Are you greater than the sun that shines on everyone: Black, Brown, Yellow, Red and White, the sun does not discriminate. — Sara Ting, “Sun Poem”
You’ve seen the warning on your rearview mirror: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” The future seems to be approaching faster than ever before. The rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) is raising questions about the employable skills, attitudes and behaviors necessary to thrive in the future of work. Given the dramatic shifts taking place in the work world, how to prepare for the future of work poses one of the biggest questions — and opportunities — of our time.
That said, the business case for diversity and inclusion has never been more front and center than it is now — and why not? Organizations with diverse workforces are better prepared to meet the complex demands of a dynamically changing business environment. In fact, multiple studies show that proactively encouraging diversity can directly impact a company’s bottom line. The Center for Talent Innovation, for instance, found that firms with high diversity levels experienced an 80% performance improvement compared with companies with low diversity levels, and research by the American Sociological Association found that for every 1% rise in the rate of diversity in a business, there was a 3% to 9% rise in sales revenue. These are just some of the studies pointing to why diversity is quickly becoming a pillar of productivity, profitability and engagement.
While many companies are jumping on board the diversity and inclusion bandwagon by creating and amending workplace policies, fewer are seeing actual results. Too often, “inclusion” is the missing ingredient — simply hiring people from diverse backgrounds does not automatically make your company a future-of-work champion. In order to make diversity truly inclusive, companies need to encourage their diverse workforces to work together effectively.
We propose three ways for businesses to effectively pursue diversity and inclusion practices to master the future of work:
- Treat D&I as a learning priority, not a training priority. Employees need to be exposed to a range of realistic experiences so they can easily adapt to situations at work and learn to respect others’ feelings. Using augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies, employees can gain empathy by experiencing the workplace in someone else’s shoes. Viewing their office from the eyes of a disabled person, for example, could help people manage their unconscious biases by better understanding the workplace accommodations that could increase productivity and comfort for every worker. These learning experiences would be far more effective than the “overnight-fix” types of diversity training programs that are typically employed.
- Embrace inclusion as a skill that makes humans more human. As the future of work unfolds, what makes us human will make us employable. Companies are increasingly placing a premium on job applicants who demonstrate skills like flexibility, self-motivation, empathy, resilience, creativity and communication, as they know these capabilities will become a competitive advantage when paired with the strengths of AI-driven machines. What if we made inclusion an essential skill rather than just a corporate-level concept? This small change in mindset would turn inclusion from ”program-driven” to ”competency-driven” and would deepen trust between employees and employers and among employees themselves.
- Ensure leaders walk the talk. No matter how inclusive and diverse your D&I efforts are, if leaders are undermining them, things will not change much — they can’t be passive supporters. Leaders have a disproportionate effect on setting the tone of the culture and, as such, they have a tremendous opportunity to create a space in which everyone can voice their honest, authentic feelings without judgment. People perform best when they feel valued, empowered and respected by their peers, not if they are fearful of being attacked for saying the wrong thing. When leaders are proactively engaged in discussing opportunities and challenges related to D&I, the entire organization is also engaged. For example, Frédéric Roze, the CEO of L’Oreal U.S.A., is intimately involved with the efforts to create a culture of inclusion. He is quoted as saying, “I have to be the champion of diversity and inclusion. It is my job to be a role model and show how important this is to our company.” The biggest driver of D&I success within a company is an unconditional commitment from the executive teams to making it happen.
We’re poised at a critical moment in time, with AI and automation driving us to rethink our existing workforce and business models. How we respond to this moment — that is, the choices and decisions we make in the next few years — will shape the fate of many individuals, educators, businesses and economies. In this moment, creating an inclusive and diverse work environment is not only the right thing to do; it is the key to businesses surviving and thriving in the digital economy.