These days, it’s easy for a company to put out a statement supporting a cause, such as the importance of diversity or closing the wealth gap. Talk, however, is just that—talk. Talk alone won’t fix racial discrimination, poverty and other pressing issues.
Consider what CNBC’s Pippa Stevens reported in June 2020: “Social values aside, there’s a real financial risk for companies that fail to put their money where their mouth is. A lack of diversity in background and experience can stifle innovation and promote group think.”
Action is what will move the needle when it comes to inequalities. If you’re a business leader, here are four steps you can take to start changing things for the better.
1. Prioritize Diversity When Hiring—and Inclusion at Work
Diversity is morally important. It’s also essential if you want your business to thrive.
According to 2019 findings from McKinsey, “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.” Furthermore, McKinsey found that “in 2019, top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth one by 36 percent in profitability.”
As for how to prioritize diversity in your hiring practices, there are various tips online, including creating more standard interview questions and addressing existing biases you and your team members might have. And, of course, it’s not enough to prioritize diversity during the hiring stage. You must follow through by creating and maintaining an inclusive work environment.
2. Seek Feedback
I’ve previously touched on how asking for feedback from your team members can help you determine if you’re following through with your values at work. As business leaders, it’s imperative that we understand where our employees are coming from so that we can better address their needs and swiftly fix any issues. A good way to start better understanding how your employees feel is to create a work atmosphere where people know they are welcome to voice their thoughts—and are encouraged to do so.
You can cultivate such an atmosphere through both formal and informal means. For example, you can create a Slack channel where employees can discuss what’s on their minds, and you can also regularly send out anonymous surveys to your team members to get their thoughts on various workplace issues.
In doing so, you’ll likely learn something that can propel you to take action to reduce inequalities. For example, maybe your employees with children express that your company’s hours aren’t flexible enough; it’s tough for them to pick up their kids from school. In response, you can implement a more flexible working schedule for all your employees, so they can leave early to pick up their kids from school, tend to errands, etc.
Or, you might learn that your employees don’t feel like your company is diverse. In turn, you could revamp your hiring practices to be more inclusive. And with an open work environment where people feel free to discuss what they’re going through, you can better support them during tough times.
3. Pay Your Employees Living Wages
As I explained above, you can better meet your employees’ needs by seeking feedback. Needs can fall under various categories, such as financial, psychological and social. All these needs are important, but I want to focus on pay.
There are companies out there that don’t provide living wages to their employees. A report released in 2022 by the Brookings Institution examined 22 companies that together employ over 7 million frontline workers, of which more than half are nonwhite. The research found that while most companies in its analysis “raised wages in the first 22 months of the pandemic, at least nominally,” because of a “combination of high inflation and a very low starting point, the vast majority of their workers still earn too little to get by.” It’s a sad, unacceptable state of affairs.
Business leaders can’t claim to value diversity and inclusion or value combatting inequalities in our country if they don’t pay living wages. If your full-time employees can’t afford to pay for food, shelter, healthcare, etc., on the wages you provide, you must make some changes.
4. Strive to Learn and Challenge Explicit and Implicit Biases
As business leaders, we must educate ourselves on inequalities. We must use the resources available to us, such as books and the internet, to learn about the injustices different groups have faced and are still facing.
Educating ourselves is one part of the equation. Earlier, I briefly mentioned examining any biases you or your colleagues might have. It’s vital to address both explicit and implicit biases.
In a podcast interview with the American Psychological Association, Mahzarin Banaji, a psychologist renowned for her research into implicit bias, stated that implicit bias “is not at all the same thing as racism or sexism, but it indeed is evidence of an association in our heads” that is “the roots of prejudice.”
I can’t stress enough how important it is for every business leader to self-reflect and ask themselves the hard questions so they can challenge biases they might have about various people. Starting the self-reflection process is the first step, but it is far from enough.
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There are ways business leaders can challenge explicit and implicit biases. For example, the Perception Institute states, “when conducted under the right conditions, studies show intergroup contact between people of different races can increase trust and reduce the anxiety that underlies bias.” And according to a Harvard Business Review article by Lori Nishiura Mackenzie and Shelley J. Correll, putting “additive contribution” front and center is one avenue toward reducing implicit biases.
When we strive to learn, challenge ourselves and take action, that’s when we can truly begin doing our part to address inequalities—for doing so is our duty.