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Building Workplace Diversity and Inclusion in Corporate Culture



Workplace diversity and inclusion are some of the most discussed HR topics today—and for a good reason. What’s increasingly clear is that having a successful diversity and inclusion strategy is no longer a nice-to-have. 

Josh Bersin, leading industry analyst, noted, “Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers.” Diversity and inclusion make smart business sense, but it’s also essential to build a corporate culture that ensures employees succeed. Never has supporting employees been more critical than in our current world. With unprecedented disruption, companies and their employees have been left with no choice but to adjust to the new normal of work. Ensuring employees feel safe, included, valued, and trusted directly translates to their performance level and the value they wish to and can bring to the organization.

Starmind’s VP of Talent and Culture, Matthew Swinden, recently participated in The Importance of Diversity, Inclusion and Culture in the Workplace, a panel discussion that took place as part of the Secret/Sauce: The Secret Behind the New Digital Experience event. He joined panelists Sumedha Arun, Product Manager, Deloitte, Corey McCarthy, Chief Marketing Officer, Socio and Joel Nomdarkham, Digital Market Development Specialist, Yello Media Group to deep dive into the importance of diversity and inclusion in the new normal.

In this interview, we learn his key takeaways, including why a diversity and inclusion strategy is essential, how businesses can implement these strategies and what the landscape of diversity and inclusion looks like in this new workforce environment.

You recently took part in a panel discussion on The Importance of Diversity, Inclusion and Culture in the Workplace. Why are these conversations especially relevant during this time?

These conversations are essential for HR leaders to remain connected and grounded in the continually evolving environment that they exist and operate within. Without these open discussions on how we understand our employees' experience and the world outside of our businesses, it is far too easy to find yourself rapidly moving out of a proactive approach and deeper into a reactive approach. 

In the new world of work, HR leaders are faced with striving to build a culture of diversity and inclusion even more so than before. The remote work environment has made it more challenging to pick up behaviors that can make employees feel marginalized. Mitigating these behaviors while building an inclusive culture within teams has to be a priority. Organizations can leverage the current situation as an opportunity to develop better strategies that foster inclusion. Lack of engagement around these topics can have a lasting impact on how both the HR function and the business are perceived, potentially even detrimental to business success. 

Developing a diversity and inclusion strategy is intimately tied to employee experience and employer identity. Attracting excellent talent today requires a reputation as a company that places precedence on inclusion. To retain that talent, you need to deliver a top-notch employee experience. Employee experience is all about meeting employee's needs, across the entire employee lifecycle. In the new world of work, top-notch employee experience includes all types of employees: remote, flex, work from home, in the office.

To be successful, the approach must be multifaceted and consider each group's unique needs and each employee. Addressing even one of the four needs employees have (emotional, mental, physical, spiritual) has been shown to boost employee performance significantly. We've seen personally at Starmind, that providing employees with access to knowledge in real-time and the opportunity to share their expertise has a big impact on employee engagement and feelings of inclusion. We know that diversity and inclusion cannot be separated from employee experience and employer identity if organizations want to maintain a competitive edge in today's market.

That's why panel discussions and collaborating with other thought leaders is essential. Sharing our experiences and knowledge can only make us better, more well-rounded leaders. One tip I've learned over the years when participating in these kinds of discussions is always to be curious. A curious mindset opens up possibilities which can then be further explored and understood.

Could you remind us of the differences between workplace diversity and workplace inclusion and why this distinction is important within a business context?

Workplace diversity refers to an organization's employees being representative of the culture and communities in which your business operates. This includes a workplace composed of employees with varying characteristics, such as different sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation. For inclusion, I quite like SHRM's definition, which is achieving a work environment where all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources and can contribute fully to the organization's success. 

 Understanding the differences between diversity and inclusion is essential to establishing an HR strategy that fosters these values. Creating an inclusive culture is very different from developing a diverse workforce. Diversity is easier to measure and get right, but inclusion takes a targeted approach to achieve. 

It is not enough for companies to have a workforce representative of the communities they serve. To see the positive returns of workplace diversity like more efficient decision making, increased productivity and better teams, organizations must focus on inclusion. 

