Diversity in the Workplace: Insights and Strategies for 2020 and Beyond

By DeVry University

The U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043 and by 2060, 57 percent of the U.S. population will consist of racially ethnic minorities, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This means that companies, business leaders and organizations must create effective solutions to recruit, support and retain a more diverse workforce. While many business leaders may already realize the importance of these population changes, certain companies still struggle to understand the best methods to achieve diversity, how to properly define diversity in the workplace or why diversity is so important.

Diversity and the Bottom Line

Beyond demographic shifts, diversity directly impacts the financial future of a company, says Meredith Morales, Senior Program Manager of Inclusion Recruiting, Innovation and Solutions at LinkedIn. As a diversity and inclusion consultant, Morales has advised many well-intended leaders who often wish to improve diversity in the workplace but may not fully comprehend the value diversity adds to their organizations.

Meredith Morales, Senior Program Manager of Inclusion Recruiting, Innovation & Solutions at LinkedIn

"Being inclusive of individuals from underrepresented groups is a value add. It impacts the bottom line."

Meredith Morales
Senior Program Manager of Inclusion Recruiting, Innovation & Solutions at LinkedIn

“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people say they want to focus on diversity because, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’ but that’s not what this is about,” says Morales. “Being inclusive of individuals from underrepresented groups is a value add. It impacts the bottom line.”

In fact, a Boston Consulting Group survey of employees in 1,700 companies found that of the companies surveyed, those with more diverse management teams earn 19 percent more revenue from innovation than their less diverse competitors. Seventy five percent of employees surveyed at these same companies—spanning Austria, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Switzerland and the U.S.—also reported that “diversity is gaining momentum at their organization,” underscoring how workplace diversity continues to shape business decisions within U.S. and global markets.

A McKinsey & Company report echoes similar findings stating that of the companies surveyed, those with more ethnically diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability. Similarly, companies with greater gender diversity among executive teams generated more profitability and value creation than companies with fewer women in executive positions.

“Diversity significantly improves financial performance on measures such as profitable investments at the individual portfolio-company level and overall fund returns,” Paul Gompers, an economist and professor at Harvard Business School, and writer Silpa Kovvali explained in an article published by Harvard Business Review.

For several years, Gompers analyzed data from venture  capitalists and investors to discover that “even though the desire to associate with similar people … can bring social benefits for those who exhibit it, including a sense of shared culture and belonging, it can also lead investors and firms to leave a lot of money on the table.” In other words, leaders who don’t diversify their business practices or associate with people who are different from them miss opportunities for revenue and growth.

As diversity emerges as a key indicator of business performance, organizations around the world are accepting the value and urgency of honoring difference—they realize the undeniable importance of diversity in the workplace, according to Vijay Eswaran, an Executive Chairman of the QI Group:

“In this era of globalization, diversity in the business environment is about more than gender, race and ethnicity,” he wrote in an article for the World Economic Forum. “Companies are discovering that, by supporting and promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace, they are gaining benefits that go beyond the optics. The case for establishing a truly diverse workforce, at all organizational levels, grows more compelling each year. The moral argument is weighty enough, but the financial impact—as proven by multiple studies—makes this a no-brainer.”

Benefits of a Diverse Company

Besides generating a profit for companies, diversity in the workplace yields substantial benefits for an organization’s culture and employees.  As an executive leader of a diverse team, Elise Awwad, Vice President of Strategic Enrollment Management at DeVry University, witnesses the day-to-day value diverse employees add to problem-solving and novel business solutions.

Elise Awwad, Vice President of Strategic Enrollment Management at DeVry University

"Diversity allows companies to adopt a different lens to solve challenges, operate the organization and keep it strong."

Elise Awwad
Vice President of Strategic Enrollment Management at DeVry University

“Diversity allows companies to adopt a different lens to solve challenges, operate the organization and keep it strong,” says Awwad. “If you have multiple people thinking the same way, you don’t really grow or innovate.”

Awwad says diversity has also helped her team improve:

  • Creativity: Instead of relying on one homogenous group for input, when it’s time to solve problems, Awwad harnesses the unique perspectives of individuals on her team. “I respect their opinions,” she says. “The best part of working on a team with people who represent different ages, personalities and backgrounds is the mixture of ideas they bring. I view our team as a melting pot of ideas where each person offers a different special ingredient.”

