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PHOTO: Eddi Aguirre

The digital workplace is making us question a lot of what we once took for granted. What does work mean? How are employees selected and trained? What kind of office do we want to work in ... or do we need an office at all?

Diversity, equity and inclusion are crucial to success in the digital workplace. It’s arguably even more important when we don’t have regular in-person interaction with our colleagues. Research continues to show that companies that rank in the top quartile for gender, racial, ethnic and cultural diversity are 21% to 33% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Beyond that, diversity of thought and opinion is more likely to bring new perspectives that are crucial for success.

It’s important to note that inclusion is different from diversity. You can hire a diverse workforce, but if they don’t feel embraced by their colleagues, if they don’t feel supported by executive leadership, and if they don’t feel empowered to drive change and share their perspectives, they are not included. Creating a culture of inclusion requires that everyone feels included, everyone participates and everyone works together to support the same goals. And while it starts with recruiting and training, it can also be supported with technology.

Recruit for a More Diverse Workforce

Despite repeated studies linking company performance to diversity, Deloitte’s recent Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective report shows that only 15% of all board seats and 4% of CEO and board chair positions globally are filled by women. But the study also shows that diversity begets diversity: organizations with women in top leadership positions have almost double the number of board seats held by women, and gender diverse boards are more likely to appoint a female CEO or board chair.

While you can’t change the diversity of your workforce overnight, you can change your recruiting initiatives to bring in more diverse candidates, which will ultimately improve the diversity of your organization. To attract diverse talent, consider:

  • Using inclusive language in job postings. A study on job postings found that masculine-type words like “ambitious” and “dominate” were less appealing to female applicants.
  • Offering workplace policies that are more appealing to diverse candidates. Consider offering work from home options, flexible hours, corporate responsibility programs including time off for volunteering, or more flexible holidays or PTO policies to attract parents of young children. These strategies don’t just help attract more diverse candidates, they also prevent employee turnover.

Drive innovation with diverse recruiting. Companies that actively promote inclusivity in recruiting are 45% more likely to report market share growth in one year. Build a diverse talent pool by not sticking to requirements too strictly. This way, you’ll build what the Center for Talent Innovation calls “2-D” diversity — diversity based on inherent characteristics like gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, as well as acquired traits like working in another country or selling to a different market.

Of course, you also want to showcase the diversity of your company and employees. Be sure your careers site shows your culture, leadership and employees. A survey conducted by Glassdoor found that 67% of candidates consider how diverse a company is when evaluating job offers. Make sure you’re accurately portraying what work life is like at your organization so your company isn’t eliminated right out of the gate.

Related Article: It's Time to Change Our Thinking About Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Mind the Generation Gap

When it comes to diversity and inclusion initiatives, it’s easy to focus on ethnicity, race and gender. But don’t forget another important facet of inclusion — generational diversity. Baby Boomers and those who came before them, frequently called Traditionalists or the Silent Generation, are remaining active in the workforce for longer periods of time. Meanwhile, the first members of Generation Z, roughly defined as those born since the mid-1990s, are beginning their careers and will soon make up a large share of the labor market. Generational inclusion runs both ways — you can’t discount older generations as “technologically illiterate” and incapable of change, while you can’t stereotype Gen Z as unable to lead because they only communicate through memes and GIFs.

Addressing the diverse digital habits and capabilities of each generation is key for managing the generation gap in modern work life and attracting multigenerational talent.

  • Set the tone from the top. As a leader, you must inspire creativity and new ways of thinking. You must manage by objective and be comfortable making decisions with incomplete information and in changing situations. If you are not demonstrating the benefits of continuous learning and change, how can you expect your team to? Lead by example and promote digital leadership skills in all generations of leaders to prepare your organization for the future.
  • Train for the future. If you know that you will need to prepare your employees for a future of automation, be sure that your change management strategy embraces training to increase user adoption. Consider using departmental champions to help train peers, training based on actual scenarios, or sandboxes where employees can test-drive new technology and get comfortable. Rooting your change strategy in education ultimately helps you succeed.
  • Don’t rely solely on technology. Technology should solve problems, not create new ones. And the common misconception that you can deploy a new technology system and expect your problems to disappear is not a generational issue, but rather a change management one that stems from lack of communication, broken processes or departmental silos. Make sure you’re developing a full plan to engage employees, everything from informal bonding to structured brainstorming to team meetings, so no one is left behind.

The future of work involves change for everyone, yet Accenture found that while nearly 80% of business leaders expect their organizations to be digital by 2020, half of these leaders don’t believe they have a digitally skilled workforce. You don’t want any of your employees to be left behind, so be sure you are preparing your entire workforce to think cross-functionally, shift from measuring output to outcomes, and focus on customer experience.

Related Article: How the Impact of Gen Z Will Improve the Workplace for the Rest of Us

Implement Technology to Support Inclusion

While innovations in AI, big data and automation have the potential to add objectivity to decision making, it’s important to recognize technology can also amplify and codify social bias — everything from deciding who gets a bank loan to image search results for “CEO” that return pictures of 49 white men and one image of a Barbie in a business suit.

How can you tackle bias in technology and use it to help foster a more inclusive environment in the workplace? Here are some ideas.

Automate Processes to Minimize Exclusion

Ask yourself which routine parts of your organization's work that can be more effectively done by technology. Not only will this free up staff time to focus on more meaningful work, automating processes defines decision-making and information-sharing so no one is left out. It’s a great way to reduce silos and maximize inclusion.

Use Technology to Support Collaboration

Consider using collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack to give employee resource groups (ERGs) and affinity groups a place to gather and share information. Providing ERGs with meeting space — whether digital or online — is an important way to give underrepresented communities a voice and encourage collaboration across offices.

Reassess Legacy Systems and Processes

It’s important to acknowledge that some uses of technology can perpetuate human biases and promote exclusion. Most recently, companies have come under fire for unconsciously building bias into machine learning algorithms. More commonly, an organization may only offer services online when some of its customer base does not have internet access. Be sure to assess existing systems and processes, incorporating feedback from end users to make sure that you are operating with inclusivity in mind.

Enable Disruption to Encourage Inclusivity

Your employees may see processes as broken or in need of improvement, but this innovation may be stifled by managers who lack the ability or desire to change. For organizations invested in digital transformation, the desire for disruption can become a significant asset. Offer all employees the opportunity to diagram business processes to ensure they are as simple, logical and consistent as possible, then let them work with organizational stakeholders to translate them into automated workflows.

Technology plays an important part in creating corporate environments that encourage communication, empower employees and turn inclusivity goals into reality. While previous solutions for diversity and inclusion focused solely on the individual, newer initiatives include considerations for equity, and focus on understanding how bias may begin with an individual, but quickly become codified into processes, policies and culture. So while individual training to eliminate bias is important, you can’t send those individuals back into an institutionalized system of inequity.

One way to bring an inclusive mindset to your organization is to stop thinking about “culture fit” and to start thinking about “culture add.” If you’re only looking for people who are exactly like the people you already have, innovation will be limited and you’ll be stuck in stasis. Think about how new hires can help move you forward. This requires you to be open to new ideas, give everyone a seat at the table and build a culture where everyone contributes. Ultimately, this will help drive your organization into the future.