Many middle-market companies are considering ways to create a diverse and inclusive environment. But their employees aren’t the only ones to benefit; companies are seeing the advantages of embracing the different ages, ethnicities, genders and education levels of their employees to create an inclusive, creative and collaborative workplace.
Those currently entering the workforce are more ethnically and racially diverse than older employees, according to the Pew Research Center’s study, Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next. The level of diversity in the workplace—not only in race and gender—is growing. Given the strategic business value of creating an open, inclusive workplace, CFOs have become increasingly involved in the process. This includes being key decision makers in HR conversations relating to benefits, as well as weighing in on where to invest resources that enhance an organization’s culture of diversity and inclusion.
Importance of Diversity in the Workplace
According to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2016 CFO Outlook, more than half of the CFOs surveyed report that they anticipate hiring employees in 2016. Additionally, companies are focused on diverse talent because this diversity brings new perspectives, innovation and ideas that can lead to greater creativity and problem-solving, whether in product innovation, marketing strategies or relating to clients. In addition, employees are increasingly looking for companies that value inclusion and diversity, and organizations are realizing that having a variety of perspectives helps their company adapt and evolve.
A culture of inclusion is an environment in which all employees feel comfortable to share their ideas, perspective and knowledge, facilitating ingenuity and collaboration.
A culture of inclusion is an environment in which all employees feel comfortable to share their ideas, perspective and knowledge, facilitating ingenuity and collaboration. Many organizations recognize this and are embracing strategies to actively promote an environment of diversity and inclusion, which includes:
- Recruiting and retaining diverse talent;
- Maintaining relationships with diverse suppliers;
- Offering training and mentorship to meet the diverse needs of employees.
As the workforce becomes less homogenous, companies are implementing diversity councils to create an atmosphere that yields ideas and offerings that are in sync with a changing market. Best practices include providing diversity and inclusion education and awareness, and executive management training on the value of diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
Ally and Affinity Programs
It’s now widely recognized that people work more effectively when they are free to be themselves at work. They are able to communicate more openly, coming up with ideas and solutions and building supportive cooperative relationships with colleagues, clients and customers.
An LGBT Ally Program fosters positive change by engaging employees in LGBT initiatives and programs, providing opportunities to participate in educational and volunteer events, while learning how to support LGBT colleagues. Allies are among the most effective and powerful voices of the LGBT movement. They help others understand the importance of equality, fairness, acceptance and mutual respect, which has a lasting benefit throughout the culture of our organization.
Global affinity groups, commonly referred to as employee networking groups, are another way to actively support engagement by encouraging employees throughout the company to connect with colleagues with similar backgrounds, interests or dimensions of diversity. While many organizations have started to adopt diversity councils, they may want to consider the additional investment of an ally program or affinity group to have a greater impact on company culture and their ability to create a truly inclusive workplace.
The Role of the CFO
Previously the topic of diversity and inclusion was largely relegated to HR, but as organizations begin to experience the strategic business value of diversity and inclusion programs, the CFO has taken a more active role. While CFOs will continue to be involved in hiring and retention decisions from a benefits standpoint, increasingly they also understand the value of company culture to a workforce and strive to quantify that value through programs and trainings that help their company succeed.
Rita Sola Cook heads the Midwest Middle Market division of Global Commercial Banking for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.