  • Customer service: “Diversity isn’t just about how people look but also skills and experience, which can really impact how teams serve their customer base,” Awwad says. “Because DeVry’s student base is so diverse, it is important to service and support them by being diverse as well.”

  • Professional development: “This is more of an unexpected benefit, but it’s worth noting,” Awwad adds. “I don’t think I would be as successful in my career if I didn’t surround myself with people who have different perspectives and ways of thinking than my own. Because my team is so diverse, they challenge me to think differently. I’m able to grow in new ways. I learn from different people on the frontlines of my team all the way up to my senior leaders.”

Redefining Diversity in the Workplace

Before launching a plan to improve workplace diversity, it’s critical to understand what diversity really means. Is diversity a policy, a program, an intention—or a mixture of all three? Many companies struggle to answer these questions in the early stages of creating diversity initiatives, according to Morales, who has hosted diversity training workshops for dozens of businesses and professional associations. For certain companies, fostering diversity in the workplace becomes a “hidden code” for filling quotas or creating HR policies that feel obligatory rather than relatable, sincere and authentic, Morales says. In workshops and advising, she has noticed that some leaders struggle to understand diversity beyond generic terms such as “inclusion” or “equity,’’ which don’t fully encompass the complexities of bringing dynamic people together.

3 Ways to Define Diversity

To create a more inclusive and modern work environment, Morales recommends companies define diversity in the workplace around three core concepts:

  1. Belonging: “I think the way people conceptualize diversity and inclusion often lacks a component of belonging,” says Morales. “While equity and inclusion are certainly important, what companies should really strive for is to create an environment where people feel like they belong. That’s the core of what this work is all about. If you have a culture in which people feel like they don’t belong, connect or succeed as their authentic selves, then your company will have an employee population that’s not giving you the best of them. They won’t produce their best work and you’ll have a retention issue, so it’s really important to focus on making sure people feel like they belong.”

  2. Celebrating Difference: “No one is homogenous, we’re all unique,” Morales says. “Most people have at least one experience in their life where they recognize differences, so it helps to think about diversity as another way to recognize and celebrate our individual traits.” This is an idea that most people can relate to and understand. Celebrating difference offers a positive message around diversity that teams can build on and support in action.

  3. Improving Representation: Avoid using code phrases such as “bridging the gap” or “improving equity” to discuss diversity initiatives within your company, Morales recommends. These terms are often corporatized and devoid of meaning for employees. Instead, be very clear about the kind of people your company desires to attract and frame the conversation around improving representation among underrepresented groups.

“When business leaders talk about diversity as code instead of being honest about the representation issues they wish to improve, they risk losing white men and women who can be allies in this work, so I think organizations can really benefit from just calling diversity what it is: a way to improve representation of people from underrepresented groups,” Morales says.

This is a more effective way to discuss workplace diversity because improving representation offers a cause all employees can support, whether they are members of an underrepresented group or an ally.

How to Foster Diversity in the Workplace

Creating a more diverse workplace requires strategic action, especially if your company is in the early stages of building diversity campaigns and initiatives. Whether you’re a diversity and inclusion manager, recruiter, business leader or diversity advocate, try one these expert strategies to create a workplace where employees from underrepresented groups feel valued, seen and heard.

Strategies for Business Leaders and Organizations

FOCUS ON INCLUSIVE RECRUITMENT.

Traditionally, the way organizations arrange recruitment teams requires one recruiter to focus entirely on networking and building relationships for diversity recruitment on their own. But this isn’t the most effective strategy to spur company-wide change, explains Morales.

"Every recruiter should be a diversity recruiter."

Meredith Morales

Instead of assigning diversity recruitment to only one recruiter in your department, take a creative spin: “Every recruiter should be a diversity recruiter,” Morales recommends. Supporting diversity in the workplace starts with collaborative, team-based thinking—a mindset Morales has refined through 12 years of consulting with organizations on diversity and recruitment strategies. To make diversity recruitment more inclusive, she encourages companies to strengthen the cultural capital and skill of their teams. What that means in practice: “Business leaders must train recruiters and HR managers on culturally competent practices,” she says, referencing training exercises, workshops and organizational programs. “This helps recruiters build the skills and competence to authentically connect with individuals from underrepresented groups and community organizations.”

CREATE PROFESSIONAL GROUPS AND PROGRAMS.

