Diversity and Inclusion: It's Not Just For Big Companies Anymore

As our nation becomes more and more of a melting pot with people of all nationalities, religions, political views, economic backgrounds, lifestyles and upbringings, the importance of acknowledging and accepting these differences becomes increasingly critical to the success of an organization. In the last decade, the terms diversity and inclusion have become widespread in conversations among Human Resources professionals. Although when we hear of these programs, oftentimes it is in reference to large, Fortune 500 companies, these programs can have a very positive impact with companies of all sizes. We have learned through feedback from research and surveys by various groups that there are many benefits of having and valuing a diverse group of people. These benefits include reduced turnover, increased employee morale, increased productivity and creativity, more effective marketing efforts, increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, and a decrease in complaints and law suits. Why can't small companies reap the benefits of having diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace? Well the answer is, "they can". Smaller companies tend to believe that a big budget is necessary to have diversity and inclusion programs or initiatives in place. Who says you have to have a big budget in order to have an effective diversity program? In fact, you can have a program in place with little to no budget at all. How? Let me give you a glimpse of what I experienced years ago when I managed a remote office of less than 20 employees. Although the company was growing to several hundred employees at the time, there was no diversity program in place. Because the small group of employees who worked with me at our remote office was diverse in areas such as race, ethnicity, nationality, and age, I thought a diversity program was important. Such a program would give us opportunities to have open, honest and respectful conversations of how we are different and yet similar in order to understand each other better and work together more effectively as a team. Another incentive of diversity training was the fact that we interacted with clients from across the United States on a daily basis. It was, therefore, also important to understand differences in regions, religions, cultures, etc. The following gives you a glimpse of some things any company can do with little to no budget for diversity and inclusion efforts. 1. Speakers: Employees enjoy having people from diverse backgrounds come to the workplace and educate them on their experiences, cultures, and beliefs so that biases and stereotypes can be broken. For our small group, I decided to expose our office to people that they typically would not interact with on a day to day basis. One of the speakers was a rabbi from a local synagogue. Since we had employees in other offices, as well as clients, who were Jewish, this provided an excellent opportunity to understand how their different religious beliefs might impact how we interact with them. We had a lively discussion and learned a lot, especially regarding the importance of being sensitive to the days of religious observances as well as dietary restrictions. This is important when planning a company event where food will be served, as well as being mindful when setting a date for a company event so that it does not fall on a day of their religious observances. Another speaker was brought in who was a college professor and in charge of the training program at a local university for persons with disabilities. This also proved to be a very informative discussion about how persons with disabilities are able to do things that most people would think they are limited to performing. We learned about different assistive devices available to help someone with physical impairments to do a job, and we also were given the names of agencies and resources available to assist with accommodation requests if we ever needed to assist an applicant or employee with an accommodation due to a disability. Our third speaker was in charge of a local Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender group in our area. This proved to be the most powerful discussion of the three because there were so many stereotypes formed about persons with a different sexual orientation than those who worked in the office at the time. Some had very deep-rooted religious beliefs which made the topic to be covered a bit uncomfortable. My response to the concerns raised by a few was, because of their discomfort level, it made it even more important to keep an open mind and really try to understand others' points of view. The speaker proved to be very effective in helping us break through some of the stereotypes which were rather ridiculous. At the end of the day, everyone appreciated having the session. The key to these learning opportunities is to focus on respecting everyone, even if you do not agree with their lifestyle or viewpoints. How much did these training sessions cost us? Nothing. It's not that difficult to find people who are willing to share a little bit about themselves to a group of eager listeners. And since we had these sessions during lunch time, there was no missed productivity either. 2. Share articles from publications on diversity. This is also another wonderful way of getting information out to the group that is educational. There are many professional publications out there which require no subscription fees to obtain the information. There are websites also which give limited access to information regarding diversity and inclusion if you are not a paid subscriber, such as Diversity, Inc., SHRM, and INSIGHT into Diversity. 3. Social media. There are a large array of groups on sites such as LinkedIn which cater to diversity and inclusion. They provide a wealth of knowledge and opportunities for training as well. And, you get connected with other professionals who are experts in this arena who are usually very open to answering questions from other members. 4. Outreach. Many surveys have resulted in feedback that employees enjoy doing volunteer work. It is a great tool for not only giving back to the community, but also building teamwork skills and boosting morale. Groups such as Ronald McDonald House, veterans' rehabilitation services, nursing homes, and Habitat for Humanity are just a sample of the many great organizations which are always looking for volunteers. 5. Implicit bias test: A key to overcoming behaviors which can be based on biases and stereotypical thinking is to acknowledge that you have biases to begin with. There is a testing tool which is free to the public and gives you results on where you might have biases. To take the tests available, go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/. 6. Celebrate diversity dates: Why not have some fun enjoying special diversity dates or months such as Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian/Pacific Islander Month, Black History Month and Disability Awareness Month? If you have veterans employed with your company, they would appreciate a simple email or card thanking them for their service to our country on dates such as Veterans Day. There are lots of things an office can do to celebrate these special dates. For diversity celebrations which focus on a race, ethnicity or culture; such as Hispanics; you can have employees bring food from different Spanish-speaking countries. Our office celebrated a different culture for several months by not only having food brought in by employees, but also having employees give us a presentation on what they learned about the culture. 7. Acknowledge accomplishments of all persons: This is something that is simple yet powerful in boosting morale within the organization. You can have a bulletin board posting accomplishments of employees both at work and in their community. Some companies use emails or newsletters or their intranet to post these accomplishments. 8. Outings/cultural events/read books: Why not have a field trip once in a while? It doesn't have to be during work hours. Many employees would enjoy meeting after work or on the weekend as well if taking some time during the workday would present an issue. One day, we had a field trip to the World War II Museum in honor of Veterans Day. They showed a short film on the war effort and the important role Americans played and we took a tour through the museum. Another idea is to watch a movie. It can be during the lunch period and it doesn't have to be seen all in one day. We watched films such as Philadelphia and Schindler's List which were powerful in helping us understand injustice that people of different backgrounds have had to face. Or, perhaps have people read a book, such as Blink, and discuss the book during lunch. 9. Surveys: Surveys are a powerful tool to help understand your employees and then tailor teaching techniques or other things to motivate them to be more productive and to be happy at work. We created our own short surveys which asked questions such as "are you a visual or oral learner?", and "how do you like to be rewarded for a job well done?" These are pretty straightforward questions but the answers to these questions can give us insight to some rather powerful information that, when used properly, can really help your employees be more productive and stay motivated. Rewarding employees for a job well done does not necessarily cost the company a dime. Some employees will let you know they enjoy public acknowledgments for a job well done while others find it embarrassing and would rather get a private thank you for a job well done. Other surveys can be used to measure how the company feels about inclusiveness within the organization. 10. Team Building Exercises. This is a fun but effective way that employees can get to know one another and appreciate differences. We had a day where everyone answered a list of questions ranging from "how many brothers and sisters do you have" to "what is your favorite song". The employees then had lots of fun when the facilitator would give us the answers one by one, and the group had to guess who answered in that manner. So, you see from the above list of examples that having diversity and inclusion initiatives can be fun, free (or cheap), and effective. Don't just focus on getting a diverse group of people hired. It's necessary to do more to keep them happy in order to retain this valuable pool of talented people. Julia Mendez, CAAPS, PHR, CELS Principal Business Consultant

Back to Articles