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5 ways to ensure an inclusive diversity culture

Updated: Aug 21, 2022

Diversity recruiting is not only a matter of female empowerment: companies with more diverse workforces and more female leaders in decision-making positions perform better financially. Along with being the right thing to do, diversity offers a strategic advantage – especially at leadership level. In fact, current research indicates that gender inclusive companies achieve:

With such indisputable evidence of the benefits of diversity, the key action item for decision makers becomes not only targeting recruitment efforts towards a more diverse pool of candidates, but also ensuring that companies can actually fully benefit from the resulting diversity of their teams.

In other words, diversity has to be complemented by robust efforts at inclusion of diverse employees. Employers have to beware of the all-too-common mistake of diversity and inclusion initiatives that lack, well, inclusion.

diversity and inclusion
how to ensure an inclusive diversity culture

why diversity efforts alone are not enough

While diversity is key at both junior and senior levels of a company in order to improve performance, haphazard implementation of diversity recruitment efforts can actually harm new employees and make them feel unwelcome in their new teams.

When incompletely implemented, targeted recruitment of more diverse candidates can fail to account for and appropriately manage those candidates’ experiences after they are hired - steps which are necessary to ensure that employees are welcomed and respected by their colleagues. In the end, no strategy for diversity will be complete without a corresponding long term plan for fostering an inclusive environment.

To help you make the most out of your diverse teams and make your employees feel more included, here are top five tips to ensure an inclusive diversity culture from international diversity leaders.

#1 make diversity a priority

Diversity is proven to improve results. Teams from more varied backgrounds produce more creative, interesting results. The Harvard Business Review has found that “diverse teams have the potential to be more creative because of the breadth of information, ideas, and perspectives that members can bring to the table.”

A team that lacks diversity is therefore a missed opportunity on the part of any company seeking to produce creative products or develop innovative solutions to problems. Employers need to reckon with the true cost of failing to be inclusive by considering what bias in hiring and in workplace culture does to the productivity and success potential of diverse candidates.

However, in order to access the creative power of diverse teams, employers need to invest effort and resources in establishing a working culture that allows employees to not only survive but rather flourish, thereby improving their outputs.

#2 focus on intersectional diversity, not just gender diversity

There is a clear recognition among many stakeholders that diversity is a beneficial asset to teams and strategic outcomes. Yet, our experts pointed out, there needs to be proper consideration of the types of diversity that recruiters are aiming for.

It is not only gender identity, but also intersectional identities like ethnicity, neurodiversity, religion, and different physical ability that need to be targeted in hiring efforts. Women identifying with multiple different underrepresented demographics will have even more unique perspectives on the issues facing their teams, and will be able to offer even more creative solutions.

Despite the benefits of an intersectionally diverse team, employers have historically undervalued and under-rewarded women who identify with other diverse identities. Women of color, for example, have a much higher gender pay gap and receive fewer opportunities for professional development throughout their careers. Overcoming the past patterns of employment discrimination that women with intersectional identities have faced will take work, but it will certainly be worth it to bring their unique perspectives on board.

diversity and inclusion in the workplace
diversity and inclusion in the workplace

#3 un-bias your recruitment materials

Though female representation has improved in recent years, diversity advocates still face many challenges, including:

  • unintentionally biased job ads at the recruitment stage

  • stereotyping of female candidates by interviewers and hiring decision makers

  • unconscious bias of diverse employees’ colleagues

  • resistance of current employees, even those from underrepresented groups, to new and different additions to their teams

Our experts agree that failure to account for and address these challenges in diversity and inclusion efforts can lead to unintentional, but very damaging, exclusion of new, diverse hires.

It can be difficult to reach a diverse pool of candidates for a position if a company’s job ads are unintentionally written to attract homogenous applicants, who can often end up being similar in identity to the people or person who crafted the job ad in the first place.

This phenomenon, also called Mini-Me Syndrome, can be combated with the use of screening tools like Gender Decoder, which can screen the language of job ads and flag language that is coded for certain identities/exclusive of diverse candidates.

Another hiring bias solution is the introduction of objective safeguards like an interview scorecard or a discussion round among interviewers after each candidate. Steps like these, could make it harder for hiring decision makers to base their decisions on conscious or unconscious biases by forcing them to objectively justify their decisions to colleagues.