The goal of professional groups for women and diverse employees should be two-fold: To build community among people from underrepresented groups while offering them the culturally competent support they need to succeed.

This is precisely what Awwad had in mind when she co-founded EDGE: Empowerment Diversity Growth and Excellence—a network of scholars and professionals dedicated to supporting women in leadership which has since grown to include 23 chapters worldwide. As the executive sponsor of DeVry University’s EDGE Chapter, Awwad helps provide opportunities for her female colleagues to learn more about leadership and feel empowered enough to pursue roles of higher responsibility.

“We provide access to career coaching, speaking engagements, workshops and webinars on various topics related to women in business,” Awwad says. “We even have a Workplace group where we share information with members ranging from development opportunities to TED Talks. The goal of EDGE is to create a community of women and people from diverse backgrounds who feel connected and understood.”

DIVERSIFY YOUR JOB DESCRIPTION.

It may seem like a minor detail but the way a job description is written can attract or repel the right candidate from a position within your company. Terri Wallman, Director of Employer Relations and Internships at DeVry University learned this lesson firsthand while helping recruiters identify women with engineering degrees to apply for an electrical engineering position their company struggled to fill.

To properly assist, Wallman coordinated virtual focus groups across four DeVry campuses and asked female graduates from DeVry’s College of Engineering and Technology to attend. During the focus groups, the women examined the company’s job description and Wallman discovered an interesting conclusion: many graduates were turned off by the way companies had written the job description for the electrical engineering position. By the end of the focus group, Wallman and the DeVry graduates in the group rewrote the job description to make it more gender-neutral and attractive to underrepresented candidates.

Terri Wallman, Director of Employer Relations and Internships at DeVry University

"A job description can really impact diversity in the workplace because it's the applicant's first impression of the company's culture."

Terri Wallman
Director of Employer Relations and Internships at DeVry University

“A job description can really impact diversity in the workplace because it’s the applicant’s first impression of the company’s culture,” says Wallman. “This particular electrical engineering role required weekend work, long hours and some traveling, but the way it was written seemed very rigid and unwelcoming to women. If the applicant was a single mother or had a child, or if she desired to invest in her own development outside of work, she’d immediately think, ‘I can’t take this job. This wouldn’t be a good fit for me.”

But after rewriting the job description, adding in phrases that focused more on flexibility and an accommodating work culture, more female candidates expressed interest. “Once we rewrote the job description, it changed the entire perception of how women in the focus group viewed the position,” Wallman says.

Ultimately, the company hired one of DeVry’s alumni who attended the focus group, proving that interactive recruitment that fosters connection—rather than aloof applications or online announcements—can successfully attract underrepresented candidates.

HIRE CULTURALLY INCLUSIVE LEADERS.

“Having leaders who reflect what the company values means so much for building workplace diversity,” says Awwad. “That’s why I take my role as a leader very seriously in this organization. I know other women within are looking to me as an example.”

A 2018 Diversity and Inclusion report from Deloitte strengthens Awwad’s point, demonstrating how inclusive leaders play an integral role in shaping the perceptions of employees and their productivity. Authors of the report found that “the behaviors of leaders can drive up to 70 percentage points of difference between the proportion of employees who feel highly included and the proportion [of employees] who do not. This effect is even stronger for minority groups,” according to Deloitte.

Strategies for Jobseekers and Employees from Underrepresented Groups

While many conversations around workplace diversity tend to focus on top-down strategies, there are creative ways individual employees and job-seekers can also support diversity in their careers. Consider one of the tips below to help improve your job search or help gain mobility in your career.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK RECRUITERS ABOUT DIVERSITY.

If you’re looking to find a company that will support your identity and differences, take time to  ask the right questions to screen employers. Use your interview as an opportunity to discuss topics around diversity that the average applicant may avoid. “If diversity is important to you, ask about it,” Morales suggests. “Don’t be afraid to ask recruiters or the person interviewing you about diversity at their company because the question should be welcomed and if it isn’t, then you may have your answer.”

Research the company, as always, but once you do, feel free to ask honest questions. “Even during a phone screening, it’s fine to say: ‘Diversity and inclusion are very important to me. Can you tell me some of the ways that shows up at your company?’ This question can invite an open dialogue around work culture and values that you’d like to have on the job,” says Morales.

