As organizations work to integrate diversity and inclusion more fully into the way they operate, they are often hindered by a number of myths and misconceptions to do with what these concepts really are about. Making progress with diversity and inclusion in a business environment requires the ability to understand and act against these myths. What follows are four common D&I myths that pervade the workplace. It’s important for managers and leaders to guard against them.
Myth: The idea that D&I is all about ethical behavior
Certainly, building a workplace that is diverse and welcoming of different kinds of people is the kind and understanding thing to do. Being ethical and fair isn’t the only reason to choose these behaviors, however. The truth is, the financial and profit motives in D&I can be highly compelling as well. Many successful businesses consider D&I as a way to gain a competitive advantage over the competition. It makes intuitive sense, as well, that bringing a wide range of perspectives into a company would give it a competitive advantage. Rather than simply being a feel-good initiative, D&I helps attract the best employees, makes sure that employees are happier and stay for longer, and helps ensure greater engagement. D&I initiatives also help boost the company image in the community, and, as a result of these advantages, to help deliver improved financial performance.
In some cases, experts argue that neglecting to embrace D&I can come with specific costs. According to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, business organizations are subject to a discrimination cost index, which can come from loss of goodwill, discrimination lawsuits, and greater employee turnover. According to a McKinsey report, businesses that opt out of D&I are less likely by a third, to attain above-average profitability (mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/business%20functions/organization/our%20insights/delivering%20through%20diversity/delivering-through-diversity_full-report.ashx).
Myth: D&I includes everyone except white males
In general, corporate culture is assumed to be dominated by people who are white and male. Women and people of color are the groups that are thought to be marginalized. It’s important to understand, however, that each organization has different diversity and inclusion situations. In some universities, for instance, certain departments tend to be mostly filled with international students; white, male students tend to be in the minority. In such schools, D&I efforts tend to be aimed at correcting the balance, and bringing more of such students in. D&I is intended to create within an organization a population that is as diverse as the population of society outside, at large.
Myth: Diversity is only about ethnicity
Race and gender tend to be the most visible diversity elements. In reality, however, organizations interested in D&I need to focus on a wide variety of traits such as age, physical ability, political affiliation, sexual orientation, cultural background and much more. Organizations that are thoroughly diverse and inclusive pay attention to bringing the full spectrum of human traits in when they hire.
Myth: D&I is mainly the responsibility of HR
D&I initiatives at companies are often led by their HR departments. Many organizations that wholeheartedly embrace D&I, however, find success by turning it into a leadership imperative. These companies find that when CEOs communicate to their employees how essential D&I is, and require accountability, these objectives tend to be taken much more seriously by managers at every level. It is up to upper management to provide the vision and core values for managers and employees lower down to deliver on. When the C-suite is engaged in D&I, it can help rally the troops, build cultural literacy across the board, in turn it into a business priority.
In the end, D&I is the responsibility of every single member of an organization. Leaders need to be encouraged to aid in the advance of D&I, build inclusive teams, and practice it as a philosophy in every decision and interaction that they are responsible for from one day to the next. Every employee has a sphere of influence, where their choices and behaviors help implement the company’s D&I focus. Clearing the air about the myths that affect these efforts most of all can help make them effective.
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