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Diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace

Many of us are familiar with efforts to increase workforce diversity in relation to characteristics such as gender, religion, ethnicity, race, disability, age, sexual orientation and education.

While diversifying the workforce may be difficult, research has demonstrated there are numerous benefits to employing people with varying attributes. For example, a diverse workforce is associated with greater employee performance, higher creativity in decision-making, a wider breadth of perspectives, increased profits and broader appeal to customers. In addition, employers that make a concerted effort to diversify typically have larger applicant pools, increasing the chances of recruiting excellent talent.

Diversity is clearly important, just as important is creating equitable opportunities for employees, as well as an inclusive workplace. This is why discussing the importance of diversity initiatives has been revised in favor of discussing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Ensuring equity in the workplace means all employees have opportunities to learn, grow and advance. Unfortunately, many workplaces focus on growing and promoting their absolute best employees while providing few, or only token, opportunities to everyone else. In a 2018 interview, CNN’s Vance Jones stated, “Genius is actually pretty uniformly spread out, but opportunity is not.”

This lack of opportunity is a lack of equity that should be done away with. Fostering equity can occur, for example, by focusing on an applicant’s or employee’s potential rather than experience, and offering training and mentorship to employees who have not had such opportunities in the past.

Workplace inclusion means the workplace has a culture that respects and appreciates all employees to where they feel valued and heard. Furthermore, an inclusive workplace will lead to all employees feeling included. While writing for the Society for Human Resource Management, Kathy Gurchiek used the analogy of selecting members of a chorus to distinguish between diversity and inclusion. The chorus will be diverse if you select members from different musical backgrounds with varying vocal ranges and skills. The chorus will be inclusive if all of the different voices are heard and valued and contribute to the performance. While creating an inclusive workplace may seem difficult, Gurchiek provides strategies for creating such an environment:

Educate your leaders as to what inclusion is and why it is importantForm an inclusion committee to focus on the work of inclusivenessCelebrate employee differences in order to show you respect their backgrounds and differencesListen to employees to gain a better sense of their experiencesHave more effective meetings where all employees are able to contributeCommunicate and measure goals related to inclusion and engagement.Suffice it to say, emphasizing workplace DEI initiatives makes moral, ethical and business sense.

Emphasizing DEI initiatives is also of importance to Local First as doing so is in excellent alignment with our vision of a thriving community that builds everyone up while protecting the place in which we work, live and play. While we are staunch advocates for our local, independently owned businesses, we are also advocates for those businesses’ employees. In fact, you can learn more about our commitment to DEI on our website at local-first.org/initiatives/act-local/diversity. With this in mind, our call to action is to take whatever steps you can toward creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. You, your employees and your business will surely benefit.

Steve Elias is chairman of the board of Local First in Durango. Contact him at steve@local-first.org.