From late-stage startups to Fortune 100 enterprises, Diversity & Inclusion ranks high on virtually every company’s list of workplace priorities. But despite meaning well, not every organization promotes diversity in its realest sense. My Ally digs deeper into what true diversity really means.
When it comes to building a diverse workplace, some parameters come more naturally to companies than others. Gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, education, experience, personality, and location are all fairly straightforward to build around.
But while it’s relatively common to see workplaces that embrace people irrespective of how they dress, who they love or where they grew up, it’s the next layer of what sets us apart that many employers struggle to truly assimilate into their work culture.
Certain character traits and personal beliefs highlight just how diverse teams can be, and because they have the potential to rock the proverbial boat, a lot of companies either don’t prioritize or actively circumvent them.
We picked the five most contentious points that provide the difference between diversity in name and true diversity. Check out how your workplace can integrate and assimilate people who stand across the spectrum of these traits.
With the US experiencing its most politically volatile period since the Civil War, the divide between left and right is so vast and stark that people often forget there’s more to the spectrum of belief than just hardliners on either end.
Many candidates with conservative beliefs are comfortable working in traditionally liberal geographies like the Bay Area, just as liberal professionals are often at equal ease in conservative strongholds such as Dallas. Yet often, this is only possible if they keep their politics to themselves. In an ideal world, they shouldn’t have to.
But ideological diversity isn’t just limited to political beliefs.
The most successful organizations and dynasties in socio-political, economic and sporting history have typically included people with strongly differing opinions. The 1990s Chicago Bulls and the Moghul Empire are great examples of organizations that accepted people with vastly different beliefs.
While the minority opinion would have been ostracized in more restricted spaces, a culture of openness where disagreements focus on ideas rather than people served as a prerequisite to individual and collective success.
When it comes to accepting people with different ways of perceiving the world, many companies are hesitant or unwilling to stretch the definition of diversity. One big problem is the lack of exposure to more common conditions and how they affect the mind, as well as managers being unaware their employees may have these conditions.
While dyslexia impacts the perception of the written word, dyspraxia affects coordination, movement and spatial perception. Autism includes a spectrum of communication and behavioral challenges, including high-functioning forms such as Asperger’s Syndrome.
Professionals who have undergone therapy to help them learn, express and contribute to group efforts are often just as productive as their counterparts who don’t have those conditions. They may require certain adjustments to get the best out of them, but in truth this is no different than having team members who work remote or require specific software.
Companies that gloss over candidates with perception-based differences – consciously or otherwise – are missing out on a considerable pool of talent simply because they don’t want to make the effort to integrate them.
3. Physical & Mental Health
Workforce discrimination against people with physical health conditions and disabilities exists, but is often justified or disguised as the inability to perform a role. This begins with basic things like being overweight, and extends as far as having a condition like cerebral palsy or amputated limbs.
And when it comes to mental health, the situation is even trickier. Professionals and job seekers with depression, anxiety, PTSD and other related conditions often go to extreme lengths to hide them. This is because 38% believe employers will think they’re trying to get out of work, while 34% feel it will negatively impact their chances of promotion.
The result of employers not doing enough to be truly inclusive is a loss of $1 trillion in productivity each year. Quite simply, it’s obvious that a lack of true diversity can only be harmful to companies.
4. Criminal Records
More than 9 million people are released from US correctional facilities each year, with fewer than half finding work upon reintegrating into their communities. It’s not absurd to propose that somewhere in that considerably large population are a few people who can make a positive contribution to your company.
Key components of the growth process – personal or professional – include the ability to admit your mistakes and the opportunity to make amends. So when employers shun candidates just because they’ve been convicted of a crime, no one benefits. Companies miss out on a large applicant pool, while ex-convicts face an uphill struggle to be accepted by society once more.
The ex-convict label is a difficult one to overcome, especially when you’ve been convicted of violent or financial crimes. There’s a high degree of mistrust that society has been conditioned to place on such people, making reintegration difficult. Employers can help bridge the gap without taking risks by interviewing ex-convicts while still doing due diligence and thorough background checks.
Often called the last bastion of open discrimination in America’s workforce, ageism is a very real impediment to true workplace diversity. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals over the age of 50 are as much as 47% less likely to receive a callback when they apply to a job.
This is a serious flaw in recruiting policy. Not only are older workers proven to be more experienced and diligent, they’re also more willing to share their knowledge and help train the next generation. In fact, workers older than 50 are half as likely to resign in the short-term, which means it’s actually riskier to extensively invest in someone under 40 (which is a converse generalization to steer clear of).
The truth is that 20% of the workforce is older than 55. That’s a staggering 33 million professionals, each with dozens of years of experience and learning to bring to the table. For companies to actively say they don’t want that isn’t just discrimination; it’s bad business.
Embrace diversity for real.
American employers are embracing diversity more often and more openly than ever before, so a lack of effort is not the problem. It’s saying they won’t succeed without giving them a chance that does a disservice to companies and professionals alike.
With more awareness and a deeper understanding of the capabilities of different professionals, true diversity is certainly attainable for the vast majority of employers in the near future. And while it’s still a work in progress, just like building a successful company, true diversity happens one step and one day at a time.
Start today if you haven’t already.