Inclusion is the goal, diversity is the result. This is the most important message that Dr. Rebecca Baumgartner, Vice President of Human Resources for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, wants organizations to take away when hiring, onboarding and retaining employees. Members of the team.
Inclusive workplaces allow their employees to come up with new ideas and innovate. On the other hand, organizations that simply bring in people of different races, orientations, genders, or backgrounds and force those people to fit into the existing corporate culture in the name of diversity, Baumgartner said. This approach does not work. It’s not encouraging for potential employees to consider your company, and it doesn’t make its current staff feel particularly appreciated for who they are and what they can uniquely bring. And it’s not just the company’s top leaders who need to be mindful of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) when recruiting new employees. Even individual contributors and those not in leadership positions can model inclusive behavior that can begin to affect change, Baumgartner said.
While many companies are genuinely interested in being more inclusive, there are challenges that get in the way, including long-held beliefs and corporate cultures. At The Channel Company’s Woman of the Channel West 2022 event, Baumgartner discussed why bias is natural and what individuals can do to recognize their own biases, how it can creep into the recruitment process, how to onboarding a more inclusive experience and what everyone can do to change the overall culture of the company so that all employees feel like valued members of the team.
Here are tips shared by Baumgartner to help companies see inclusion as the goal and diversity as the outcome.
Everyone is biased – that’s how the human brain works. At any one time we are faced with over 300 stimuli, but we can only process about 40 at a time. We create shortcuts to help us make quick decisions. If you have a brain, says Baumgartner, you are biased.
When a company targets diversity, it hasn’t actively changed anything – it’s just maintaining the status quo and forcing new individuals to assimilate and fit into the boxes that already exist. Companies should focus on “adding culture” not “adapting to culture,” Baumgartner said. Employees shouldn’t feel pressured to cover up or minimize parts of their identity to fit in, she said, recalling a time in her career when she had to cover up when she worked in a all-male team.
“I stopped wearing heels and bright colors and stopped wearing so much makeup. I behaved more like them – more dominant – I even slowed my pace and lowered my voice to that men feel more comfortable around me and listen to me. I covered to fit in. Although I had great ideas, I couldn’t express them – I had no physiological security, and it’s really important,” she said.
Organizations should remember when recruiting that 62% of people will turn down a job if they don’t think the organization is inclusive, Baumgartner said. Even with a wide variety of hiring initiatives in place, the people you are targeting won’t want to work for you unless those companies look at their current culture and address any biases that may already exist. A law firm that hires women but only for paralegal roles, for example, or a company that takes on one of its female staff will do the dishes in the break room, Baumgartner said.
Often, even a company that is diverse in its ranks still has a cohesive management team and people pay attention to it. Prospective employees check the “About Us” pages on a company’s website to see what the leaders look like. The emerging workforce, including Gen Z, “are not messing around,” she said. They check the social media posts of companies they care about and what leaders are saying, and they look for diversity statements up high and prominent — not hidden in a menu — on organizations’ websites. “It’s valuable real estate. If you are ready to spread it, you really appreciate [DEI]”said Baumgartner.
Potential employees also reach out to people who previously worked for the company and those who still do to get more information about the culture. “There is no hiding place,” she said.
Workers today look for three fundamental things in their work. The first is authenticity: they want to feel like they can present themselves as themselves at work without fear of retaliation and discrimination. The second is flexibility – the ability to do their job from anywhere – with a schedule that works for them to deliver high quality work. The last is purpose: people want to feel connected to the big picture of the organization and that they are working towards a common goal.
Increasing diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be just any company’s goal. Rather, DEI must be embedded in every part of the business, including the interactions and behaviors of its leaders, colleagues, customers and end customers, Baumgartner said.
Future employees aren’t just looking for sponsorship programs to advance women or people of color, for example. “That’s how it goes [employees] be dealt with on a day-to-day basis,” she said. It starts at every step of the hiring process and especially at the beginning. Twenty-six percent of employees will quit within the first 45 days. To combat this, organizations should extend their “onboarding” process from three months to a year, Baumgartner said.
“Think about the relationship you are building. You show them you care and give them time to adjust. You don’t just throw them to the wolves to start producing right away. You are there to help them understand and answer their questions,” she said.
what you can do
Culture is essentially a set of policies and processes based on assumptions and norms. But sometimes, some employees or people in leadership positions have been steeped in the culture for too long and fail to see the systemic issues. “They’ve become culture-blind,” Baumgartner said. “If you keep seeing fish die in a pond, you don’t say, ‘Damn, don’t these fish know [be] fish? What’s wrong with the fish? You know it’s something in the water. And everyone has to fix the water.
The workplace is more than just a job. It’s lunch time, happy hours, and casual conversations and interactions. That’s why it’s important no matter where a person is in the organization that they realize their role in creating and changing the culture, she said.
“You have the right and the responsibility to challenge and question. Ask yourself what is going on. Build a community of allies to help you bring about change. You are not helpless.