We’ve been arguing for years that a focus on diversity and inclusion isn’t simply a feel-good activity, it’s solid business sense and can present concrete competitive advantages. That’s still true. Inclusion, not just diversity (counting the people, reaching the quotas) is what will make a difference in terms of:
The percentage of non-White Americans has steadily increased over the last several decades. In 1940, nearly ninety percent of the U.S. population was White. In 2010, that number had fallen to just over 72 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2042, there will be more non-White Americans than White. And race is far from the only dimension of diversity; women make up nearly half of the American workplace; and roughly 4.5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as LGBT, however one 2015 study found that 31 percent of young Americans don’t identify as exclusively homosexual.
It would be foolish for companies to ignore nearly half of the available workforce in their recruitment efforts; but that’s effectively what companies are doing when they fail to prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts. Not only do they risk not reaching out to diverse groups; but if diverse candidates feel like a company is lacking in its commitment to diversity and inclusion, they are less likely to want to work there.
Even less diverse regions should take note of this trend, particularly as improvements and technology and workplace changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic make remote work increasingly accepted and expected. In a remote work environment, the entire nation and even world – with all its diversity – becomes the potential applicant pool.
Engagement, Retention and Productivity
Aside from the recruitment process, commitment to inclusion is important for maintaining high levels of engagement among existing employees. Staff that feel like they and those like them have a seat at the table, are valued and have genuine opportunities for advancement are far more likely to be engaged at work. This means they are far more likely to stick around and will generally be more productive than those that aren’t engaged.
Innovation is a great example of why inclusion is about far more than meeting quotas. Companies that have a collection of diverse individuals and are inclusive of that diversity are more innovative than those that are not. Why? Because inclusive companies leverage a wider variety of viewpoints, experiences and thinking processes than non-diverse companies. Imagine a brainstorming session between a group of people who look the same, think the same, are the same. It’s not really brainstorming, is it?
As we’ve already pointed out, the America of today doesn’t look like the America of 1940, or even 2000. It’s increasingly diverse, and that’s a trend that is expected to continue well into the future. That doesn’t just mean more diverse faces. It means more diverse pockets. For example, people of color hold an increasing share of buying power in the American economy, with Black, Asian and Latinx people each accounting for well over $1 trillion in buying power as of 2019. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table for companies that aren’t marketing to these groups—that aren’t including these groups’ input.
But how can one effectively market to a group that one knows little to nothing about? Inclusion creates a broader institutional understanding of everyone in the United States and other markets, including how they spend their money. Think it doesn’t matter? We have only to look to the increasing number of Americans advocating for boycotts against companies they perceive to be antagonistic or simply indifferent to movements like Black Lives Matter.