The conversation on corporate diversity is finally leading some companies to retool their recruiting processes. That's important and laudable, but tends to miss out on one thing: What happens once employees arrive? What makes them stay, and what drives their success at the company when they do?
As Intel’s latest update on its own diversity efforts makes clear, hiring diverse employees is only one piece of the puzzle. For companies that want to retain employees from all backgrounds and empower them to excel, creating an inclusive culture is just as important as hiring a diverse workforce.
It isn't that companies aren't giving any thought at all to inclusion, it's just that they tend to prioritize diversity in hiring much more, overlooking how important culture is in determining the outcome of those efforts. Diversity and inclusion must go hand-in-hand; without an inclusive work culture, employees won’t be set up for success. Instead, they’ll be more likely to leave, and organizations will miss out on the benefits of the diverse workforces they're trying to hire.
Environments that aren't sufficiently inclusive can cause uncertainty among people from underrepresented backgrounds as they struggle to figure out whether and how they fit in. This drains mental resources that otherwise could be applied to work, leading to lower performance and engagement.
Less-than-inclusive work cultures also tend to encourage "covering", or efforts to de-emphasize or "cover up" something about yourself that's different from the majority group. Covering shows up in many different ways, from changing your appearance (for instance, wardrobe or hair style) to fit in with the majority, or declining to advocate for your own group as a way to prevent yourself from being perceived differently.
While some people cover because they think it’s necessary to succeed, covering ultimately leads to reduced self-confidence and weaker commitment to their organization, as they sense their membership and success are contingent on being someone they're not. So it's no surprise that organizations where diverse employees feel compelled to cover see lower performance, engagement, and retention.
Ultimately, when employees feel the need to hide their differences (even if they don't leave), their companies lose out on the benefits of having those differences in the first place. After all, one reason why more diverse companies perform better is because diversity itself spurs innovation. People from different backgrounds bring unique perspectives and expand others’ thinking. Without an inclusive culture, companies miss out on that wide range of experience and thought.
Because many companies don’t have a clear definition of what "inclusion" really means, they do nothing to measure it. But a critical step to becoming more inclusive is first understanding how inclusive your culture is right now. Employee surveys can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to assess inclusivity. It’s important not only to straightforwardly ask employees about inclusion itself (e.g., "Do you feel included?"), but also to gauge their feelings on subtler factors that make a culture inclusive, like whether people feel their voices are heard and have accesses to resources they need.
Then break those results down across demographic lines to see whether members of particular groups—for example, transgender employees, people with children, or Latinas—are responding to particular topics differently from other groups in the organization. If they are, companies should talk to these groups to understand why those differences exist.
Efforts like these can help you transform "inclusion" from a vague concept into something that can actually be evaluated and addressed. Here at Paradigm, we recently partnered with Culture Amp to design an inclusion survey for exactly this purpose.
These days, few companies need to be convinced in principle that diversity can give them an advantage. But so far, too few know how to achieve it in practice and over the long term. The benefits of diversity in recruiting and hiring quickly vanish if you can't build a work culture where everyone feels comfortable expressing different perspectives and can perform to their full potential.
Related: How Twitter, Facebook, Google, And Other Silicon Valley Giants Can Fix Their Diversity Problem
Aleah Warren is managing consultant at Paradigm, a strategy firm that partners with innovative companies to build stronger, more inclusive organizations.