselves over and over again in performance reviews. In one Harvard Business study, 43 percent of people of color and 31 percent of white women had at least one mistake mentioned in their evaluations, compared with just 26 percent of white men.

Feedback and evaluation is equally important in the other direction. Inclusive managers and leaders regularly solicit feedback and encourage employees to have open, two-way conversations. To ensure accountability, it is best for managers to undergo formal reviews of their own performance, with a focus on consistency in their performance management decisions.

Equitable Development

Equity in theory is simple. In life, we didn’t all start on a level playing field because of various aspects of our identities and experiences. In the workplace, equity is giving each employee the tools, training, res, and development opportunities to set them up for success. It sounds simple, but many companies stumble from the start.

In employee development, equity starts with a lot of questions. Bias is common, and the only remedy is objective examination against a clear set of criteria. Something as simple as the delegation of stretch assignments can easily be inconsistent and leave a lasting impact on employee career growth. It may seem obvious whom the next big opportunity on the team should go to, but still invites a variety of questions:

  • Under what criteria do you decide who deserves a stretch assignment?
  • Who has received them in the past? Who has yet to receive one?
  • Are you giving stretch assignments to the people you see the most?
  • Are you giving stretch assignments to your right-hand person?
  • Who is your right-hand person? Why?
  • Are you giving stretch assignments to the people who have the most “potential”?
  • How are you objectively defining “potential”?

Reverse mentoring and sponsorship can be an excellent way to cultivate empathy and inclusion by fostering a deeper understanding of employees’ lived experiences in high-level leaders. Let’s face it, leaders primarily talk to other leaders, and those leaders tend to look like each other, leading to a lack of diverse perspectives. Reverse mentoring pairs people who are more junior in their careers, especially women and minorities, with executives to increase their awareness of employees with different lived experiences. By opening a line of communication and scheduling regular check-ins, reverse mentoring helps executives better understand the implications of these different experiences and make them more empathetic and inclusive leaders.

The other half, sponsorship, is a critical component. The benefit of this relationship to the more junior employee (who is a member of a historically excluded group) is access and exposure and ultimately opportunity. Be sure to clearly communicate the benefits of reverse mentoring and sponsorship programs to both parties to ensure you aren’t placing undue burden, and to ensure the relationship is actually beneficial to women and minorities.

Safe Team Dynamics

Most leaders know that disagreement and debate are essential to the decision-making process, but many fail to realize the amount of intentional effort required to ensure all employees feel safe taking part. Google’s Project Aristotle, a two-year study of more than 180 high- and low-performing teams, found that psychological safety was the most important factor that contributed to high-performing teams.

Employees need to know that challenging the majority opinion is safe and feel confident that their team won’t embarrass or punish them for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea. Practice conversational turn-taking to allow all team members a chance to provide their thoughts, and be aware of the effect of the leader’s opinion.

Try soliciting ideas and input before providing your own, to avoid the all-too-common follow-the-leader effect. Take it a step further–encourage dissenting opinions. Stress the importance that you want to hear from the team to ensure you all make the best decision and aren’t missing key data points or considerations.

Transparent Promotions and Rewards

Promotion inequity is one of the largest contributors to the race and gender gaps in the workplace. These inequities start at the entry level and have a compounding effect on the entire pipeline.

According to a report from LeanIn.org and McKinsey, for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted; just 71 Latinas and 58 Black women were promoted. Because men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, there are then fewer women to promote to senior manager and even fewer at every subsequent level.

Addressing these issues begins with clear, objective, and, most important, consistent criteria for advancement at every level. The path to advancement should be well-documented and communicated from the very beginning to help remove opportunities for unexamined bias and ensure all employees have an equal opportunity to work toward the next level.

Another common thing is to consider the people who haven’t raised their hand. Just because someone hasn’t expressed interest in a promotion or leadership opportunity, it doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified or deserving. Again, work with your HR to ensure you have an internal pipeline of talent to consider.

It’s also important to be intentional. Ensure women and minorities are included in the pipeline for promotion and leadership opportunities. If the current pipeline is homogeneous, ask yourself why. I would often ask leaders why no women or minorities were promoted and the response would be, “They weren’t ready.” My response would in turn be, “Do they know why they aren’t ready and is there a development plan in place such that next time they are ready?”

I often describe culture as the everyday interactions with our managers, teams, and colleagues. These are the experiences that impact whether we’re able to come to work, feel safe, be engaged, and grow our careers. These are also the experiences that influence whether we recommend that our family, friends, or loved ones come work at the company as well. The more intentional we are about these micro-interactions and making inclusive, equitable decisions throughout the employee journey, the better we will be set up to build a culture of belonging for everyone.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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