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Want a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace? Work on Your Culture

A group of people sitting in a conference room.

Recent recommendations arising from an investigation into Uber Technologies Inc., amid allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior there, highlight how workplace culture can affect diversity and inclusion. 

The investigation by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran of law firm Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, D.C., was triggered by a Feb. 19, 2017, blog post by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler. In it, she alleged that she had been a victim of sexual harassment, gender bias and retaliation at the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company.

While diversity is seen as employing workers of different races, religions, ages, sexual orientations, genders and physical abilities, inclusion goes beyond the presence of a diverse group of employees to encompass all aspects of an organization's operations, according to the investigators' report.

[SHRM members-only Member2Member Solutions: Your Culture Shapes What Your Business Becomes]

For example, the report stated, Uber can be more inclusive by reviewing and modifying its leave policies to distinguish between "primary caregivers" and "secondary caregivers" rather than "mothers" and "fathers."

While seemingly minor, other recommendations—such as adopting flexible work arrangements and changing the time of the company's catered dinner so that a broader group of employees can participate—also affect workplace culture and impact recruitment and retention.

Day-to-Day Experiences

A recent Deloitte survey found that 80 percent of more than 1,300 full-time employees in the U.S. said inclusion is an important factor when choosing an employer. Nearly three-fourths of respondents said they would leave or consider leaving their employer for a more inclusive organization.

"[Inclusion is] really about how do people experience the [organization] on a day-to-day basis," said Deb DeHaas, Deloitte's vice chairman and chief inclusion officer. Organizations need to think strategically and go beyond programs to nurture a culture of inclusive day-to-day experiences.

"How do people treat [each other]? What do they see in terms of behavior that demonstrates inclusion?" DeHaas asked. Deloitte's findings, she added, "seem to indicate … leadership behaviors are extremely important so they can be modeled by others inside the organization."

That sentiment was reflected in the 46 actions recommended to Uber, including:

  • Reformulating Uber's written values so that they are more inclusive and contribute to a collaborative environment—and removing values that are redundant "or have been used to justify poor behavior." 
  • Expecting senior leaders to embrace and communicate the reformulated values to employees. 
  • Engaging a consultant experienced in inclusive leadership to train and coach all senior leaders and provide mandatory training for managers on diversity, unconscious bias and inclusion—including how to conduct inclusive job interviews.
  • Adopting a version of the "Rooney Rule," which would require interviewing at least one woman and one member of an underreprsented minority group in each pool of job candidates. Uber also should include at least one woman and/or a member of a population underrepresented at the company on all of its appliant interview panels.
  • Adopting and promoting a sponsorship program—with guidelines and resources—in which people in positions to promote the success of a more junior employee or protégé help guide those individuals in their career development. The program would target key populations, create career pathways and be tied to sponsors' performance goals.
  • Recognizing and supporting employee diversity efforts by recommending or requiring workers spend a portion of their time contributing to the company's workplace environment—such as volunteering with employee resource groups—and crediting them for their efforts in the performance review.
  • Increasing the profile of the company's head of diversity by renaming the position chief diversity and inclusion officer and having that person report directly to the CEO or chief operating officer.

"It is equally important that the role address both diversity and inclusion," Holder and Albarran said in their report.

That includes regularly publishing data on Uber's diversity and inclusion numbers, sending updates to employees regarding the company's diversity efforts, and reaching out to employees in affinity groups.

Understand Inclusion at Your Organization

"Because inclusion is so personal, employers should try to understand how inclusion is experienced in their organization," said Deepa Pirushothaman, a national managing principal of inclusion at Deloitte, in a news release. "They should ask themselves how their business practices impact their employees and take an honest look at whether they have the right workplace culture to make people feel like they belong."

A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report released June 21 and based on global research found that 30 percent of women surveyed thought their workplace culture posed an obstacle to gender diversity, compared to 18 percent of men.

The report, based on a survey of 17,500 employees and interviews with more than 200 senior executives in 21 countries, noted key differences in what men and women consider to be the most effective ways to achieve gender diversity.

BCG advised organizations to focus on the following initiatives that it said senior male executives tend to underrate but that female employees say are the most effective in achieving gender diversity:

  • Increasing the visibility of female role models.
  • Empowering men to support gender diversity in the workplace.
  • Providing support for women at key moments in their lives, such as flexible work arrangements for women returning from maternity leave or information on housing, child care and other arrangements when they are considering an international assignment.
When the recommendations for Uber were made public June 13, the company stated that while change does not happen overnight, implementing the changes "will improve its culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated."

"Uber is a true disrupter," Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade, told SHRM Online in an e-mail. The corporate wellness technology company in Bellevue, Wash., was named among the 2016 Best Medium Workplaces and the 2015 Best Workplaces for Women.

"They've built something remarkable in a short period of time," he observed. "But if they want to sustain their growth for the long term, they'll need to create a culture that treats people like people.

"If Uber can reshape [its] culture to support the well-being of [its] people, [it'll] have a better shot at retaining the employees who make growth happen."


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