Although diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace isn’t a new idea, it has moved front and center in recent years. More and more, businesses are realizing that creating a
diverse and inclusive organization is not only the right thing to do—it’s the smart thing to do. In fact, research shows that, for firms that want to be innovative and transformative, it’s mission critical.
But how exactly do you go about advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace? Start by understanding why it matters. In my work as chief diversity and inclusion officer at Commonwealth Financial Network®, I often use an analogy made by activist and author Vernā Myers to offer insight. Myers defines diversity as “being invited to the party” and inclusion as “being pulled onto the dance floor.” I expand on it by defining belonging as “having a say in the choice of music played.”
With the Great Resignation of 2021 creating significant gaps in the workforce, you may be tempted to accelerate your diversity recruiting to fill empty roles. But as Arthur Woods, cofounder of the diversity hiring technology company Mathison, points out, making impulsive decisions may cause you to be influenced by some of the very biases you’re looking to eliminate. To make meaningful changes, go beyond hiring by strengthening and evolving your policies and practices so they reflect and enhance employee experiences. This, in turn, can translate to a better overall experience for your clients and potentially expand your client base.
Slow and Steady
A long-term approach requires patience. Remember that even small steps can have a big impact over time. Here are a few strategies to guide your efforts:
Be intentional. Your firm may have a history of being well-intentioned, but to create and sustain an environment where everyone feels heard and fairly treated, you need to evolve from being well-intentioned to intentional by investing in a sustainable infrastructure. At a high level, start by looking at behaviors that yield equitable benefits for your staff, clients, and partners, as well as the communities you serve, and take action to integrate inclusive
practices across these groups.
Invest in women. Women are still heavily underrepresented in the field, making up roughly 18 percent of the industry’s advisors. Attracting more women is an essential step to creating diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. So, how can you be
purposeful in these efforts? Start by building an infrastructure that fosters development and directly helps women advisors succeed. Keep in mind, too, that people need to recognize themselves in a community to want to be part of it. To that end, consider tapping the network of women advisors you already have to share their stories through your firm’s website, social media, and other channels.
Break down barriers. It’s crucial to create an accommodative and equitable work environment where people feel like they can bring their whole person, have a seat and a voice at the table, and feel heard. To do that, there are systemic barriers we need to break
down. Further complicating things, we need to do it through the lens of COVID-19
and displaced racism, both of which have provided sobering reminders of ongoing
disparities that have widened the gap for women and people of color.
Broaden your definition of diversity hiring. Gender and race are significant aspects of diversity hiring, of course, but it’s important to approach the process through a holistic lens. Expand your goals and focus to include other communities that may be underrepresented—from LGBTQ+ to veterans to older workers. As an example, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This may be a good time to reassess your hiring practices and look for ways to make your firm culture more inclusive of employees with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor provides practical ideas to help you enhance your efforts throughout the month.
Hold yourself accountable. Creating a diverse and inclusive organization can’t be simply “a nice to have”—it must be prioritized as a strategic lever for how you do business. How? Make gradual but significant strides by doing the following:
Hire at all levels of your organization to improve representational diversity.
Create a library of DEI resources for your staff.
Establish forums for staff to share their experiences in a safe space.
Create employee resource groups that allow staff to represent themselves and feel recognized.
Cultivate a Culture of Belonging
Creating a diverse and inclusive organization requires a long-term commitment and a willingness to have meaningful (and sometimes uncomfortable) conversations. But the payoff can be big: greater engagement, productivity, and retention of your employees, not to mention the potential to deliver a better overall experience to a broader range of clients.
Remember, making incremental progress is okay. Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce is a journey—not a destination.