Diversity and inclusion: Best practices to be a trailblazer

a diverse team showcasing the best practices for diversity and inclusion

There's no denying that diversity and inclusion (D&I) have become buzzwords in today’s employment space, with companies everywhere waxing lyrical in their job descriptions about welcoming candidates of all backgrounds.

It's certainly a step in the right direction, given that 76% of job seekers consider D&I important factors when considering a role.¹

However, creating a safe and inclusive workplace is about much more than checking a box. Going beyond the recruitment process or compliance regulations, D&I should be embedded in the DNA of your organizational culture, and that starts from the top.

That said, it can be difficult to know where your company stands concerning D&I, especially if you've never put any formal documentation in place. The good news; by using proven diversity and inclusion initiatives and taking inspiration from companies that excel in this area, you can chart the path to success in 2024 and beyond.

Whether you're an HR professional, manager, CEO, or business owner, this guide will equip you with the best practices to harness the rich diversity of your people.

Table of contents
What is diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Why is diversity and inclusion important?: Understanding the human impact
How to promote diversity and inclusion best practices in the workplace: a framework
Diversity and inclusion: stories of transformation
What are the challenges and barriers to workplace diversity and inclusion: overcoming resistance
What's the role of leadership?
How to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace
How to foster empathy in your workplace
Resources and tools
Final tips and strategies

What is diversity, equity, and inclusion?

When talking about building harmonious and equitable workplaces, you’ll often come across the term D&I. As you've likely guessed, this stands for diversity and inclusion. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are interconnected concepts that should be recognized individually.

Diversity refers to the what, while inclusion deals with the how.

Diversity is the vast array of individual differences that make up humans. This includes but is not limited to race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, country of origin, culture, politics, and religion. However, it can also refer to the multitude of personality types and different ways we all learn and work.

In the context of a workplace, diversity is about the makeup of your team. Closely tied to representation, it’s about who is sitting around your (metaphorical) table.

Conversely, inclusion is about what your organization is doing to celebrate those individual differences. Inclusive companies create a sense of belonging so that diverse team members thrive within your organization.

As diversity advocate, Vernā Myers, puts it, ‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.’

You can have diversity without inclusion, but there is little point, as this will likely be superficial and any benefits will be short-lived. It can also backfire, as without strategies in place to encourage authenticity and belonging, individuals from minority groups may feel ostracized or discriminated against.

Other acronyms for diversity and inclusion

Another common shorthand you may encounter is DEI, which stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. If diversity is the what and inclusion is the how you can think of equity as the why. It refers to providing individuals with the right resources for their unique circumstances so they have the same opportunities, and this is ultimately the goal of D&I.

Equity is different from equality, which refers to giving everyone the same resources and opportunities. While you may see the acronym EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion) around, prioritizing equity is considered to be a more relevant approach to modern workplaces.

Other, less common acronyms include DEIB: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging and DIB: Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, which acknowledge the importance of employees feeling seen, respected, and connected.

Why is diversity and inclusion important?: Understanding the human impact

Given the well-documented benefits of diversity and inclusion, it's no surprise that the field of D&I has grown more in the last two years than at any other time. A few of the advantages for organizations include:

  • Diverse teams reportedly make better decisions 87% of the time.
  • Racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better.
  • Companies with gender diversity in the workplace are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors.

However, to understand why diversity and inclusion matter, the answer can be found in human nature, not in a profit-and-loss statement. As humans, we are a social species and are hard-wired to seek belonging and connection. When we feel rejected or excluded simply for being who we are, this can wreak havoc on our psyche. In the context of a workplace, this can contribute to poor employee morale, productivity, and satisfaction.²

At the same time, when companies fail to provide an inclusive environment, differently-abled employees may struggle to ask for the accommodations needed to do their jobs. For example, due to internalized ableism, a neurodivergent person with ADHD or autism may feel reluctant to disclose their diagnosis at work. They may continue to attempt to work in loud and overly bright spaces that overstimulate and distract them, even if the quality of their work suffers as a result.

Accessibility goes hand in hand with D&I and is an important part of fostering cognitive diversity inside organizations.

How to promote diversity and inclusion best practices in the workplace: a framework

D&I is not a 'one and done' activity but rather, a range of different initiatives, policies, and programs that work together to create more inclusive teams. Some examples of best practices to consider incorporating into your organization are:

Employee resource groups: These groups offer a platform for underrepresented employees to voice concerns and share their lived experiences. This helps provide support and a sense of community for individuals with varied backgrounds.

Mentorship programs: These programs mitigate biases in the candidate pool by offering guidance, encouragement, and insight to underrepresented individuals, ensuring fair access to professional growth.

Training programs and education: These programs equip HR teams and organizational leaders with the tools to recognize and counteract biases, enhancing job postings to attract a more diverse pool of candidates.

Exit interviews: By providing a valuable platform for departing employees (particularly those who are from minority groups) to express their experiences, you can shed light on areas that need improvement.

Sponsorship programs: These initiatives involve pairing junior, underrepresented employees with more senior leaders who can share mentoring, guidance, and coaching. In doing so, they support career advancement opportunities.

