Authored by Risha Grant, Diversity Expert
As you begin to hear more and more about companies building a diverse workforce and embracing diversity and inclusion initiatives, many employees wonder if the company is serious about change or simply checking a box. Diversity and Inclusion consultants and speakers like myself are brought in to implement and begin the uncomfortable conversations and get everyone open and excited. When all is said and done, most employees want to know two things—’Is this really a safe space where I can show up authentically?’ and ‘Is my diversity really seen as a strength?’
Some industries still lag far behind others in embracing both social responsibility and the new revenue streams associated with Diversity and Inclusion (D & I). Finance is one of them. This industry remains overwhelmingly white and has a long way to go in reflecting the diversity of our nation.
The 2015 article in Investment News “A Diversity Problem” shows that more than 79 percent of 434,000 financial advisors are white, even though whites only make up 63 percent of the U.S. population.
The finance industry is not unlike other industries in the fact that it should understand that attracting diverse consumers and employees creates a competitive and economic advantage. Money in diverse communities is at an all-time high with an increase in disposable income. The Investment News article lists, “The wealthiest fifth of African-Americans, more than 3 million households, has an average wealth of $395,000. The wealthiest fifth of Asians, about 788,000 households, has an average wealth of more than $1 million, and the top fifth of Hispanics, more than 2.1 million households, has an average wealth of more than $400,000.” What would 1 percent of these numbers do for your bottom line?
From a social responsibility standpoint, allowing your employees to show up authentically changes the game in your company culture. Happier employees are also more productive employees. Employers hire people because of the skill set they will bring to the company but then strip them of the freedom to be creative through conformity. It’s important to have policies and rules in place but it’s also important to create a space that allows people to flourish. It starts with allowing people to show up authentically and even helping them to see their diversity as a strength.
The Center for American Progress report Progress 2050: New Ideas for a Diverse America shares these stats to support diversity as a strength to companies.
Businesses need to adapt to our changing nation to be competitive in the economic market. Census data tell us that by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in our country. Further, between 2000 and 2050 new immigrants and their children will account for 83 percent of the growth in the working-age population. Our economy will grow and benefit from these changing demographics if businesses commit to meeting the needs of diverse communities as workers and consumers.
The Center for American Progress goes on to point out the top economic facts of diversity in the workplace.
A Diverse Workforce:
…Drives economic growth
Our nation’s human capital substantially grows as more women, racial and ethnic minorities, and gay and transgender individuals enter the workforce. A McKinsey & Company study on “Unlocking the full potential for women at work”, for example, found that the increase in women’s overall share of labor in the United States—women went from holding 37 percent of all jobs to 47 percent over the past 40 years—has accounted for about a quarter of current GDP.
…Captures a greater share of the consumer market
By bringing together individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, businesses can more effectively market to consumers from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, women, and consumers who are gay or transgender. It is no surprise then that studies show diversifying the workplace helps businesses increase their market share.
…Means a more qualified workforce.
When companies recruit from a diverse set of potential employees, they are more likely to hire the best and the brightest in the labor market. In an increasingly competitive economy where talent is crucial to improving the bottom line, pooling from the largest and most diverse set of candidates is increasingly necessary to succeed in the market.
…Helps businesses avoid employee turnover costs
Businesses that fail to foster inclusive workplaces see higher turnover rates than businesses that value a diverse workforce because they foster a hostile work environment that forces employees to leave. The failure to retain qualified employees results in avoidable turnover-related costs at the expense of a company’s profits. Having a diverse and discrimination-free work environment helps businesses avoid these costs.
…Fosters a more creative and innovative workforce
Bringing together workers with different qualifications, backgrounds, and experiences are all key to effective problem solving on the job. Similarly, diversity breeds creativity and innovation. Of 321 large global enterprises—companies with at least $500 million in annual revenue—surveyed in a Forbes study in 2011 “Fostering innovation in a diverse workplace”, 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.
…Is necessary to create a competitive economy in a globalized world.
As communities continue to grow, it’s important to harness the talent of all Americans. Businesses should continue to capitalize on the growth of women, people of color, and gay and transgender people in the labor force. Our increasing diversity is a great opportunity for the United States to become more competitive in the global economy by capitalizing on the unique talents and contributions that diverse communities bring to the table.
Diversity Is a Strength!
Many companies truly respect what diverse professionals bring to the table. They may not yet know how to apply it so that it provides them with a competitive edge but this is where I come in.
Here are three things your employees can do to display their diversity as a strength.
1. Don’t be afraid to show your diversity.
I realize this may be easy for people of color, those with a disability or any visible diversity—but take it a step further. Show how you think differently because of your diversity.
For example: I am an African American woman who is engrossed in the black community and culture. I would be an asset to this company because I have a pulse on my community, their buying habits, likes and dislikes. This company can use my knowledge to attract the African American market to our products and services.
2. Be Outspoken.
As diversity issues inevitably arise in the workplace, be someone who is fair, rational and outspoken about these issues. Step forward with a well thought out solution and discuss it with your HR Department.
For example: There is a situation in which LGBT employees feel marginalized—you could work with someone in that group to put together a plan for an employee resource group. This would help them to have a collective voice that would gain better results from management.
3. Be Open to Diverse Issues.
I always encourage honest conversation about issues of Diversity and Inclusion. There is no way to move forward if we can never discuss what happened. I know that you cannot answer every question pertaining to whichever diverse category you fall into but it’s great to be someone who is open for the dialogue in a way that is respectful.
For example: I had someone who worked in my office of the Mormon faith. This was during the time that Warren Jeffs, who was the leader of a particular sect of the Mormon Religion, was being investigated for a ton of alleged crimes. I walked in the office and made a joke about it. It was risky but because she knew who I was as a person, we were able to discuss her religion and I learned a lot about her faith. To this day, we still discuss many different issues of diversity with respect for each other and the issue itself.
Don’t be afraid, be outspoken and be open—these things will lead to a work environment that is more open and comfortable for everyone while showing you as a leader whose diversity provides a competitive advantage to any company who has the opportunity to call you an employee.
Diversity and Inclusion is a simple concept to grasp and implement. It’s all about humanity, respect and dignity. In its simplicity, it’s easy to see how creating a workforce and consumer base of a diverse and inclusive culture can also build your brand within new markets. Keep in mind, companies that don’t embrace diversity and inclusion today will miss out—but companies that don’t embrace diversity and inclusion tomorrow will become obsolete.
Risha Grant is a diversity and inclusion expert, author of That’s BS, and the founder of Risha Grant, LLC, the only award-winning, full-service diversity communications firm in Oklahoma.