Inclusion encourages employees to remain in a company, share their ideas and feel connected and committed to the organization. When employees feel included, they will feel a sense of belonging to the organization and are far more likely to engage with their team and the organization positively. Without inclusion, companies cannot benefit from their employees' diversity because they won't be engaged.

How have perceptions about workplace diversity and inclusion shifted to accommodate a partial or full remote workforce?

Building and retaining an inclusive corporate culture, while a large percentage of the workforce is not together in a physical space presents challenges to communication, team building, culture, development and identity. It's essential that leaders create an environment, even if it's digital, where every team member feels valued, safe and empowered. During this time of social distancing and uncertainty,  employees can quickly feel left out, unheard and devalued. Companies can take this as an opportunity to focus on enhancing and building diversity and inclusion in teams. 

An open culture of knowledge exchange and valuing the differences between people is one of the best ways to foster inclusion in teams and organization-wide. Employees must feel safe, motivated and encouraged to share their knowledge. In larger organizations, the right technology can help with this. Implementing a platform that facilitates knowledge sharing at scale and identifies employee's skills and capabilities can help build inclusion, especially in remote teams.

When employees have a user-friendly, fun and scalable way to share their skills and know-how, they will be much more likely to do so. Intelligence platforms allow employees to share their knowledge, safely ask questions, and access their coworkers' expertise. A safe place to ask questions anonymously and exchange knowledge breaks barriers due to conscious or unconscious bias. It allows employees to receive answers from experts, without any potential stigma attached. This levels the playing field nurtures inclusion. 

An intelligence platform like Starmind, which provides each employee with a personalized skill profile that reflects their unique abilities and expertise, helps employees see how their skills contribute to the organization's overall success. Likewise, it reveals to the organization how employees’ individual contributions help drive business goals forward. Skill profiles also mean an employee’s knowledge can be called on by coworkers, especially those outside their immediate team because it identifies the best expert to contact with a query regardless of department or location. This gives all employees the chance to shine based on their skills and capabilities—including the unsung heroes within the company.

These opportunities help build employees' sense of value, belonging and trust, all essential elements of an inclusive workplace. When employees feel included, they forge a sense of acceptance that drives positive performance results and creates collaborative teams who are innovative and engaged. 

How does diversity and inclusion help organizations achieve their business goals and impact the bottom line?

Aside from the clear moral responsibility, increasing diversity and inclusion impact a businesses’ bottom line directly. There is a wealth of reputable studies and statistics which prove this. Research shows that diversity is a clear competitive differentiator between businesses. Companies who are more ethnically or racially diverse have higher financial returns than national averages. One recent study by the Boston Consulting Group found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to greater innovation.

Diversity of culture, upbringing, genders, and inclusive culture is integral to creating high-revenue enterprises. Diversity is not limited to backgrounds, it also encompasses personality and preferences around working styles. When a diverse team is also inclusive it gives all employees the opportunity to shine and contribute. Inclusive teams are more likely to approach challenges from multiple perspectives making them stronger, more effective and better at solving complex problems.

Diversity is growing on a worldwide scale as well. Globalization and the internet have given a voice to people from various groups, languages and cultures that might have otherwise been overshadowed. For businesses to remain competitive, they must be relevant. If a company wants to succeed, their employees must represent the communities they serve—otherwise, you’re bound to be out of touch with your customer.  Employees representative of the community you serve, means you have a pulse on current market trends and unique insight into your customer’s perspective and pain points. This is essential to creating products and services that resonate. 

Starmind’s platform identifies tacit knowledge and makes expertise available to employees in real-time at scale. Why is it important in light of diversity and inclusion?

Tacit knowledge refers to the knowledge, skills, and abilities someone gains through experience that is often difficult to put into words. Tacit knowledge impacts our decision making process and reasons. With a diverse workforce, employee’s tacit knowledge will vary significantly because employees' backgrounds are different. Due to the nature of this type of implicit knowledge, it is difficult to express, capture and share. Within large organizations, especially those with a diverse workforce, there is an incredible wealth of implicit knowledge waiting to be leveraged. In financial terms, intangible assets like human intelligence account for 84% of all enterprise value on the S&P 500. In financial terms, that’s over 23 trillion dollars. 