Recruitment initiatives: Reducing hiring bias is crucial for diversifying the talent pool within organizations. These efforts, focusing on attracting and hiring individuals from various backgrounds, play a crucial role in developing a more inclusive workplace.

Leadership and management training: A supportive and inclusive executive team sets the tone for the entire organization, influencing the company culture and practices that promote workplace diversity.

Diversity activities and initiatives: Inclusion efforts ranging from cultural celebrations to educational programs encourage understanding and appreciation of diverse perspectives.

Performance metrics: By tracking key metrics (such as employee retention and turnover rates), companies can check the effectiveness of their current initiatives and make adjustments to reach their diversity and inclusion goals.

Diversity and inclusion: stories of transformation

a happy diverse team

There are plenty of organizations, both large and small, that exemplify the business success that can be achieved through building an inclusive culture.

One such example that we work with at Fingerprint for Success (F4S) is Canva, the world's leading online graphic design platform. Founded in 2012, diversity and inclusion aren't buzzwords for Canva. These values are at the core of who they are as an organization and how they engage with their millions of users across more than 190 countries.

One example: Since its start Canva has been translated into more than 100 different languages.

‘At Canva, we recognize that while English may be one of the most universally used and commonly spoken languages, it is just another language,’ the company explained.

The translation initiative was made possible by the breadth of the Canva team and their diverse backgrounds. The team was a driving force for the inclusion of languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and other right-to-left languages delivering an essential offering to the millions of users on Canva every day.

This inclusive approach is integrated into Canva's employee experience, too. For example, Canva doesn't simply build diverse teams, they use F4S' tools to empower them to understand what makes each of their team members tick.

‘We use F4S to understand people’s drivers and that allows us to be more inclusive,’ says Canva co-founder Cliff Obrecht. ‘If you understand what motivates someone, you understand the whole person and can support them to be their best selves. You can also help build a diverse team who works well together, rather than building a team of all the same behaviors and skill sets.’

Additionally, with a globally distributed team, Canva uses F4S culture maps to map out their team’s:

  • collective work motivations
  • communication preferences
  • shared blind spots
  • potential friction points across their many teams.

They’ve even tracked the cultural changes they’ve experienced as they’ve grown, by analyzing their F4S culture map results over many years.

Canva isn't the only D&I success story you can draw inspiration from.

  • Project F has helped many top tech organizations create better gender diversity from the ground up through its accreditations and training programs.
  • Australia Post has an excellent track record for its inclusivity efforts and diversity initiatives at all levels, including gender balance and actively welcoming LBTQI+ people, those with disabilities, and the culturally diverse.
  • In addition to the innovative client projects they work on in the D&I space, Melbourne-based human-centered design Portable joined the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion Pledge.
  • Global tech company Atlassian has many progressive diversity initiatives to foster a more inclusive organization, including a 'diverse slate' approach to hiring and professional development programs to provide growth opportunities for underrepresented employees.

What are the challenges and barriers to workplace diversity and inclusion: overcoming resistance

In an ideal world, all employees would be enthusiastically on board with your new workplace diversity initiatives, however, this won't always be the case. Some potential barriers include:

  • Accusations of tokenism: That is, hiring people from minority groups for the sole purpose of filling slots. You can mitigate this by incorporating tools such as Fingerprint for Success early into your hiring process to reduce bias and ensure you continue to make job offers based on the best fit for the role.
  • Fear of change: As humans, it's our instinct to resist the unknown. To reduce this resistance, consider rolling out a change management plan so employees are equipped with all the necessary information.
  • Loss aversion: Some employees may believe that by giving other groups their slice of the pie, there will be less for them. While this signals the need for a reality check, it helps to remind them that this simply levels the playing field.³
  • Resistance from minority groups: Nobody wants to feel patronized, so it's important to emphasize that your D&I initiatives exist to celebrate differences across the entire organization, not to single out specific groups.

What's the role of leadership?

While D&I initiatives are often driven by HR departments, there must be buy-in and involvement from upper management. Leaders set the tone, expectations, and values of the company, and it's difficult to build a culture of diversity and inclusivity if this is not in alignment.

The unfortunate reality is, that it's not always possible to achieve true D&I when your C-suite is dominated by those in positions of privilege. Sometimes, this requires sacrifice and one inspiring role model in this area is Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit.

As a white, cis-gender male, he put his ego aside and was able to acknowledge the limitations of his worldview. In 2020 (in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing by police) he stepped down from the company's board and requested his position be filled by a black person.

This isn’t to say that you have to fire your entire C-suite and intentionally hire from minority groups.  However, it serves as a reminder to ensure you have a diverse range of perspectives represented in leadership roles (as these values will cascade through the rest of the organization).

How to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Even if your leadership team is yet to fully embrace diversity and inclusion, this doesn’t mean you can’t change the status quo. Here are some simple strategies you can use to champion a sense of belonging inside your organization.

