There’s a lot of talk these days about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. But what do those terms really mean? And how can you build a workplace culture that embodies these ideas?
Diversity is good for business. A team composed of people who are diverse in age, gender, race, physical ability, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, and experiences has more perspectives to offer than a homogeneous team. Diverse teams are more likely to correct errors during deliberations, to process information more carefully, and to be more innovative than homogeneous teams. The problem is that homogeneous teams feel better—right up until they fail.
But just having diverse people on a team isn’t enough. Each member of the team needs to be fully engaged and encouraged to share ideas and opinions freely. The company culture, at all levels, should encourage different perspectives on any given topic and communicate their value.
Simple things can help promote diversity and inclusion. For example, use gender-neutral language in your documents, web content, publications, and pictures. When ordering clothing as giveaways, include a wide range of sizes. Inclusion means inclusion in all things. Unless it’s in someone’s job description, making the coffee, adding more copier paper, and doing other “household” chores should be everyone’s responsibility and shared equally.
When preparing for meetings, provide materials to attendees in advance so they have time to conduct research and formulate opinions. Discourage interruptions during discussions, and make sure you give credit to the originator of an idea when someone later repeats that idea. Go around the room and ask everyone for their opinion before a decision is made (but allow people to pass if they want) to make sure no one is left out.
In addition to diversity and inclusion, two other concepts that are often conflated are equality and equity. While equality (giving everyone the same things) is easier, equity (ensuring that each person has what they need to be successful) is what actually makes a more successful workplace.
What is valuable to one person may be useless to another. This leads to waste, such as when everyone is covered by the company’s health insurance, even though some employees are already covered elsewhere. By switching to “cafeteria style” benefits, where each employee selects from a list of possible benefits, organizations can reduce waste and empower employees to get their most important needs met so they can focus on their jobs.
Ask your employees what they need to be successful, and then find a way to give it to them. Maybe something as simple as a separate fridge for kosher food or vegetarian options at catered lunches would allow more employees to participate without violating their personal beliefs.
Although it can be hard for scientists and other analytical people to share personal stories or opinions and talk about difficult topics, you need to create a work environment where people are encouraged to think about and discuss their unconscious biases. It will be difficult at first, but until the issues are identified and brought out into the open, you can’t begin to solve them.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).