We’re making steady progress in the realm of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education estimates that by the year 2020, we’ll reach a minority representation in the workplace of 37%, nearly doubling the 18% figure back in 1980. With more than 44% of millennials classifying themselves as something other than “white,” that 37% figure still comes up short of the ideal, balanced ratio, but it’s still closer than we’ve ever been before.
What it doesn’t do is tell us how those 37% of workers will be included in their respective organizations; after all, if 37% of an organization’s employees are minorities, but its executive leaders are all white, that statistic would only provide the illusion of true representation. That’s one reason why millennials, who now make up 53.6% of the workforce, are pushing for more inclusion programs from their employers. But why is “inclusion” distinct from “diversity,” and what can organizations do to be more inclusive and attract better talent from the millennial generation?
Diversity vs. inclusion
First, you need to understand the distinction between diversity and inclusion. Diversity generally refers to an objective representation of people from different backgrounds and of different ethnicities. Here, you can point to a hard number and prove your success; for example, if 40% of your employees belong to minority groups, your business can be considered more diverse than average.
Inclusion, on the other hand, refers to how those populations are treated, and how they participate within the organization. It’s like asking “how” instead of “what” and “who.” Inclusion generally refers to what types of opportunities minority employees have (compared to their counterparts), how represented they are in meetings and in making decisions, how they’re treated, and how active they are within the organization.
How millennials see inclusion differently
Deloitte recently published a study on how millennials view inclusion and diversity differently from the generations that came before them. As you might expect, millennials have transformed the definition of inclusion slightly. Previous generations were 31% more likely to focus on equity and 28% more likely to focus on the strict fairness of opportunity, taking an objective look at the subject.
Millennials, however, were 71% more likely to focus on teamwork, and 28% more likely to focus on a person’s overall business impact, looking at more subjective qualities. Rather than trying to hit a quota, millennials are striving to make minority groups more naturally embedded within corporate and organizational hierarchies.
Key points for success
So what can you do to tailor an inclusion program that meets your business goals and adheres to the new philosophies that millennials are introducing to the corporate world?
• Top-down orchestration. Your diversity and inclusion program isn’t going to mean much unless you have representation among your executive officers and decision makers. Getting your leaders on board with the program should be one of your first steps; from there, you’ll be able to orchestrate a top-down change in mentality and acceptance that permeates your entire organization.
• Access. Obviously, you’ll need to focus on accessibility — to resources, to other departments, and even to decision-making opportunities. That means including more people at more levels in your meetings and discussions, and providing more opportunities for promotions and transfers that are reachable to minority populations.
• Ground-level creation. It shouldn’t be a team of 10 white men creating your diversity and inclusion program and deciding what’s right or wrong for minority populations. Minorities need to be a part of the creation and development process, as they’ll be able to share perspectives and experiences that whites simply can’t access.
• Discomfort acceptance. Talking about race-related issues and changing the scope and direction of an organization are going to cause discomfort. Pretending that discomfort doesn’t exist is neither truthful nor productive. Instead, understand that discomfort is a necessary part of this adoption and forward momentum, and work to get over it.
• Subjective vs. objective perspectives. As new millennial perspectives indicate, while objective information is important for gathering feedback and monitoring performance, subjective experiences matter too. Don’t reduce your entire program down to raw numbers.
• Patience and adjustment. It’s going to take time for your program to work, and you’re going to hit some bumps along the way. Ask your team to remain patient, and don’t hesitate to make adjustments to your approach as your program begins to develop.
The stakes are high in the realm of diversity and inclusion. Not only will your participation shape public images of your brand (and attract better talent to you), you’re also liable to see a 35% jump in performance when your organization becomes ethnically diverse. Take things one step at a time, and try not to reduce everything to sheer numbers.
This article was written by Anna Johansson from Forbes and was licensed by Bloomberg.