Dear Employer, Diversity Matters

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Phyllis-FinleyA growing number of organizations and their leadership teams are acknowledging the importance of diversity and inclusion and the impact they can have on business performance. In fact, research by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that 85 percent of CEOs whose organizations have a diversity and inclusion strategy say it has enhanced employee performance. That is why companies are developing innovative programming to ensure that diversity is an important part of their culture, starting from the top of the company down. One example is multinational food services and facilities management company Sodexo.

According to the book Why You Should Do More Than just Talk About Workplace Diversity by Susan Medina and Peter Gomez, Sodexo ties 25 percent of top executives’ bonuses and up to 15 percent of senior management’s bonuses to meeting diversity goals, demonstrating the company’s view of diversity as a business imperative.

The desire to work for a company that values diversity and inclusion is shared by many employees and job candidates. Numerous studies show that an employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is especially important to younger generations now entering the workforce, such as Generation Z (people born in the mid to late ’90s), and is weighted heavily in their decisions of whether to join a company. Not surprisingly, the same is true of minority groups.

According to a 2014 survey by Glassdoor Inc., 72 percent of women consider workforce diversity an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. Also in the survey, 89 percent of African American, 80 percent of Asian, and 70 percent of Latino respondents said the diversity of a company’s workforce is important to them. These findings should serve as a wakeup call for employers, especially given that Generation Z will be the most ethnically diverse group to ever enter the U.S. workforce, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. To these workers, a diverse workforce will be assumed a given because they understand the value of diversity.

Furthermore, companies hoping to remain competitive in the marketplace will need to tap into the growing buying power of minority groups. A study by the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth showed that African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans have a collective buying power of $2 trillion — 117 percent higher than the $916 billion they had available to spend in the year 2000. Having a diverse workforce that understands the needs and desires of an organization’s diverse customer base will be a differentiator for businesses in the future.

So, how does one evaluate an employer’s commitment to diversity? There are several ways to determine if an employer truly embraces diversity as a business imperative:

● Forbes, Fortune, and other national publications compile annual lists of businesses recognized for their diversity policies and programs. Actively search for these lists and read them carefully to uncover why those particular businesses shine within the realm of diversity and inclusion.

● Take time to visit a company’s website to learn about its philosophy regarding diversity. Does it have a page dedicated to diversity? Does it publicize a formal diversity policy? Has it participated in any diversity-related programs or events? Look for mention of established, measurable programs that foster an inclusive environment or employee resource groups focused around issues of common interest, such as ethnicity, disability, or women in leadership. These types of programs can help you determine if a company values diversity as a competitive advantage beyond simply sponsoring events.

● Turn to social media and online communities to uncover even more information about an employer’s diversity practices. You may find criticism for a lack of commitment to diversity or kudos for a well-run program. However, keep in mind that both praise and criticism may include bias.

Executives who are on the hiring side of the table must ensure that diversity initiatives are part of the company’s brand and are communicated effectively both internally and externally. Often, employees simply aren’t aware of a company’s efforts and philosophy, and many are unsure how to get involved.

Businesses should be as transparent as possible, acknowledging areas of strength, as well as areas for opportunity and improvement. Companies that establish formal employee or business resource groups to further collaboration of diverse teams should effectively communicate these offerings to employees.

Attracting diverse talent and consistently looking for areas for improvement will add value across the company. For example, according to a 2008 Gallup Poll, when employees perceive that their employer and its leadership team are committed to diversity, they are more likely to stay with the company, more likely to recommend the company to others, less likely to miss days at work, and more likely to be engaged in their work.

Diversity and inclusion are gaining more importance in the workplace as research shows that more job seekers are beginning to heavily evaluate employers’ commitment to diversity in their job searches. Just having programs in place is not enough; it is essential to communicate the existence of these programs both internally and externally. Shout it from the rooftops and into cyberspace. Companies should also ensure that both employees and job candidates are aware of their efforts and the ways in which they can get involved, because without measures in place to communicate programs and drive engagement, organizations simply cannot capture the true value of their diversity initiatives.●

Phyllis Finley is the executive vice president of diversity and inclusion with Randstad North America.