In addition to preparing personal questions, she encourages jobseekers to also ask interviewers about their own experiences with gender and diversity in the workplace.  As the recruiter shares stories, note the details you hear and follow-up questions you’d like to ask. This can give you a sense of what you may experience while working at the company and if it offers the right culture for you.

BUILD YOUR INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL NETWORK.

“No matter your identity or where you are in your career, you should make every effort to build your network—and that doesn’t just start at your job,” Morales says.

There are a number of professional organizations that support women and individuals from underrepresented groups, such as The National Association of African Americans in Human Resources, Propsanica: The National Association of Hispanic Professionals, Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. These groups are usually organized according to profession, so you should be able to find one that aligns with your career goals and needs.

Also, if you’re a jobseeker, research companies that already offer established programs that can help build your internal network. For instance, LinkedIn provides an Allyship Academy that focuses on training employees to remove bias from their language and support inclusive partnerships at work. This kind of program provides opportunities for underrepresented employees to build new allies across LinkedIn and learn leadership skills while bolstering their network.

Whether you’re searching for your first entry-level job or planning your next career move, make researching diversity programs and professional organizations part of your routine job search or career planning. When you speak to a hiring manager for a company, be prepared to ask about networking groups, workplace diversity and programs that support your goals.

SEEK "MENTORING MOMENTS."

If you ask someone to be your mentor, depending on their work schedule and availability, sometimes that request can feel like a long-term commitment which can be difficult to maintain. For this reason, instead of requesting a lengthy mentorship, Morales encourages employees and jobseekers to consider “mentoring moments.”

“Yes, mentorship is important but it doesn’t have to all fall on one person,” Morales says. “I focus more on having mentoring moments. That means when I have a question about a career move or an idea that I want to discuss with someone I trust, I call that person in my network and ask them out for coffee. During that conversation, they may coach or advise me, which is a mentoring moment. Strive for those in the early stages of your career.”

Awwad also encourages women to pursue similar mentoring moments. For instance, members of EDGE were encouraged to participate in Girls on the Run, an event that allows female mentors to identify a young girl from the Girls on the Run organization to accompany during a 5K marathon. The girls and mentors run together during the event where they have a chance to interact and learn more about each other.

“It’s really fun,” says Awwad. “We run with the girls and talk about their goals or anything on their minds.” Small, event-based activities can help foster “mentoring moments” that feel authentic and create opportunities for future networking.

DO GREAT WORK AND HIGHLIGHT IT AT YOUR COMPANY.

“Culturally, depending on a person’s background, it can be very challenging to discuss your accomplishments and work because some people may associate this with bragging and boasting, but it’s not,” says Morales. “Some people are encouraged to lead more with a community mentality that focuses on ‘us’ rather than ‘self.’ If a person comes from a culture or background where talking about themselves isn’t common, focusing on their own accomplishments may feel unnatural—but it’s essential.”

To succeed in business settings, jobseekers and employees from underrepresented groups should become comfortable discussing their accomplishments among business leaders because “that’s a key component to thriving in a company or corporation,” says Morales. “Heads down and hard work doesn’t get you very far, so find someone who can help you amplify your work because when you share your work, you find sponsors and leaders who are willing to support you, which is precisely what you want to grow in your career.”

Leadership Resources for Underrepresented Groups

Whether you pursue a management position, take the lead on writing inclusive policies or start your own company to champion workplace diversity, employees who want to spark change in their industry can benefit from leadership skills. Below, you’ll find resources* that can help you develop your leadership abilities and connect with organizations that understand the importance of diversity in the workplace.

Women in Leadership

CAREER RESOURCES FOR WOMEN:

  • Advice for Women Executives — The Harvard Business Review interviews female CEOs for their insights on executive positions and how more women can succeed in leadership roles in the workplace.

  • Business Professional Women's Foundation (BPW) — In the field of business, women are often underrepresented in leadership, particularly among managerial and executive roles. The BPW Foundation supports diversity in the workplace by advocating for women in business, particularly when it comes to equal pay for equal work.
  • Million Women Mentors (MWM) — Mentors play an important role in the lives of young people and new professionals; however, in fields where women lack fair representation, mentors can be hard to find. MWM is an organization dedicated to connecting girls and women with mentors in the STEM fields.

  • National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) — NAFE provides networking and career advice for female executives. It can also help women who want to break into leadership roles.
  • Women in Technology International (WITI) — Women have historically been underrepresented in technology fields. WITI aims to provide resources for women across the world to enter the tech industry and connect with their peers.