Without being able to access and share this knowledge at scale, organizations face huge financial losses. As I mentioned before, diverse and inclusive workforces outperform their peers every time. Tackling the challenge tacit knowledge presents is one of Starmind’s primary goals. Our human-centric technology uses the public data in enterprise software to capture employees’ tacit knowledge  and makes it available in real-time organization-wide. It also means that the evolving knowledge and experience of your employees can be preserved to the benefit of the entire organization.  

Making the rich and diverse insights of your workforce available to all employees equals greater productivity, engagement and boosted innovation. It also prevents knowledge silos from forming and ensures that the benefits of having a diverse team are realized.  All essential aspects of a successful business.

Recently there has been a lot of discussion around unconscious bias. In today’s world of data-driven workforce planning, how can HR tools like Starmind help enterprises mitigate unconscious bias in hiring and talent management? 

Let’s start with what bias refers to and what objectivity means in a workplace setting. Unconscious bias, unfortunately, is instinctual. Unconscious bias happens due to inherent or learned tendencies based on experiences and circumstances. Bias results in prejudice against a person or group. To tackle bias, organizations need to proactively put strategies in place that help mitigate unconscious bias in hiring and talent mobility. 

This means that hiring and talent mobility bias is bound to happen, even when hiring managers are doing their best to be impartial.  At the core of intelligent HR tools, like Starmind, are algorithms built to be as unbiased as possible. HR technology powered by AI can provide decision makers with factual information about an employee or potential employee’s skills and capabilities. Unlike traditional CVs or resumes the data that Starmind provides is always up-to-date. Whether or not a person has the capability to transition to a new role or deserves a promotion is often based on past job descriptions and surveys or performance reports that can be highly influenced by personal opinion. 

Our AI identifies expertise, skills and capabilities based on millions of data points to provide a holistic picture of an employee’s skills and capabilities. These tools empower decision-makers with the data needed to base hiring and talent choices on real-time data. 

Although HR tools can provide talent managers and team leaders with an opportunity to hire, train and promote internally based on capabilities, this does not automatically eliminate bias. It’s a firm step in the right direction, but HR leaders need to put strategies in place that anticipate bias. It's not enough to assume that we will always work in favor of diversity and inclusion because of the opportunity.  Humans come with a huge mixture of experiences that influence the way we operate. HR leaders need to keep this in mind when adopting an HR tech tool. 

What advice would you leave an HR manager looking to revamp their diversity strategy?

First, assess where you are. What things have you done to enhance diversity and inclusion that have been successful and what areas can you improve? Be realistic about your goals. Change takes time, but it has to start somewhere. Be honest with yourself and your company. This includes being transparent with your employees about the things you need to improve. Creating a diverse and inclusive team cannot be done overnight. It takes time and needs to be broken down into smaller, actionable steps. 

Tools that provide you the data and insights you need to move in the right direction can help. Starmind, for example, provides a factual, unbiased perspective of where knowledge and skills lie within the company. 

These insights are part of the foundation businesses need to put their diversity strategy into action. For example, the data can show which employees would be the best to upskill, reskill or recruit for a new position based on their capabilities. It can also help companies staff project teams with the best mix of experts based on their skills, not their connections or visibility to the project lead. 

Of course, no software can guarantee that companies will do what’s best for their employees and, ultimately, their bottom, line as we discussed before. But implementing HR technology tools like Starmind is a step in the right direction to providing large enterprises with the data and insights needed to amplify their greatest asset: human intelligence.

Starmind is fortunate to have Matthew on board, a VP of Talent and Culture, who is dedicated to ensuring diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of our values. Like other organizations, Starmind is honored to be part of the discussion and ready to listen. If you’d like to connect with Matthew, you can find him on LinkedIn. 

At Starmind, our values are distinctly human-centered: we’re focused on augmenting human intelligence, not replacing it. Our mission is to use cutting-edge technology to give businesses access to their most valuable resource, their people. Starmind provides the insights enterprises need to put their people first and navigate the complexities of implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy.

To get the data-driven insights your organization needs to develop and nurture a diversity strategy, get in touch with one of our experts.

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