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Let’s focus on something other than Covid-19 for a change.
In fact, let’s focus on change: in particular the changing face of the U.S. workforce—and the changes companies need to make to attract, retain and engage this widely heterogeneous workforce in the future.
I’m talking specifically about company policies and efforts [There’s a difference.] to promote diversity and inclusion, and the moral, legal and fiduciary obligation of company officials to create open-arms policies that make their firms magnets for top talent. This can’t be done without also making employees feel at home at work. Leadership here is especially critical.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 20 years, I’m sure you’ve noticed that today’s workplace is vastly different. Not only are there typically more women, people of color and immigrants in many industries than in the recent past, there also are more individuals of diverse genders and sexualities, members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community.
This is a big change. And for some, change can be challenging. As a British government Web site for government communications specialists notes, change can trigger a variety of emotions, including anxiety, fear, shock, disillusionment and frustration. Changes in your place of employment—new ownership, a new supervisor, new policies, new procedures, new expectations—can seem especially unsettling.
That’s why it’s so important for leaders to keep everyone informed about what’s going on and why. When people “buy in” to the changes taking place—or, better yet, feel as though they contributed in at least some small way to the decision-making—they’ll grab an oar and row. When decisions are merely handed down by the oracle in the C Suite, employees feel less invested in the success of the new regime.
Covid-induced remote work aside, few recent changes have been more confusing for many organizations than the shattering of what a Harvard Business Review article earlier this year referred to as the “longstanding cultural norms” used “to sort and organize people into demographic groups.” This is especially so when these institutionalized classifications segue into sexual orientation and personal identity issues.
The HBR meta-analysis reviews more than 300 scholarly articles published in leading management publications over a 20-year period, from 1996 to 2015. The authors found “that an overwhelming majority … (approx. 95% of the articles reviewed) categorize race, gender and ethnicity in traditional, normative ways”— largely reflecting government regulations and past practices. The trouble is: Most of the 300 articles don’t reflect our changing culture, leading companies to “treat identity [in ways that are] … increasingly misaligned with the complex ways employees—as well as customers, clients, and other stakeholders—see themselves.” You need to think of each employee as a “segment of one” rather than trying to peg them in traditional categories.
The identity question is new territory for many companies, and may be particularly so for long-time employees, some of whom may be wondering (but dare not ask), “What’s this all about?”
So let me explain what it’s all about: It’s about accepting colleagues and co-workers as they are—and judging them on the basis of what they contribute to the greater good, not whether you approve or disapprove of the identity they embrace, or whether they make you “comfortable” or “uncomfortable.”
In fact, the last thing any workplace needs right now is a gang of people, even a gang of one, being judgmental. Instead, company culture needs to change so everyone who’s doing his/her/their job is made to feel an important part of the team.
When today’s senior managers, executives and other veteran employees began their careers, these issues were barely on the radar screen. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate in hiring, promotion, etc., on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin. In the years since, age discrimination has been made unlawful, employers have been ordered to make reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, and in the term just ended, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual orientation or gender identity, not just biological sex.
You might view this is a tempest in a teapot. But, in fact, 4.5% of the U.S. population, an estimated 11 million people —88% of whom were employed prior to the Covid crisis—identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to the National LBGTQ Workers Center.
That makes it a supersized teapot.
As noted in a recent white paper published jointly by BCG and New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization and service provider, companies still have a lot of work to do if they hope to create a truly inclusive workplace.
There has been progress, the report stresses, but “the undeniable fact is that most LGBTQ employees do not feel truly included” in their workplace. Despite “significant investment and decades of hard work,” the authors say in A New LGBTQ Workforce Has Arrived—Inclusive Cultures Must Follow, 75% of LGBTQ employees report having negative interactions with coworkers in the past year, 40% still remain “closeted” at work and more than half of those who are out at work don’t dare tell customers and clients. Not only does this create unnecessary stress for the affected employees, it negatively impacts their work, decreasing their productivity by as much as 40% and making them 13 times more likely to quit. That’s a lot of wasted talent!
Of course, companies need to approach these new realities on two tracks. The first is the formal track. They need to get their policies and practices right, providing equal healthcare programs, establishing mentorship programs and increasing the number of gender-neutral bathrooms.
But these alone are not enough. They address only the formal workplace environment, not the countless informal interactions that occur among employees every day. Only changes in the company’s culture can set that right. That’s the second track.
Changes of this nature start at the top, which brings me back to why leadership is especially critical. And here leadership can be very practical by encouraging employee self-identification, including how they would like to be addressed; establishing inclusiveness performance standards and measures for managers, and appointing a confidential workplace ombudsperson to hear and resolve employee concerns. As with all culture change, actions speak louder than words.
Talent shortages will undoubtedly return in the post-Covid era. Workplace diversity and inclusion will become more important than ever.
For the original article, visit: Forbes