The Business of Inclusion
As a country, we are in the midst of a massive shift in our population’s demographics. The United States is a more diverse place today than it was 50 years ago — or 20, or 10.
Throughout my career, I’ve focused on helping businesses not just respond to these changes but also embrace them by fostering workplaces and communities that are welcoming to all people. For businesses, this work is more essential today than ever: Building and retaining a strong, diverse workforce leads to positive outcomes — from a healthier bottom line to a more vibrant and resilient community.
I began this work in my 20s as a newly graduated engineering student helping employers promote careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields among women and minorities. I’m proud to continue it today by leading the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque’s new Business Leader Equity Cohort. In this group, CEOs and other executives from some of our region’s largest employers are sharing experiences with recruiting and retaining employees by focusing on practices that foster a sense of inclusiveness, both in the workplace and the community.
The issues we discuss are elemental to any business looking to remain strong and relevant:
- What do we want our local businesses to look like in the future, and what are we doing to make that happen?
- How do we recognize the changing talent pool and cast a wider net in our hiring?
- How do we ensure that new hires feel welcome and included in our workplaces and community?
A top priority
These are questions I’ve been helping business leaders ask for decades. And I’m always encouraged when I see CEOs and business owners taking part in collaborative efforts like the Business Cohort.
I’ve worked with companies that require employees to complete diversity training but whose executives de-prioritize those same trainings for themselves. However, I know from experience that these practices only become engrained in a company’s culture with buy-in and rigorous support from the highest organizational levels.
I’ve seen some employers do this work well — and reap the benefits of a more engaged, loyal and satisfied workforce. I’ve seen companies broaden their recruiting efforts by branching out to different job fairs. I’ve seen organizations detail diversity goals in their strategic plans. I’ve seen companies implement creative strategies to develop diverse talent pipelines.
When I see employers take these types of initiatives, I then have the pleasure of sharing them with others like the Business Cohort members.
Within — and beyond — the workplace walls
In the Business Cohort, we explore how building a culture of inclusion takes time and goes deeper than simply hiring people of different races or ethnicities. For example, it’s important to understand that each employee:
- Is an individual who doesn’t leave their own experiences and culture at the workplace door.
- Needs to develop and grow in ways that will allow them to flourish.
- Should feel valued and welcome.
At the root of this culture of inclusion is respect. Respect goes a long way, and, as I was recently reminded, is free.
These principles extend beyond work hours, too, requiring us to truly listen to all the needs of employees. How are employees and their families faring in the community outside the workplace? Can they find a quality school for their children? A church? Recreational opportunities? Housing?
What are the small, but significant ways we can show an employee that we care? It could be as easy as accommodating their work schedule for a holiday they celebrate — even if other employees do not. Simple gestures that recognize a person’s value speak volumes.
Taking the next step
Much has changed since I began engaging in this work decades ago. More employers today recognize the value of asking tough questions about diversity and inclusion in their own workplaces.
Now comes the next step of providing answers to those questions and putting policies and practices into place that strengthen our business community for the future.