While diversity and inclusion efforts have improved in recent years, the workforce still has a long way to go. Just last year, only 3% of Fortune 500 companies released their full diversity data–including numbers on the race and gender of employees population–to the Department of Labor. And while many of these companies preach the importance of diversity, only one out of five companies released any number to show progress.
To move forward in inclusion efforts, companies have to put in work. Many businesses often don’t put in the time or effort because they don’t understand the long-term values of inclusion, including increases to the bottom line, research has shown.
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“[Diverse teams] are innovative and better at problem solving,” said Julie Elberfeld, senior vice president of shared services and executive sponsor for diversity and inclusion in tech at Capital One. “If you’re only going out and looking at one portion of the population, then you’re going to miss the opportunity to get the best of the best, in terms of your talent.”
Another benefit that companies are most often not aware of are how inclusive, diverse teams aid the advancement of digital transformation projects, said Elberfeld.
“If you’re a digital company creating digital products, then you really want a culture that welcomes fresh ideas and a variety of perspectives, that’s open to failure, encourages creativity and innovation, and really wants the best problem solving and talent,” Elberfeld said. “And that’s completely consistent with a culture that embraces diversity and thrives on inclusion.”
Inclusion efforts have increased in the enterprise, said Elberfeld, but there is still a ways to go. “I think the industry has been largely focused on diversity and trying to improve the numbers, which I think is a really necessary first step,” she said. “But it’s not just about changing the numbers. It’s also about ensuring that diversity of all types is respected and that all voices are heard.”
Here are the five steps businesses should take to be more inclusive and forge the way for successful digital transformations.
1. Consider inclusion a top business priority
If a company wants to get serious about implementing inclusion efforts, it needs to treat inclusion like any other major business priority, said Elberfeld. “They can approach this problem like they would any other business problem,” she said. “Think about having an accountable executive, setting goals and objectives, tracking performance indicators, and understanding the voice of the associates in that effort, and really looking deeply at your processes and policies to understand where a disruption might need to take place in order to achieve the best results.”
2. Be a role model
Role modeling is another important area when it comes to improving inclusion, Elberfeld said. Many people don’t even bother applying to tech positions because they seem unattainable, when in reality, they would be incredibly successful in the field.
“We have to create new narratives in the industry to really help people understand what a technologist looks like, and people cannot be what they cannot see,” Elberfeld said. “If we don’t create better images and better role modeling to help the general public understand what a career in technology can look like, I continue to fear that we will alienate an awful lot of people who will not opt into the tech industry, when, in fact, they could have amazing careers and make amazing contributions.”
3. Start at the top
A lack of communication from business executives to the rest of the company is detrimental to the success of digital transformation, and the same can be said for inclusion. “Tone at the top is very important,” said Elberfeld. “It was very inspiring when our CIO spoke about diversity inclusion as a key component of our talent strategy in our annual strategy meeting.”
Another important shift to make is to show, not tell, Elberfeld said. “We really need to do more around showing women, African-American, and Hispanic technologists doing what they do in tech, versus just telling about the challenges that they face and, again, that’s in support of the notion of role modeling and inspiring the next generation.”
4. Involve everyone
The only way to promote inclusiveness is if everyone is included in the effort. Inclusion won’t be successfully achieved unless everyone is onboard, and everyone considers it an important matter, said Elberfeld.
“This is not something that can change if we only have a small number of voices engaged in the initiative,” Elberfeld said. “We need to have everyone engaged in the initiative.”
5. Outreach proactively
Companies can claim to prioritize inclusion all they want, but action has to be taken to get results. “There is a need for proactive outreach, in order to get more diversity into the pipeline,” said Elberfeld. Since certain groups have been excluded and underrepresented for so long, many don’t feel comfortable or confident in chasing after opportunities that don’t appear attainable, Elberfeld added.
“The best talent is not actively looking in the workforce, especially underrepresented minorities,” said Elberfeld. “So, you have to meet people where they are. You have to connect with them. You have to talk to them about the opportunities that you can offer them for great positions and great roles in technology. Sometimes that takes conversations and meet ups and opportunities to really connect with people more personally.”