Workplace Diversity and Inclusion 101

No one likes feeling left out.

Gaining entry and achieving acceptance in an industry or workplace isn’t always easy when you don’t look like everyone else, or you don’t share similar experiences and backgrounds.

But when you’re firmly entrenched among a majority population, it’s often difficult to see what your workplace might be lacking. For some, diversity and inclusion might still seem like just politically correct buzzwords, but in this day and age companies can’t afford to ignore them. A diverse workforce is something that a diverse collection of customers picks up on and is likely to reward, and it can completely change the way you go about your business.

On Thursday, May 12, Angela Russell, manager of diversity and inclusion at CUNA Mutual Group, will present “Fostering Diversity in the Workplace,” the latest installment of the popular IB Seminar Series from 9–11 a.m. at the Alliant Energy Center.

Whether your business is developing its first diversity strategy or evaluating its current practices, Russell promises to provide attendees with the tools necessary to create an inclusive corporate culture that’s also good for business.

Facing facts

If an organization is committed to building a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, Russell notes, it needs to be willing to have honest conversations across the organization about the topic, starting with its leadership.

That means delving deeper than just looking around the office and not seeing enough minorities or women represented among the staff.

“I think a simple eye test could be misleading and counterproductive for organizations,” says Russell. “Diversity includes — but is not limited to — race, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, veteran status, and ability status. The simple eye test won’t help organizations identify all the visible and invisible characteristics of diversity.”

According to Russell, an inclusive work environment is a work environment where everyone can participate and is valued regardless of differences. In addition, an inclusive organization creates an environment where a variety of backgrounds, skills, experiences, and perspectives are fostered and contribute to the organization’s success.

One of the things people need to know is how subtle, even unconscious biases enter into their thinking at various decision points in the recruiting process.

To evaluate personal biases, Russell recommends taking Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test. The free, online test can help uncover your biases regarding race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status. It’s not necessarily easy for someone to acknowledge implicit bias, but once the implicit becomes explicit, “you’re able to make better decisions,” Russell says. “If you don’t acknowledge it, you can’t work on it.”

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Russell says a common question employers have is, what if qualified minorities just aren’t applying for jobs with our company?

This actually detours the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion, she notes. “Employers need to know that there are many highly qualified, diverse applicants available for a variety of jobs. Employers need to find ways to connect with a variety of qualified candidates.”

To address this issue, Russell recommends:

  • Expand your network. So much of getting connected to opportunities is based on whom you know. Take a look at your professional and personal networks. Are the key people in your network just like you? If so, look at ways to expand your reach.
  • Rethink your job descriptions. Job descriptions play a critical role in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. Unconscious bias can show up in job announcements and job descriptions. Organizations need to ensure jobs descriptions don’t unintentionally send the message that certain types of people need not apply.
  • Evaluate your job postings. Employers should examine where job advertisements are being placed. In the Madison area, there are a number of places and organizations that can help you reach a more diverse candidate pool. Some to consider are: Capital City Hues, the Latino Professionals Association, Madison365.com, the Madison Network of Black Professionals, and Our Lives Magazine. There are also a variety of different professional associations that can help you reach a wider audience of applicants.

Takeaways

According to Russell, her “Fostering Diversity in the Workplace” presentation will focus on:

  • Key foundational concepts: diversity, equity, inclusion, and implicit bias.
  • The importance of leadership commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • The difference between transactional change and transformational change.
  • The importance of data and accountability.
  • The significance of recognizing early wins.

“Each of the session participants should leave with at least one takeaway that they could use to begin the journey of diversity, equity, and inclusion within their own organization,” she adds.

For more information and to register for the program, visit ibmadison.com/seminars.

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