To root out hiring bias, systematic change to the way identity is represented in the hiring process may also be necessary - especially in places like Austria, where candidates are expected to include a photo of themselves along with their CVs. After all, since studies have shown that even diverse-sounding names can trigger bias among hiring decision-makers, it may be prudent to alter hiring practices which open up candidates to immediate judgement on the basis of their appearances as well.

#4 continually reexamine your workplace culture

Beyond the recruitment process, intentional changes to workplace culture are necessary to ensure the comfort and success of diverse employees at your company. This is the most important and lasting factor in ensuring the inclusion of employees.

Bringing professional industries up to speed on diversity requires deliberate self-reflection and continual confrontation of unconscious bias, a process that goes much deeper than simple hiring quotas and gender parity commitments. It involves consistent accountability for the ways in which we ourselves may be harboring unknown prejudices against our colleagues. Indeed, diversity advocates and employees with underrepresented identities can sometimes stymy inclusion efforts in their own teams as a consequence of unexamined biases.

Even if a team feels diverse, getting a diverse team is only the first step: the entire workplace culture needs to be continually reexamined to prevent gatekeeping by incumbent employees who, even if from diverse backgrounds, can still face the same pitfalls of unconscious bias as more homogenous teams.

The key to any good-faith diversity and inclusion process is a fundamental one to any functional working culture: trust. Trust can help to eliminate some of the root causes of bias and workplace discrimination, which at its heart is rooted in the fear of difference. It would be difficult for colleagues to both fear and trust each other simultaneously, making a trusting working culture more resilient against the obstacle of unconscious and conscious bias.

Efforts to promote diversity will also need to be greatly aided by the cooperation of male allies (and members of other overrepresented demographics); after all, it would be much more difficult to foster an inclusive working environment if half of the workforce did not in some way buy into diversity and inclusion.

#5 set the tone for inclusive diversity at the TOP first

More senior teams set the tone for how the rest of the company will treat diversity. They ultimately control the direction of workplace culture, and the way that workplace culture will treat people from different backgrounds.

If those in executive positions make it clear that they prioritize diversity and inclusion and will not tolerate anything less, the rest of the company will follow. Companies looking to transform their diversity and inclusion initiatives, therefore, must start with a top-down approach of ensuring that diversity receives the attention and resources it deserves, and that diverse employees are treated as equal team members who belong in their positions.

The performance of your company depends on it!

the female factor teams up with Coca-Cola HBC Austria

These five ways to ensure an inclusive diversity culture have been collected as part of our “diversity in the workplace” event co-hosted with our partners at Coca Cola HBC Austria. We were proud to present perspectives from leaders with decades of combined experience in promoting diversity, including moderator Mahdis Gharaei, Co-Founder of the female factor; panelists Sinisa Asonja, Country Logistics Manager at Coca Cola HBC Austria; Kaitlyn WonJung Chang, Brand Innovation Lead at Accenture; Georgiana Lazar, Head of Human Capital at UniCredit Bank Austria; and keynote speaker Beatrix Praeceptor, Chief Procurement Officer at Mondi Group.

Coca-Cola HBC Austria supplies the Austrian market with products from Coca-Cola. The broad portfolio includes the brands Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite as well as the Austrian mineral water Römerquelle.

Mahdis Gharaei is one of the co-founders of the female factor, a passionate diversity advocate, business woman and opportunity maker by heart with a particular focus on creating cross-border relationships thanks to her Persian roots. 

Bettina Augeneder has been the Human Resources Director of Coca-Cola HBC Austria since 2017. She is currently working on a variety of topics - from recruiting and talent development to diversity and the compatibility of work and private life.

Beatrix Praeceptor is the Chief Procurement Officer at Mondi Group. She has a demonstrated management track record in different global industries and is a true believer in diversity & inclusion as success factor to performance.

Georgiana Lazar is the Head of Human Capital at UniCredit Bank Austria. She has extensive managerial and human resources experience and has performed roles of increasing responsibility in the Human Capital area.

Kaitlyn WonJung Chang is the Brand Innovation Lead at Accenture. Born in Korea, raised in the U.S. and in based in Austria since 2012, Kaitlyn has 15 years' working experience in the intersection between tech and creativity.

Sinisa Asonja is the Country Logistics Manager at Coca-Cola HBC Austria and a passionate diversity & inclusion advocate.

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