  • Establish clear goals and expectations: It can be challenging to get people on board if there's no clear destination in sight. Having a D&I vision statement and roadmap is a great way to ensure the entire organization is working towards the same aligned goal.
  • Bring your initiatives to life through storytelling: For many people, especially those who do not have lived experience as a minority, D&I can feel quite theoretical. Try using innovative tools such as F4S to contextualize concepts and data more tangibly. For example, our Culture Map tool illustrates cultural nuances across various regions for global companies, while our team performance features help employees understand what makes their colleagues tick.
  • Encourage open dialogue: As with any new company initiative, it’s important to keep channels of communication open so that employees (particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds) can share their feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • Strengthen employee engagement: Your employees are busy, and it's important that participating in D&I initiatives doesn’t feel like another task on their never-ending to-do lists. To gain buy-in from people, find ways to incentivize them, such as running events and workshops or participation challenges.
  • Foster psychological safety: Research shows that psychological safety plays an important mediating role in the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion.⁴ This is the extent to which employees feel safe to be themselves and share their ideas and feedback without fear of negative consequences. You can begin to build psychological safety long before you have any official D&I initiatives in place, by celebrating differences in perspectives inside your team.
team culture map shows this team values diverse ways of being and is highly tolerant
F4S team culture

How to foster empathy in your workplace

Empathy connects people across different walks of life, cultures, and creeds like nothing else. This is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another human being and understand how they might be feeling.

Recently, a viral video documented a heartwarming exchange between an older white woman and her young, male African-American neighbor. The woman turned up at her neighbor's door to complain that his flood lights were shining into her bedroom window, preventing her from sleeping.

The man patiently explained that they had already been through this, as she had called the police previously and they had confirmed his lights were not shining into her window. However, he offered to meet her halfway by turning his lights off at 10 pm and invited her to come over for a drink and a chat whenever she was lonely.

The man had the emotional intelligence to understand that this older woman, like many others, was likely lacking social connection and looking for an excuse to speak to her neighbor. Touched, the woman softened and nearly burst into tears. It was clear the gentleman had hit the nail on the head.

While this interaction did not occur in the workplace, it's an example of what can happen when you look beyond your immediate reality to consider different perspectives. The woman may never understand what it's like to deal with the police as an African American, and the man cannot understand (yet) what it's like to experience social isolation as an older person. However, they were able to find common ground to reach a solution.

Inside your organization, you can use F4S' team insights to understand the inner motivations and drives of the people you work with no matter how different they may seem from you.

Accelerate understanding between teams

Breadth

An illustration of a woman holding a circle object on her hand.

Motivated by macro big picture thinking, these teammates value moving quickly to connect dots between abstract ideas to 'get the gist' of things.

Chart showing rage from Average, High and Ver High.

vs

Depth

An illustration of a woman holding and using a protractor on her right hand.

These teammates value being concrete and specific, getting into details to understand the steps or tasks required.

Chart showing rage from Average, High and Ver High.

See the different work styles in your team

Take the free assessment & set up your team

Resources and tools

Diversity and inclusion best practices are complex and ever-evolving, so it's important to stay updated. To further your education, here are some of the best books, websites, podcasts, and organizations in this area:

Final tips and strategies

It's important to note that diversity and inclusion look different depending on the size and type of organization. If you're a small, remote startup, you may begin to build connections by utilizing the 'Donut' integration on Slack, which pairs employees from different teams and countries for a virtual coffee. If you're a large corporation, you might begin by forming an Employee Resource Group which can champion the initiative.

It's also essential to abide by the specific anti-discrimination and equal-opportunity legislation in your region. For example, in Australia, organizations are bound by a series of federal laws, including The Age Discrimination Act 2004 and The Racial Discrimination Act 1975. To ensure your organization is compliant, the United Nations is a great resource to stay updated with the current laws in your country.

Finally, the best diversity and inclusion policies aren't static. They continue to grow, improve, and evolve with your organization. It's a great idea to establish a maturity model for your D&I initiatives, so you can understand where you're currently at, and track your progress towards your desired destination over time.

Unlock the full potential of your people and organization with D&I in 2024

Diversity and inclusion best practices aren't just a 'nice to have,' they're a non-negotiable for companies that want to remain competitive. By celebrating diversity of all types, from gender and race to age and cognitive differences, you can build a workplace that's harmonious, innovative, and enjoyable to work at. The best part is, that you don't have to be in the C-suite to champion a brighter future. Revolutionary trailblazers come from all levels and departments. To begin unearthing the diverse potential of your organization, start by taking the F4S work style assessment and sharing it with your team.

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1.  Glassdoor for Employers, 2021 What Job Seekers Really Think About Your Diversity and Inclusion Stats, Glassdoor for Employers, https://www.glassdoor.com/employers/blog/diversity/

2. Maese E and Lloyd C, 2021, Understanding the Effects of Discrimination in the Workplace, Gallup, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349865/understanding-effects-discrimination-workplace.aspx

3. Williams J and Multhaup M, 2018, For Women and MInorities to Get Ahead, Managers Must Assign Work Fairly,Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2018/03/for-women-and-minorities-to-get-ahead-managers-must-assign-work-fairly

4. Bresman H and Edmondson A, 2022, Research: To Excel, Diverse Teams Need Psychological Safety, Harvard Business Review,  https://hbr.org/2022/03/research-to-excel-diverse-teams-need-psychological-safety

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