Transform diversity into inclusion

Nancy Ahlrichs
Nancy Ahlrichs

Nancy S. Ahlrichs

My first assignment in my new job was to develop a diversity plan to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven throughout our culture.

I soon realized that plans and metrics are not enough.

Diversity may once have meant just racial differences, but today it includes, race, religion, national origin, age, gender, gender identity and even political affiliation.

Acceptance of diversity is the first step toward inclusion and building a better work experience, improving recruiting and lowering turnover.

If diversity is reality, then inclusion is the place we want to be.

Wherever all people feel heard and supported to do their personal best, there is inclusion.

Inclusion must be created. But how?

I knew that, more than a plan with metrics, inclusion needed to become part of the fabric of the organization.

I knew I could not do it alone and that it would take time and repeated effort.

I outlined ways to make inclusion part of our culture and shared it with all employees.

Here are eight things you can do to foster inclusion and diversity:

* Take a diversity or inclusion course. Encourage others to do so. Share your learning.

* Read your organization’s diversity plan. Step up. Take action to make the goals a reality. Speak in the hallways, share a ride or ask others about their work or themselves. Help to make your workplace a “great place to work for all — including diverse employees.”

* Join and engage in at least one diversity-focused organization. This could include churches, civic or professional organizations.

* Include business-relevant information about your organization’s diversity and inclusion initiative in presentations to clients and prospective clients.

* Learn about others’ traditions, cultures and celebrations and what you have in common. Once a month, go to lunch with someone different than yourself and ask each other questions. Uncover five things you have in common.

* Mentor someone with a different background.

* Refer talented candidates from all backgrounds to your organization for such roles as employees, vendors, board members.

* Invite professionals with different backgrounds to events sponsored by your organization.

Diversity plans cannot change the experience of work. Inclusion does. Inclusion feels safe, welcoming, energizing and filled with potential. Whether you are Anglo,
Hispanic, African American, Asian, young, old, staff, management, Catholic, Muslim or Jewish, we all want inclusion: It is what makes the experience of  work worth all the effort.

Nancy Ahlrichs is vice president for workforce development and diversity at United Way of Central Indiana.

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