How to build more diverse and inclusive project teams

Learn four steps leaders can take to increase diversity and inclusion on project teams, and find out how those changes might benefit their businesses.

Diverse group of hands stacked up as a team

Image: REDPIXEL.PL/Shutterstock

Diverse and inclusive project teams can provide businesses with many benefits. The most diverse teams are more likely to outperform less diverse teams, according to findings by McKinsey. This also holds true when managing projects. Team diversity can improve project success rates through an increased sense of community and support, decreased conflict and increased innovation.

According to the Project Management Institute's Pulse of the Profession, it's estimated that 88% of project professionals say having diverse project teams increases value. Yet, according to the PMI report, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 30% of companies put most or all diversity and inclusion initiatives on hold, which is a mistake. PMI asserts that in the Project Economy, organizations recognize they need a full breadth of perspectives and skills on their teams—true diversity to foster innovative, collaborative and future-ready teams that deliver powerful outcomes. 

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Diversity vs. inclusion

There's sometimes confusion about the difference between diversity and inclusion. Diversity refers to the composition of your workforces such as gender, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, disability or veteran status, and religious beliefs, to name a few. Inclusion is a measure of culture that enables diversity to thrive and refers to how much everyone's contributions are valued. It requires all individuals to be supported in doing their best work and to be afforded equal opportunities to advance.

SEE: Diversity and Inclusion policy (TechRepublic Premium)

How to create more diverse and inclusive project teams

According to PMI research, almost 7 in 10 project professionals said their organizations have a recruiting process in place to develop diversity. As projects drive change, the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative has nearly 2,000 leaders of top global companies pledging their commitment to building more diverse workplaces. (Red Ventures CEO and cofounder Ric Elias signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge. Red Ventures is the parent company of TechRepublic.)

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Here are ways your company can ensure teams and projects are diverse and inclusive. 

1. Establish transparent, fair and equitable hiring practices

For hiring practices to be transparent, fair and equitable, they should include recruiting project talent from every race, religion, socioeconomic level, ethnicity, age, gender and capability. This requires carefully re-assessing job placements, job descriptions, applicant screening, interviews, onboarding and training processes through the lens of diversity. This helps ensure job seekers from diverse backgrounds have an even playing field and an equal chance of being hired solely based on their project management qualifications.

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2. Establish pay equity   

Attracting, onboarding and training diverse project talent isn't the only thing that needs to happen. Pay equity, which is equal pay for work of equal value, should exist among all workers, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic level, ethnicity, age, gender or disability.

New proposals such as the recently resurrected Paycheck Fairness Act have ensure companies can take steps in the right direction. Establishing a pay equity policy is an essential part of retaining diverse, skilled project leaders and teams.

In a recent report by Syndio, The State of Pay Equity Laws in the U.S.—2021, there are 10 criteria that hold the key to establishing effective pay equity.

  1. Analyze pay equity, not only the pay gap. 
  2. Compare employees based on substantially similar or comparable work.
  3. Do not include a "same establishment" clause.
  4. Include guidance on using neutral, job-related pay policies.
  5. Require pay equity based on gender. 
  6. Require pay equity based on race.
  7. Allow any underpaid employee/underpaid group to sue.
  8. Require disclosure and reporting of some pay equity information.
  9. Offer safe harbor protections. 
  10. Enforce consequences when pay equity disparities aren't corrected.

3. Provide support that helps each team member succeed

Not only do project team members need to be fairly hired and compensated, they also need to be properly set up for success. This means providing the necessary support to help them be productive, effective, safe and healthy while fulfilling their roles.

It could be that project team members may have disabilities that require additional supports or accommodations. Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act have been enacted to ensure accessibility and civil rights for people with disabilities. Employers need to make accommodations for employees with disabilities to be able to do their jobs. Some examples of support include disabled-friendly entrances, disabled-friendly bathrooms and the right kind of chairs, desks, office equipment and more.

Disability support requirements are not limited to on-premise work—it applies to internet-based work as well. As more and more projects are being executed remotely, this will become an essential factor.

4. Give all team members a voice

Inclusion requires that all individuals on your project teams need to have a voice to share ideas and different perspectives to support each other and communicate concerns. This isn't a one-sided benefit for individual team members; it also benefits project stakeholders and business leaders by creating a company-wide culture of true collaboration and full transparency.

Many individuals from marginalized groups may feel they don't have a voice, or that their input is not valued, and it's vital for project and business leaders to gain team buy-in. Productivity, morale and retaining teams are directly linked to team members feeling heard, valued and respected.

At the end of the day, everyone wants the same thing: to be included, valued and treated fairly. It's not rocket science, nor is it too much to expect. And, remember that your company and its projects are far more likely to achieve successful outcomes and a solid return on your investment when they are more diverse and inclusive.

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By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, and a project management and digital workplace columnist for various publications. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large busine...