Empowering Community at Work Through D&I

Published: Dec 11, 2020



A sense of belonging at work exists when employees are empowered to bring their best selves to work each day. Diversity and inclusion (D&I), respectively, are essential to assuring a positive experience at work. That’s what we want to safeguard. When employees are happily engaged in their job functions, they are motivated by a feeling of purpose.

As a female entrepreneur turned business owner, I feel very connected to D&I initiatives. Opportunity often hinges on an open door. I understand the value of having help in opening that proverbial door from my own personal experience. Even when you have all the confidence, experience, and skills needed to meet or exceed expectations, without the chance to use your talents, potential remains just that. That’s what diversity and inclusion are about—making sure there are no jammed doors inside your business.

To influence positive change within your hiring efforts, talk early and often about diversity. Here are some ways to make it part of your organization’s mission and value system:

Talk about diversity within your organization. This is my greatest takeaway from all the research and thought- provoking content I’ve been absorbing. By doing this frequently and early on with executive teams and recruiters, leaders can further the importance of these values and the urgency of related initiatives within their organizations. New ideas and perspectives are vital to ingenuity. For business to continue innovating, we have to address shortcomings and share best practices for overcoming them. It’s how we can continually learn and grow as businesses—and as human beings.

Attract talent based on the social and corporate commitments your company advertises. A message that conveys corporate values and reaches a broad audience can help build a diverse community at work. Consider making diversity and inclusion integral in your brand mission. This assures that diversity is a constant conversation at work, and that the people who embody corporate culture are wholly represented by the brand.

Take a look at your industry and your workforce. What is unique? What could make it fuller? The answers are different for every market, service, product, geography, and/or circumstance. Reflecting on the current landscape can help you plant seeds to assure a flourishing tomorrow.

To understand your workforce landscape, identify what works well and where you can impact positive change. Diversity isn’t just about gender or race. Age, education, geography, family status, religion, sexual orientation, and countless other factors are equally as important when it comes to diversity. The overarching message is about diversity of thought.

So capture the data within your organization. Voluntary, self-identifying surveys can help collect information, but it’s important to understand the blind spots. Certain aspects of diversity, such as religion and sexual orientation, are rather personal, and sharing these details directly with a manager may make an employee feel uncomfortable and deter him or her from self-identifying. Employers may want to use a third party or survey technology to capture information that will be reported. This way, privacy is assured, and all data can be aggregated neutrally without identifying information.

Review the information in detail to discover areas for improvement. Studying hiring success can better acquaint you with hiring pitfalls. For example, at Atrium, we are a Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)- certified business, and as such, our organization champions female empowerment. As a result, our company has no shortage of female talent or women executives helping to build our vision. It’s valuable to consistently evaluate and reevaluate hiring procedures to optimize change management outcomes.

To expand your sourcing efforts, take a structured approach that assures decisions are informed by neutral resources. If you’re not sure how to go about making initial changes, begin with assessing your hiring procedures. A more controlled approach to hiring can help overcome implicit bias. Decisions based on data offer a straightforward, measurable approach to reaching new talent goals. When it comes to building a diverse team, keep a hiring emphasis on groups that are underrepresented in your organization or geography. Focusing on how you can develop their career and leadership potential can further support talent retention of minority employees.

Be mindful about how your brand can strengthen relationships with underrepresented communities to connect with a greater candidate audience. Building relationships with universities, nonprofit organizations, and other talent communities can help ensure your workforce resembles the dynamic environment you wish to engage. When a company has an individual or a small team review resumes, it limits perspective. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to lessen the chance for unconscious bias. Circulating resumes to people outside of a specific business unit, division, or even industry can result in a wider lens to capture a more diverse candidate base. You can also consider partnering with a talent firm that has an established diverse candidate base to expand sourcing efforts.

Beyond diverse candidate pools, diverse recruitment strategies are necessary to reduce the potential for predisposition. By adopting a more comprehensive talent cycle as part of your hiring process, employers can realize potential at all levels to reinforce a diverse, able talent community. Talent technology can help ensure an all- inclusive candidate pipeline by refining your various talent communities, including early talent, contracted talent, new talent, talent returning to the workforce after leave, and any other potential your organization is pursuing. Continually engaging and/or reengaging talent ensures recruiting efforts are reaching all qualified talent for relevant open roles. These enhancements can reduce the potential for lost connections or lapsed communications to broaden your talent network and improve the overall candidate experience within your community.

To build inclusive environments, empower acceptance to reinforce community and a sense of belonging at work. We must go beyond the numbers to truly empower a sense of belonging. Brands with recruitment marketing strategies that engage workers at all levels and within various capacities—from early talent relationships established through internship opportunities to mid- or senior-level executives returning to the workforce—can develop an inclusive work environment that encourages employees to genuinely engage in their work and company culture.

When making a hiring decision, consider searching for talent that not only has the skills that fit well with your business needs but also can be a culture add that brings an aspect of diversity to your organization. With simultaneous human resources priorities and the administration that comes along with them, many companies are revolutionizing recruitment with talent technology, business intelligent software, and engagement solutions to help ensure the success of their workforce.

