Hire for inclusion, not just diversity

'Inclusion recruiting' might seem like a fuzzy concept, but Sampriti Ganguli argues that it makes for a much more effective workplace than focusing on diversity alone.

Sampriti Ganguli is managing director of the Corporate Executive Board's government practice.

Executive Order 13583 encourages federal agencies to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce — a laudable goal toward which the government has already made some level of progress.

Although many agencies lap the private sector on diversity metrics, they continue to struggle with making sustainable progress on inclusion strategies. That’s partly because diversity is easier to measure on the surface than inclusion, though perhaps no easier to manage. Agencies can report on their progress over time and the investment in a more diverse workforce is evident, whereas an inclusive workplace is inherently harder to measure.

Yet diversity and inclusion are fundamentally linked. Too often, organizational perceptions and definitions of diversity can be narrowly centered on the needs of diverse employees, when in reality, diversity also requires creating an inclusive culture. The best diversity employers encourage an inclusive environment in which individual differences are respected and valued.

Data from last year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey by the Office of Personnel Management revealed significant room for improvement on creating an inclusive workforce. More than 33 percent of federal employees disagreed with the statement that their supervisors work well with employees of different backgrounds. More troubling, some federal employees question the value of inclusion and diversity initiatives, according to a recent survey conducted by Federal News Radio. More than half of the 900 federal employees surveyed expressed skepticism that the executive order would make a difference in their workplaces, and more than a third called the initiative a political ploy.

This doesn’t mean employees devalue the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Rather, it suggests they have some strong misgivings about how these strategies get implemented.

Part of what agencies need to focus on is why diversity and inclusion continue to be paramount objectives. Beyond just being the right thing to do, diversity and inclusion can result in substantial benefits for individuals and agencies, as revealed by Corporate Executive Board research.

Employees of diverse, inclusive work environments exhibit a 12 percent higher level of discretionary effort. That means they are more willing to put in extra effort to get work done. They also show a 19 percent higher intent to stay with their organization. Inclusive environments also encourage employee collaboration and innovation and introduce diverse perspectives that ultimately lead to better decision-making. In the current budgetary environment in which agencies are being asked to support more complex missions with no funding increases — and, in many cases, with funding decreases — innovative solutions are even more important.

But although many recognize the value in promoting inclusion, few have a detailed road map showing them how to create those environments in their organizations. The Corporate Executive Board has identified several tactics that can promote an inclusive workforce. Two practices in particular have emerged as especially helpful.

First, organizations should incorporate what is called inclusion recruiting and evaluate job candidates based on inclusive values and behaviors by asking them questions that will indicate whether their behavior supports inclusiveness, such as:

  • Have you ever seen any bias against someone from a background that wasn’t typical in your organization? What did you do?
  • How have you handled a situation in which a colleague was not accepting of another’s background, values or experiences?

Second, because executives and supervisors manage what they are measured on, organizations should establish meaningful inclusion indicators using data sources such as the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. That way they can track their progress over time and detect whether diversity and inclusion investments are paying dividends.

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