Diversity: The New Workforce

By: Cecile Alper-Leroux at Ultimate Software
June 12, 2019

The below post is an excerpt from Cecile Alper-Leroux’s, VP of HCM Innovation at Ultimate Software, new book, 
From Dissonance to Resonance: Bringing Your People and Organization into Sync.

Diversity: The New Workforce

Today’s workforce is made up of a broad range of previously underrepresented groups of people—women, people of color, immigrants, disabled people, and LGBTQ individuals. For the most part, newer arrivals to the workforce are comfortable with diversity. They are accepting of and even expect diversity as a natural priority in their education and work institutions. But often our workplaces are full of biases that don’t represent what is actually happening in the world around us, and that needs to change for people to be in resonance with our organizations.

Diversity & inclusion initiatives and programs have entered the mainstream and moved beyond the realm of HR. In fact, diversity & inclusion (D&I) is increasingly becoming a component of companies’ employee recruitment and customer branding strategies. Businesses promote their D&I statistics to candidates in online recruiting materials and solutions and in annual report images, noting percentages of employed women, African Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ, disabled, and other underrepresented employee groups. Organizations that do not provide this information must answer to candidates factoring workforce diversity into their employment decisions.

Progress has been made. The problem is that these messages, images, and statistics focus on apparent diversity, which is fairly easy to manufacture in photographs and almost as easy to create and tally up with targeted hiring practices. Yet the truth about diversity is more nuanced. Both visible and unseen differences exist. Consequently, hiring for diversity does not ensure lasting diversity, resulting in a hidden “revolving door” of inequity in promotions, pay, and other critical measures of workplace health.

Adding to the complexity is that people may opt out of categorization. For example, an increasing number of employees are choosing to not identify as a single ethnic category, with more people stating that their heritage as “mixed.”  Women may choose not to participate in programs designed to benefit women because they want to be judged solely on their merits and not their gender, often knowing that the playing field is anything but uniformly equal and that meritocracy is a myth.

Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging

Creating an authentic culture of inclusion is much harder than achieving workforce diversity, yet it is just as critical. Without inclusion, if people sense that others judge them because they are “different,” this may adversely affect their self-esteem, freedom of expression, ability to collaborate openly, and their overall work engagement and productivity.

Why do so many companies fail at inclusion? One answer is implicit bias—ingrained stereotypes about different people that cloud the thinking of the dominant cultural paradigm, affecting understanding and decision-making. Implicit bias is not all-out racism, sexism, or any of the other –isms. All people are susceptible to snap judgments with no basis in fact about perceived differences—it’s hard-wired into our DNA. We do our best to ignore these instincts, but they’re frustratingly resilient, coloring our decisions and perceptions in ways we may not even realize.

While outward signs of prejudice can be met with immediate reprimands or job termination, implicit bias (or unconscious bias, as it is also called) is more difficult to perceive and manage. Whereas diversity can be measured across types of people, inclusion has to do with each person’s feelings about how the dominant or standard of workers in the organization perceive them. Eradicating implicit biases to make all employees feel valued, respected, and supported is far more difficult—yet more important—than tallying up varied demographic metrics.

How to Create Workplaces that are Resonant with Identity  

Tremendous business opportunities are available to companies that value the contributions of all their employees, whether they’re gay or straight, black or white. The more extensive the diversity of people in an organization, the greater the possibility of generating unique ideas and innovating.

A resonant workplace benefits organizational strength as much as it benefits the people working within it. When organizations are inclusive of the total workforce population, improved financial outcomes, a stronger economy, and a better society result.

Since the starting line is always different for underrepresented groups, companies building resonant organizations may need to tip the scales in favor of women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and neurodiverse people to achieve balance and desired outcomes. A culture that supports everyone in the workplace is a culture in which all people can flourish and achieve wonderful things.

While a resonant workplace makes managing and leading a workforce more complicated and challenging, it opens the door to new realms of economic opportunity. The incredible diversity of today’s workforce encompasses cultural attributes that will help companies create, enrich, and deliver new products and services for the entire spectrum of the world’s population.