Viewpoint: How to Create a More Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Workplace

By Jeremy Mittman and Corey Singer August 27, 2020
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a diverse group of workers

​Employers have long heard that a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace can benefit a company's bottom line: Diverse leadership teams typically result in more innovation, faster problem solving, better engagement and increased financial performance.

Many employers have taken strides to improve diversity by encouraging individuals from all walks of life and perspectives to apply; asserting a strong commitment to diversity; and developing employee affinity groups for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and those who identify as LGBTQ. Despite these investments, approximately 75 percent of employees in underrepresented groups said in a 2019 Harvard Business Review study that such efforts have been insufficient.

What steps can employers take to overhaul their corporate culture and recruitment process so that they not only attract more diverse candidates but also keep current employees satisfied and engaged? The following recommendations have proved effective and can have a lasting return on investment.

Embrace an Inclusive Workplace Model

If a company is committed to improving diversity, equity and inclusion, that commitment must be apparent at the highest levels of leadership. Senior management should reflect a variety of different cultural backgrounds and perspectives. Diversity attracts diversity.

Moreover, employees should feel a sense of belonging at the company. It is incumbent on company leadership to prioritize policies that allow employees to feel like they can express who they are at work and that celebrate them for those attributes. When employees feel that they have to hide or mask core parts of themselves at work, it can impact motivation, engagement, and ultimately retention and turnover rates.

Ways employers can adopt an inclusive workplace model and demonstrate that diversity is a priority include:

  • Instituting flexible work schedules and work-from-home options while implementing a robust telecommuting policy that, among other things, reimburses employees for reasonable business expenses.
  • Strengthening anti-discrimination and harassment policies and ensuring that they contain recent legal requirements, especially in California and New York.
  • Forming an inclusion council made up of diverse employees and considering whether nonexempt employees need to be compensated for such work.
  • Setting up dedicated nursing rooms for mothers that comply with state lactation-accommodation laws.
  • Offering onsite day care.
  • Opening up a dialogue about gender pay inequality and addressing any disparate pay issues.
  • Providing a meditation or prayer room.
  • Offering floating holidays to accommodate the religious preferences of all employees while adhering to applicable vacation pay laws.
  • Adopting diversity programming to honor employees' religious and cultural practices.

Commit to Addressing Unconscious Bias

Research has shown that the hiring process is full of bias, much of it unconscious sexism, racism and ageism. Make employees aware of these biases by requiring unconscious-bias training and providing workers with tools to combat bias.

One increasingly popular technique to reduce bias in hiring is to hide all personal information on resumes. Information like name, schools, date of birth, specific locations and so on can all contribute to some degree to a biased assessment of the candidate, even if the decision maker is unaware of it.

When interviewing applicants, employers should consider adopting a standardized set of questions. By asking all candidates interviewing for the same position the same questions, companies can minimize any personal biases and be more objective in assessing who would be best prepared for a job. Companies should also include diverse employees as decision-makers in the recruitment process for that same reason.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: Implicit Bias Resource Guide]

Strategically Seed the Recruiting Pipeline with Diverse Talent

To increase diversity in their workforces, companies need to plant the seeds for diverse candidates to succeed in landing jobs. A recent Harvard Business Review study concluded that when the final candidate pool has one minority candidate, he or she has virtually zero chance of getting hired.

But a "two-in-the-pool effect" represents a promising method for overcoming unconscious biases and increasing diversity in the workplace. If there are at least two female candidates in the final pool, the odds of hiring a female candidate are 79 times greater. If there are at least two minority candidates in the final pool, the odds of hiring a minority candidate are 194 times greater. While efforts to include more than one diverse candidate in the final pool are encouraged, a company should avoid making this a mandatory feature in its recruitment process, as such a policy would amount to an impermissible quota that could run afoul of state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Providing a bonus to employees who refer diverse candidates is another way to enhance diverse representation. A company could offer a $10,000 bonus for employees who refer a minority candidate and a $5,000 bonus for those who refer a nonminority candidate. It is critical, however, that the reasons for hiring are not solely based on the applicant's protected characteristic, as that would be unlawful; an employer cannot, for example, deliberately choose to hire only Hispanic applicants to rectify underrepresentation, just as it cannot choose to hire only white males.

Jeremy Mittman and Corey Singer are attorneys with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP in Los Angeles.

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