"Diversity is about all the ways we are similar and dissimilar," said Faye Richardson-Green, Interim Executive Director, Partners for a Racism Free Community.
"It's all the ways that make us who we are."
A strong case exists for diversity in the workplace. Research shows that organizations with heterogeneous thoughts, presence and voice are much more innovative, adaptive and successful in the market.
On one level, diversity is a talent and fiscal issue.
On another level, it's an issue of social well-being.
Pat Sosa VerDuin and Shannon Cohen, co-founders of Sisters Who Lead, an affinity space for female leaders of color in West Michigan, note diversity does not stand alone. Diversity is a progression toward inclusion and equity—toward equitable access, opportunity and outcomes.
"The biggest equity issue in this country is embedded in our history around race and gender," said Richardson-Green. For instance, women of color—specifically black and Latina—tend to receive lower pay for the same work.
While equity issues are most often framed as advocacy work for politics and nonprofit operations, organizations in all sectors are uniquely positioned for progress by promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
"The solution will not be linear," Cohen said.
"It will require head and heart engagement. It will be messy. It will be awkward."
It has to start somewhere.
"The thing most people don't consider is that diversity is about all of us," Richardson-Green said. "Diversity doesn't exist in this group or that group. Diversity exists within each of us."
Diversity has external and internal characteristics. While visual differences, such as skin and hair color, are the most noticeable, traits that differentiate us the most are those we cannot see—such as geographical beginnings, education and lifestyle.
Recognize the diversity mixture in your workplace that already exists. Ask what elements you're missing, to improve the outcomes your organization wants to achieve. It's not just about the diversity within your workplace, but also your vendors, clients and customers.
"A lot of people talk about wanting a diverse office," Richardson-Green said, "but people tend to be comfortable with status quo and similarities."
Attracting diversity requires stepping away from the norm. When looking for new talent, many organizations go to their typical well. Organizations could expand their network by looking to "new" organizations for employees, clients, customers and vendors.
Diversity alone is a revolving door, however. "The days are gone when people want to be tokenized," Cohen said.
To attract and retain diversity, organizations must also focus on inclusion and equity—and that requires a deep look at corporate culture.
Diversity, inclusion and equity are not solely statistical.
Sosa VerDuin and Cohen recently researched the intersection of race, gender and leadership in their study Invisible Walls, Ceilings & Floors. The numbers, they note, clearly identify gaps and disparities in the presence of and opportunities for women of color in leadership roles. Yet the conversations regarding root causes of inequities remain surface-level. To help give voice to those marginalized, they also collected stories of the women surveyed.
"One of the main things women talked about was a feeling of belonging," Sosa VerDuin said. "That's a universal human need."
Cohen notes organizations must look at formal and informal culture; policies, practices and procedures, as well as conversations and interactions among employees. "Does it represent the sharing of power? The inclusion of voice?"
Diversity and inclusion professionals are not necessary for any organization with a serious intent to create equity, but outside experts offer an objective perspective. With or without experts, promoting diversity, inclusion and equity requires engagement of leadership at all levels, research, authentic dialogue and experimentation.
An inclusive corporate culture requires intentional conversations among employees and allows everyone—especially the marginalized voices—to speak into the design of formal and informal elements.
"It will mean disrupting the status quo," Sosa VerDuin said.
And it's important to understand what's at stake: an innovative, adaptive and successful workplace, and communities allowing equitable access, opportunities and outcomes for all.
Written by Cassie Westrate and previously published through Serendipity Media.