LGBTQ+

CAREER RESOURCES FOR LGBTQ+ PROFESSIONALS:

  • Corporate Equality Index — The Human Rights Campaign maintains an index of corporations according to the steps they’ve taken to ensure LGBTQ equality within their ranks.

  • Movement Advancement Project — MAP maintains an interactive map that tracks LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws by state in employment and other areas of life. Many states have yet to adopt anti-discrimination measures based on sexual orientation or gender identity, while some are covered by federal circuit court rulings.
  • National LGBT Chamber of Commerce — The NGLCC is an organization dedicated to representing and connecting LGBTQ-inclusive businesses as well as businesses owned and operated by members of the LGBTQ community.

  • Out & Equal’s LGBT CareerLink — Out & Equal maintains a CareerLink service, which helps to connect LGBTQ professionals with LGBTQ-inclusive companies that desire to strengthen workplace diversity and community among LGBTQ employees.

Historically Underrepresented Populations

CAREER RESOURCES FOR HISTORICALLY UNDERREPRESENTED POPULATIONS:

  • American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) — AISES is an organization specifically  for American Indians in STEM fields, where this racial minority is critically underrepresented.

  • Ethnic Minority Leadership — The American Psychological Association published an article celebrating diverse leaders and the ways sharing unique perspectives help enliven and enrich diverse communities. The article examines the leadership of Barack Obama as a powerful example.
  • Latpro — Latpro is an online community designed for bilingual English and Spanish speakers. It connects bilingual professionals with jobs where their skills can be put to good use. Bilingual leaders in the workplace can help to connect different groups in the office and ensure that people of multiple backgrounds are represented by leadership.

  • Minority Business Development Agency — The U.S. Department of Commerce offers loans and grants specifically to help minorities enter the world of business. They also collect research and data related to minorities in the business world.
  • National Society of Black Engineers — African-Americans are especially underrepresented in the field of engineering. The NSBE offers leadership training for members, along with other professional development activities, mentoring, and career placement services.

  •  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people against discrimination in employment based on color and national origin—among other identifiers. The act offers legislative support for workplace diversity and the rights of underrepresented employees. As a person of color in the workplace, it’s important to know your rights and that you cannot be denied professional advancement on the basis of skin color.

Veterans and Military Service Members

CAREER RESOURCES FOR VETERANS AND MILITARY SERVICE MEMBERS:

  • Career One Stop’s Transition Center — Career One Stop is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. They offer job training, financial help and other employment resources for veterans.

  • Common Challenges Faced During Reintegration — The Mental Health Services division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has identified some of the challenges that veterans can face when it comes to re-entering civilian life.
  • Resources for Transitioning Veterans — For veterans, transitioning from military service to civilian life can be a difficult process. DeVry University has developed many resources available to help veterans with this process.

  • VA Employment Toolkit — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs maintains an employment toolkit for veterans, which contains information as well as links to other resources that can help veterans to reintegrate into civilian life.

Individuals with Disabilities

CAREER RESOURCES FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES:

  • Ability Jobs — Ability Jobs is a website that connects job seekers with disabilities to employers  who are interested in building diversity in the workplace and supplementing their workforce with the perspectives of people with disabilities.
  • ADA Checklist — The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 set forth the current standards for accessible workplaces. This checklist can help you ensure that your workplace is ADA-compliant and welcoming to individuals with disabilities.

  • Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities — COSD is an organization dedicated to connecting students with disabilities to employers who value their skills and abilities.

Workplace Diversity: A Clarion Call for Progress

No matter the industry, diversity in the workplace will remain a key metric of success for businesses and companies. It’s critical to find new approaches that support women, people of color and individuals from underrepresented groups if companies wish to sustain a more diverse workforce in upcoming decades.

“Companies have made progress with diversity in the last 10 years but they still have a long way to go. There’s no denying the importance of diversity in the workplace—it’s a valuable business decision and an asset to all employees. Future-forward business leaders can benefit from finding new ways to support diverse candidates,” says Awwad. “As we take steps toward creative solutions, I’m confident that employees from underrepresented groups can flourish in companies where they feel supported in their talents and free to be themselves.”

"There's no denying the importance of diversity in the workplace—it's a valuable business decision and an asset to all employees."

Elise Awwad

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