Communication tools can also be used to personalize the employee experience and empower a greater sense of community at work. Recently, our employee experience and diversity and inclusion managers conducted a voluntary poll of employees to learn which holidays they would like to see incorporated into the corporate calendar. The initiative grew engagement and cultural insight within our work community. By offering a platform by which all voices could be heard, we learned a lot about the cultures, ideals, and personal beliefs within our organization. Respecting these beliefs is important for relationship building, and knowing colleagues are invested in learning about them is meaningful. It can also be fulfilling for employees who may not have otherwise had the occasion to learn about a particular custom or tradition.

To realize the full potential of your workforce, encourage employees to bring their personal motivators to work. As we move between remote work and post COVID-19 office experiences, flexibility at work is something we are probably considering now more than ever. It’s true, at least in my opinion, that there is no real balance between work-life and life-life. Mental and physical well-being are shown to improve when employees feel comfortable as their authentic selves, rather than a perceived corporate persona or stereotype. By accepting work as part of life rather than the other way around, companies can be inherently more inclusive. Leading with compassion and making considerations with regard to flexible scheduling or remote opportunities can go a long way in reaching and retaining diverse talent, motivating employees, and reducing on-the-job stress. A healthy work environment assures the success and well-being of an all-inclusive workforce.

Recognizing the individual motivators that bring our employees to work each day is key to empowering acceptance at work. Regardless of what drives us, we have personal needs that are motivated by individual value sets. Research from the Society for Human Resource Management demonstrates that flexibility does not reduce productivity. Contrary to management concerns, leaders who work with employees to accommodate care duties, doctor appointments, and other personal obligations see increased productivity and engagement. Vital needs, personal or business, don’t pause to accommodate our schedules, and by being able to take care of ourselves, we are able to better care for our business. If you’d like to grow greater opportunity for more people and build a more inclusive work environment, consider establishing more autonomy within your organization when possible.

To fully embrace all voices within the workforce, make employee influence a part of the company’s strategic vision. Corporate culture is composed of many moving parts, so consistent communication about business updates and initiatives at the executive level and staff level creates an environment where employees feel they can safely contribute to the dialogue. You can enable participation at all levels by offering a communication platform by which all voices can be heard on a voluntary and anonymous basis, whether through employee surveys, experiential managers, HR leaders, or a third party. Incorporating staff feedback into team events, snack cabinets, and the corporate calendar of events helps individuals feel valued. To spark more diverse conversations, encourage employees to offer feedback for key business decisions. Topics such as corporate trainings, policies, and procedures—especially regarding diversity and inclusion—benefit from genuine employee feedback.

Celebrating company values frequently and consistently ensures they remain top of mind within the hiring process and conveys their importance within your corporate community. For more effective change management, many companies broaden their core value set to embrace new business initiatives like D&I. Learning and development investments— from the top down—ensure a full understanding of company values and how they relate to business best practices. To fully empower inclusivity, the most senior level leadership support is necessary. From executive management to entry-level management and staff at large, everyone in your company must understand the business case for D&I and its influence on your strategic goals. Identify a champion within your organization. Visible support of D&I encourages greater adoption of new policies and holds the business accountable for measuring its impact.

To empower community at work through diverse hiring and inclusive environments, remain accountable. Once you know the outcomes of employee surveys and people analytics, own the information. Continue sharing progress with your staff and announce milestones, recognitions, or other achievements to the public, as those improvements are sure to attract potential candidates. If the results are not meeting your objectives, communicate that with executive management and employees. Outcomes and bottlenecks are central to a thorough evaluation, and staff at all levels should be included in the feedback loop. Continue asking for input. Was training effective? Why or why not?

Review success and shortcomings and recalibrate where needed. Keep the conversation going. D&I initiatives are not static, so they will need constant evaluation and reassessment to keep them moving forward. Use metrics, and share successes and deficiencies. Encourage patience, persistence, and continued transparency to assure confidence in the changed processes, tools, and techniques. If the strategic plan you’ve developed is simply not working for your business, try going back to the beginning. Collect new data, pivot your strategy, and start over with a fresh perspective.

While inclusiveness is the right thing to do, it can also make the work we are doing more valuable because it cultivates a greater sense of belonging. To safeguard all-inclusive ideals and a value-based mission, your HR leader or partner should represent the people who embody your brand culture. Make sure this leader is a stakeholder in critical business decisions so that diversity, inclusion, and value-based decisions are what inform nearly every aspect of your business.

About the Author: Rebecca Cenni-Leventhal is founder and CEO of Atrium, an all-inclusive partner for talent and contingent solutions established in 1995. Atrium is recognized as a champion of supplier diversity, topping the lists of Inc. 5000 and Diversity Business as a leader of Women, Diversity and Privately Held organizations and recognized by the Women Presidents’ Organization as a “50 Fastest-Growing Women-Owned/Led Companies in North America.”