Diversity & Inclusion have become today’s buzzwords to drive productivity and PR. But often businesses can get lost in the noise of adhering to politically correct propaganda instead of authentically employing practices that drive an inclusion culture.  

Inclusion doesn’t just stop at people of color or women but also embraces the international student forgoing an internship in order to work and send money back home. It makes allowances for a father taking paid leave to care for a newborn.  It supports mothers who are in school and can’t attend after-work functions. And it sees the potential in a recruit who couldn’t afford an Ivy League education but has the talents and skills that are in demand.

Part of Start-Up Boston Week’s Series featured a panel that spoke on “Optimizing Your Company for Inclusion & Belonging.”  The panelists ran the gamut from Co-Founder to Social Director and each expounded upon their experience in increasing inclusion and their passion for it.

“We go where we’re invited, we stay where we’re welcomed.” – Molly Walter, Microsoft University Recruitment

For the company that is wondering what an inclusive culture looks like, the panelists gave the audience the nuts and bolts of an active inclusive workspace.

An inclusive culture:

    • Happens at all levels with that all important trickling down from the C-Suite level
    • Begins with the recruiting, training, and onboarding process. 
    • Is a frequent conversation among teams, one that is advocated for and welcomed.
    • Exemplifies diversity well beyond entry-level positions. 
    • Is active from hiring to exit interviews. Employees should be valued at all stages, not just courted during recruitment but not supported during their tenure: “We go where we’re invited, we stay where we’re welcomed,” says Molly Walter of Microsoft University Recruitment, who spoke on the panel.

When diversity & inclusion is prioritized and work areas are respected and valued, employee performance increases. But many gatekeepers have yet to fully embrace D&I beyond marketing noise.  Getting decision-makers to see the importance of an inclusive culture can be challenging. Here are some tips the panelists offered to those employees whose company’s pendulum needs to swing towards inclusion:

    • Do your research. Gather concrete information on the correlation between happier employees and more productivity.
    • Drive home the point that the most innovative products demand the most diverse teams. Your team should reflect the vast demographics they market to.
    • Call out your company when they make a misstep. If a product doesn’t serve a demographic well, don’t be shy to draw their attention to lost revenue and market share due to non-diverse teams assuming the needs of their diverse customers.
    • “Just start somewhere. Be open and vulnerable, self-educate and don’t be uncomfortable.  We’re all a work in progress,” says Leah Knobler, Talent Lead, HubScout, one of the panelists.

“However, if your CEO is not on board, then you’re [fighting an uphill battle]”, panelist Christina Costa, the Chief Marketing Officer of Women With Purpose stated.  That’s why it’s important to know when to leave if the higher-ups aren’t advocating for a more inclusive culture. Companies will many times make promises to look in non-traditional places but keep reverting back to the same pool for recruits.  Discussions on D&I may happen but action is never taken to move forward.

“Just start somewhere. Be open and vulnerable, self-educate and don’t be uncomfortable.  We’re all a work in progress.” – Leah Knobler, Talent Lead, HubScout

In today’s global economy and in a society that is an international melting pot, ticking all the boxes of Diversity & Inclusion can seem insurmountable.  It takes effort and companies will need to be committed for the long haul. But by being transparent, valuing the perspectives of employees and expanding your talent pool to represent the customers you sell to, companies can take that all-important step towards creating an inclusive culture that boosts employee productivity as well as their bottom line.