An Inclusive Workforce Is Good for Employers, Employees and Business: Why Investing in Diversity Is the Smart Thing To Do

By Brandon Vogel

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Diversity initiatives should not be a one-time response or a single grand gesture. A commitment to diversity and inclusive leadership involves small daily actions and comments that promote a healthy work environment.

This was a key assessment of presenter Holly English (Nukk-Freeman & Cerra) on the recent webinar, “Respect and Civility In The Workplace.”

English discussed the importance of inclusive culture and why it makes not only legal sense, but economic sense for firms and businesses.

Why It’s Good for All

Inclusion is good for employees because they treat each other with respect and equity. “Greater inclusion within a workplace results in greater unity,” said English.

People, even if they get negative feedback, will ascribe it to legitimate business concerns without thinking it was tainted by bias or favoritism.

“You have people who feel they can bring their whole serves to work. They do not have to hide aspects of their lives that might be related to their race, religion or gender,” said English. “Most importantly, they can focus 100% on their jobs.”

Inclusion is also good for employers.

A 2015 McKinsey report, Diversity Matters, found that companies in the top quartile are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns greater than the industry average.

A subsequent Harvard Business Review study, Why Diverse Teams are Smarter, concluded that more diverse teams earn much better results. They perform at higher levels, innovate more and work collaboratively.

Legal costs go down for reduced EEOC claims and litigation, said English.

A 2020 Citigroup study, Closing the Racial Inequality Gaps, found that racism has cost the U.S. economy $16 trillion since 2000. The same study determined that the economy would see a $5 trillion boost if racial gaps were closed.

Understanding the terms

Discrimination, English explained, is behavior based on protected characteristics that results in adverse employment actions.

Examples include: not hiring due to age, firing due to disability, failing to promote due to gender, or reassigning to positions with significantly different duties because of marital status. In addition to federal law, New York law protects against age discrimination, marital status, expressing breast milk and conviction records.

She defined a hostile work environment as one where an employee is subjected to unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic that is either so severe (one comment or act that is deemed outrageous or offensive) or pervasive (conduct occurs repeatedly or regularly) that a reasonable person would find the work environment hostile.

Under New York law, harassment occurs when an employee is subject to inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the employee’s membership in a legally protected category. Petty slights or trivial inconveniences do not rise to the level of unlawful workplace harassment.

How to stand up against bullies in the workforce

It’s not the loud boisterous employee that is necessarily the workplace bully. It can be the person who sits behind a keyboard sending humiliating “reply all” emails or sending cynical messages about other employees in Microsoft Teams.

Workplace bullying is conduct that is negative in nature, but it does not involve a protected characteristic, said English. The attitudes surrounding workplace bullying have changed dramatically. A decade ago, the behavior of bullies who did their jobs well was often overlooked.

Employees expect to work in an environment that is comfortable and free from all inappropriate conduct.

English said it creates an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. Employees begin to talk about the bully and not their jobs.

Bullied employees are more likely to pursue other legal claims, resulting in costly litigation, explained English. She has received more requests about this type of training than any other, as employers assess the legal risks and determine bullying is not acceptable.

The first step to preventing bullying is to avoid engaging in bullying conduct yourself. Next, take steps to address bullying conduct when you witness it. Being a bully can carry negative connotations in your current job and your next one.

English encouraged participants to be an upstander, someone who witnesses wrongdoing and takes action to address it (directly or indirectly). By comparison, bystanders recognize that what is happening isn’t right but don’t take action.

The great thing about being an upstander, said English, is that you can respond based on the situation itself, your own personality and work culture. She recommended that upstanders ask simple, open-ended questions, publicly or privately support someone who has been neglected, and use body language to show disapproval.

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