A More Diverse Workforce Benefits Everyone. Let's Build It Ourselves. | NAWBO

We’re energized by our belief that the future is female, and that the American workforce is growing more racially and culturally diverse all the time. But exactly how much progress have we made?

Sadly, the answer is not enough. McKinsey & Co. reports that over the past 3 years, the percentage of women on executive teams has risen only 2 points (to 14%). Ethnic and cultural diversity is growing even more slowly, rising just 1 point (to 13%) for that same period.

Amazing. Especially when you consider that research has shown a powerful link between diversity and the dramatic gains in innovation, team performance, employee engagement and retention – not to mention profits.

At NAWBO Chicago, we feel the message is clear. If the American workforce is going to change, we’ll need to take the lead. So this month we’re sharing practical advice to help you build a workforce that draws its strength from a diversity of skills, backgrounds and viewpoints.

Begin with a clear picture of what you want to achieve. This doesn’t mean you have to write a complex strategy, but you will need to visualize what your new and improved workforce will look like. Flyte, a media company in Maine, came up with 8 intriguing questions you can use to start the conversation, illustrating that diversity goes beyond race and gender.

Establish simple yet thoughtful hiring systems that widen your perspective. Studies show we tend to hire people who are a lot like us. To overcome this human tendency, you’ll not only need to be honest with yourself – but also, you’ll need specific strategies that lead you to a wider variety of candidates.

When reviewing resumes and setting up interviews, keep your vision of a new workforce front and center (and make sure your senior leaders do the same). Consider creating a hiring panel of several people so that potential biases are easier to spot and discuss. You may even choose to remove the names from the resumes you share with the team – a step that helps all of you avoid making snap judgments that aren’t based on qualifications.

Encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work. An inclusive workplace is one where everyone feels seen, heard and valued. Mersana Therapeutics, a life sciences company, is 50% female – a rarity in the world of biotech. “We celebrate individuals for who they are,” says Caryn Crasnick Maloney, HR director for the 80-member company. This means fostering a culture that welcomes differing views, backgrounds and experiences, she says. “We appreciate how people bring their personal story to work each day and how that impacts how they perform their job.”

Mersana employees form groups around personal interests and share their passions. They also choose which charities the company supports in the community, giving them even more chances to collaborate and share ideas.

Seek out vendors, consultants and community partners from diverse backgrounds. This step expands and deepens your commitment to change the way your company works. Start by getting engaged in broad, inclusive networks for business owners where you’ll meet a wider variety of potential partners. NAWBO is a great choice – and you’ll benefit from joining networks in your local community or professional field, too.

And ask employees to introduce you to new partners by encouraging them to network and bring you suggestions. Lift up each success as new partnerships take root.

Take pride in your success but be honest about what’s not working. Real change takes active, daily commitment. Make workforce culture part of the regular discussion among your senior leaders. Do new hires have access to mentors who will help them feel welcomed, valued and engaged? Are supervisors making sure that all voices are heard and respected? Pay attention to interpersonal issues that can create pockets of distrust within your organization. Inclusion means helping everyone see and overcome habits that can block your progress.

Keep your eyes on the prize: more success and more opportunity for everyone. As a business owner, show the world that you’re in it for ALL the benefits. You’re not just changing the way your company looks; you’re changing the way it functions. When employees come at challenges from a variety of viewpoints and everyone’s ideas are valued, the outcome is always stronger. Every business milestone reached reflects the talents of the whole.

Building a more diverse workforce will not only help create more jobs and higher earnings. You’ll be creating lasting change in the lives of those you hire and nurture -- and building a stronger community, too. These are achievements we can all celebrate.

Share your stories with us: We would love to feature NAWBO Chicago members who are making progress in building a more diverse workforce. Send tips and ideas to us at (info@nawbochicago.org).

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