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Recruiting and retaining employees is a top priority and challenge for most organizations. But many fail to take even the basic steps needed to attract and retain candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This is unfortunate, for many reasons, but especially because the benefits of diversity in the workplace are significant and numerous, and because research shows that the workforce of the future will be diverse.
Creating an inclusive organizational culture requires commitment. The goal should be to ensure that everyone in an organization feels welcome, valued, and supported. This is how you strengthen employee engagement and retention, and how you create a stage for teams that perform at a high level. On the flip side, organizational cultures that are not inclusive are more likely to experience negative outcomes in terms of employee satisfaction and retention, resulting in higher turnover rates and lower organizational performance.
Below are a few things you and your colleagues can do to create a more inclusive organizational culture. Note, however, that the suggestions are only a starting point. Building a truly inclusive culture requires deep commitment to change at every level of the organization as well as a willingness to model and sustain that change through shared values, the actions of leadership, and effective accountability mechanisms.
Highlight your organization's commitment to inclusivity. Make sure employees are aware of your organization's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and any inclusive benefits it offers (e.g., parental leave or flexible work arrangements). Also be sure to include a robust equal opportunity statement highlighting your organization's commitment to diversity and inclusion in all job descriptions and on your website. Beyond those simple steps, make an effort to provide regular trainings to employees on DEI-focused topics and encourage them to work with diverse partners, vendors, contractors, etc.
Facilitate collaboration across the organization. In too many organizations, departments are "siloed" and rarely given the chance to share ideas with other departments and functions. In contrast, inclusive workplaces encourage organization-wide collaboration. Because different employees with different skill sets (e.g., accounting, HR, fundraising, marketing) tend to bring different (and often fresh) perspectives to the table, such collaborations represent a new and creative way to problem-solve. The key to inclusive collaboration is to ensure that voices and ideas from across the organization are solicited and considered. For instance, all-staff meetings where employees at every level of the organization are encouraged to participate (and acknowledged for their participation) can be an effective way to "walk the talk" when it comes to collaboration.
Pay attention to your job descriptions. In many cases, a job description is often a candidate's first exposure to your organizational culture and values. The way a position is scoped, the words used to describe the ideal candidate, and the information that is (and is not) included — all speak volumes about the organization to a prospective candidate (as well as current staff members). Here are a few tips on how to make the language in your job descriptions more inclusive:
- Pay attention to gender pronouns. When crafting a job description (and other organizational communications), pay attention to both pronouns as well as "gender-coded" words. A growing number of progressively minded organizations are eliminating gendered pronouns altogether and using "they" instead of "he or she" or "s/he" in their job descriptions, newsletters, and emails. By avoiding gendered pronouns, you send a clear message to team members (and job candidates) that your organization is a place where LGBTQ+ employees and/or those who do not identify in a binary gender structure are welcome and supported.
- Be mindful of word choice. Words matter. Whether you're holding a staff meeting, recruiting a new candidate, or tapping an employee for a promotion or new project, focus on avoiding gender-coded words or words that are biased toward a specific gender. Words and phrases that many hear as male-gendered include "rock star," "home run," "guru," "competitive," and "dominant." Words that many hear as female-gendered include "collaborative," "patient," and "supportive." Research shows that such words and phrases really do influence whether people feel comfortable in a workplace and often are a significant factor in whether they even apply for a job, vie for a promotion, or ask to work on a special project.
- Celebrate the capacity to grow. Make it clear that your organization welcomes employees who have the requisite skills for a position AND the capacity to learn and grow. Then back it up with professional development and training opportunities. Encourage employees to take classes, participate in webinars, and work with mentors. Organizations that are dedicated to growing their employees and offer them opportunities for advancement are more likely to attract diverse people from underrepresented groups, retain those employees, and deliver more successful outcomes overall.
By committing to diversity and inclusion, your organization will position itself to reap a variety of benefits, including higher employee morale, loyalty, retention, and productivity. The above tips should help as you begin the journey to building a more welcoming culture centered around diversity, inclusion, creativity, and teamwork.
Have a tip of your own you'd like to share? We'd love to hear it!
Molly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, which is guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan recently authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.