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Four ways to increase inclusion

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In this article, Mikaela Kiner, HR expert and founder and CEO of uniquelyHR, shares the steps HR professionals and companies can take to ensure each individual in a diverse team feels valued.

Many companies are making strides to increase diversity across their organisations, strengthening their teams and increasing profitability, while also working to build a more inclusive culture.

While diversity and inclusion are closely related, the core difference is perhaps best described by  CEO and founder of Inclusology Cheryl Ingram: “Diversity is about representation; inclusion is about culture.” Or put another way: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Prioritising diversity in the people you hire (inviting them to the party) is the first step, but the actions companies take around inclusion are ultimately what define their ability to grow and retain a diverse team.

To build a healthy company, you need to welcome and empower employees (inviting them to dance) – making them an integral part of your team, where they know their work and identity matter and are valued. This takes commitment from everyone in the company from the CEO to the summer intern.

Here are four steps HR professionals and companies can take to create a culture of inclusion:

1. Be mindful of the culture you’re co-creating

Culture, like climate, sets the mood, dictates comfort, and fosters or inhibits growth. But culture must be purposefully shaped. As HR professionals, we are uniquely positioned to lead the way. Mindfully cultivating inclusive practices is vital to our role; we are well positioned to help all stakeholders fully participate.

Because of its importance and many nuances, it’s key to develop inclusion mindfully. Creating a healthy, inclusive climate at a startup is a lot easier because you’re small and there are fewer players to engage. Members of your founding team become your cultural ambassadors who will train the next generation.

Keep in mind, too, that executive buy-in is critical. If your senior executives don’t value diversity, equity and inclusion, then it simply isn’t a priority for your company.

2. Train your hiring managers

Hiring managers are your frontline when seeking diversity and inclusion. They recruit the team that will exude and champion your company’s values. They are also your brand ambassadors in the community. They write the job posts. They pose the interview questions. They articulate your corporate vision and values to prospective employees.

There is a lot of learning and perhaps unlearning that must happen for them to succeed. Dislodging biases is a complex undertaking that requires authenticity and self-awareness.  Recognising the unconscious biases we harbor truly enables us to see ourselves more clearly as people and as professionals, including the blind spots that can hold us back.

One example from my own experience: I had a highly qualified Indian colleague who was job searching. She didn’t get any interviews until she adopted an American nickname. Then she immediately got five calls from prospective employers. Part of this was likely because hiring managers had no association to draw from her name. It didn’t resonate with them, so her resume was quickly screened and passed over.

Training on cultural sensitivity and unconscious bias helps hiring managers slow down and be more intentional about the choices they make. There are even tools that enable blind hiring by masking the candidate’s name and other information that reveals gender and ethnicity, to facilitate an unbiased resume review process.

3. Have the right conversations to develop leaders and bridge the diversity gap

At the start of their careers, men and women tend to work at similar levels. Over the course of their careers, however,one recent survey shows that men move into senior roles at higher rates than women do. By late career, men are 142 percent more likely to hold executive-level positions.

While mentoring can help, more needs to happen. What’s good for women is often good for everyone; whether that’s garnering the confidence to advocate for oneself or being encouraged to apply for a promotion, even if s/he is not 100 percent sure s/he is ready.

What we’ve learned from the research is that men will have a greater tendency to do that than women. If some people are lobbying for their own promotion while others aren’t, encourage everyone by saying “If you think you’re ready for a promotion, I want to hear that from you.” Assign mentors and advocates to help employees who are less likely to put themselves forward.

This way, you’re inviting all voices. You’re creating a culture where people are encouraged to advocate for their own advancement, rather than leaving the process by which your company evolves to chance or the loudest, most confident voices.

4. Grow your circle of influence

When I’m asked “how do we hire a more diverse workforce?” my first question is “how have you been hiring?” I often hear that hiring managers reach out to their networks and get referrals, which is completely understandable. But it’s important to look at those networks, if they are mostly comprised of others who come from a similar background, then you’ll unintentionally build a team of people who look a lot like you.

Look broadly. Diversify your own network. Ask people who are not part of your inner circle, and invest in relationships with diverse community organisations. Otherwise you’ll limit the people who apply for jobs with you.

Meet new people. Expand your network and remember it’s your responsibility to find qualified candidates from a variety of backgrounds, not the other way around. If you pursue diversity, if you challenge yourself to truly being inclusive, the people you meet will richly enhance your perspective, your business and your life.


An HR expert who has worked with several iconic brands including Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, PopCap Games and Redfin, Mikaela Kiner is the founder and CEO of uniquelyHR.

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