There are benefits from a diverse and inclusive workforce, but many executives do not know how to effectively build and sustain a workplace where everyone feels welcome and supported.
To develop strategies for achieving these goals, Olympus Corp. of the Americas and First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union hosted a Diversity & Inclusion Summit on Thursday afternoon at Olympus corporate headquarters in Upper Saucon Township.
“I think it’s critical that we start to have these conversations,” said Kassie Hilgert, president and CEO of ArtsQuest in Bethlehem, and a master of ceremonies for the event. “Our strength is in our diversity.”
Hilgert, who moved to the Lehigh Valley in 1981, said it has become a more diverse community since that time.
“We need to develop a new vocabulary as a community to embrace everyone that’s coming into this community,” he said. “We think we can do that with the arts, but this forum of people from different business sectors, that’s where there’s real work happening.”
Guest speaker Adrean Turner shared insights on the driving forces of diversity and inclusion, how they can benefit businesses and strategies for achieving the goals of a dynamic workforce with people from different ages, genders, races, backgrounds and abilities.
Turner, a certified career coach, speaker, professional development trainer, business consultant and Mrs. Pennsylvania 2018 contestant, was a longtime employee of Merck, a large corporate pharmaceutical company.
It was through that experience that she gained many skills in working as a minority in a large company in the 1990s, devising ideas to improve processes and getting others on board as part of a team to determine a solution.
DIVERSITY INTO ACTION
Today, companies large and small are facing situations that require leadership.
“Embracing diversity and inclusion strategies can be a game changer to boost your organization,” Turner said. “Inclusion puts the concept of diversity into action.
“If you don’t include, you will unintentionally exclude. Organizations need both diversity and inclusion to be successful.”
Gender and age also play a role in diversity and inclusion. With four generations in today’s workforce, people have different expectations, attitudes and behaviors. What’s more, women and men perceive things differently, and this has a great impact on how executives lead and communicate, Turner said.
She cited many studies that showed companies with diverse and inclusive workplaces are more profitable, have more employee satisfaction and help make employees feel more valued.
Making the effort to be an inclusive and diverse workplace will result in a positive impact on loyalty, engagement and long-term investment in the company, Turner said.
Companies can make strides in providing these types of work environments by bringing in people from different departments to be part of focus groups, providing domestic partner benefits, offering scholarships for people with disabilities, encouraging women to take on leadership roles and creating a supplier diversity program.
Other strategies include collaborating with organizations to hire people with disabilities, allowing oneself to be vulnerable and talk about one’s experiences, and seeking to understand before jumping to conclusions.
However, it’s no secret that the upper tiers of many Fortune 500 companies are homogenous and there are a few challenges executives encounter in their efforts to become more diverse and inclusive.
One is the fear that being different will stifle talent. Another is the concept of “covering” or downplaying one’s differences in order to avoid attention.
Turner said this self-censoring can be very damaging and that many workers often report facing overt pressure to mute some aspects of their identity.
Challenges also come up in communication, implementing workplace policies, management and the resistance to change that sometimes occurs.
However, commitment to see these changes through will not only empower the leader, but inspire others, as well, Turner said.
“We all as individuals have the power to make the change,” she said. “It is possible.”
After Turner’s presentation, a series of workshop sessions and a panel discussion further explored topics of diversity and inclusion.
Topics focused on addressing unconscious bias, making transgender employees feel welcome in the workplace and an interactive executive roundtable discussion.
Executives formed groups and shared strategies they use to hire diverse candidates, develop employee resource groups and encourage an environment that is inclusive for all employees.