Considering the frequency we hear the terms "diversity" and "inclusion" nowadays, it's fair to say these concepts have made their way into mainstream conversation. No longer confined to the Human Resources department, workplace diversity and inclusion are becoming key topics when discussing business strategy.
First, it's important to understand the difference between the two terms.
Ultimately, diversity is a metric; it points to the numbers making up the representation at a given organization. This mean companies can mandate goals for diversity numbers from the top down. For example, a CEO could require a hiring manager to hire three new women to increase the percentage of female employees. This method of promoting diversity has been the most popular in recent years following the results of research such as McKinsey & Company', which showed the financial benefits of diverse perspectives in the office.
On the other hand, inclusion refers to the actual impact the workplace environment has on those within. While a company could be focusing on reaching certain diversity numbers, they could still fall short in the creation of an inclusive work atmosphere where a diverse group of people feel comfortable and safe. Without safety or a sense of belonging, employees are less creative and less productive -- not what most companies are striving for.
Despite knowing their benefits, many companies and institutions fail to actually implement diversity and inclusion practices in their day-to-day efforts. They may have a good hiring policy on paper, but without the purposeful cultivation of inclusive spaces where diverse perspectives can thrive, the limit of diversity benefits comes much sooner.
How does recognition promote an inclusive space for diverse perspectives?
Employee recognition can come in a variety of forms - from annual performance reviews to monetary rewards to "employee of the month" awards. However, not all recognition is created equal. Financial rewards as recognition can reduce long-term motivation and complicate the relationships between coworkers. And other forms like annual performance reviews lack key elements for lasting behavioral change such as timeliness, frequency, and visibility.
In order to get the most from a recognition program, it needs to be what past and current programs haven't been. Recognition creates the most lasting change when it is:
- timely and frequent
- open for anyone to give or receive
Now, let's go over the reasons why recognition (when done right) is a key player in the promotion of diversity and inclusion in the office.
1. Recognition creates a sense of belonging.
It can be hard to find that feeling of belonging in an office setting, and this is especially true for minority identity groups. At the same time, people argue having a sense of belonging is a basic human need and motivation, meaning that everyone needs it to be successful. Without a sense of belonging, employee engagement and retention can suffer. Therefore, it is crucial that an organization is capable of creating an environment where diverse perspectives feel included.
In order to produce belonging with recognition, it is important that recognitions are being given and received by a diverse range of people. Rather than only hearing what top leadership positions have to say, the best program will allow for everyone to participate in the sharing of recognition. It's easy to get in the habit of recognizing the same people over and over again, but if everyone is able to contribute, there's a greater chance that everyone will also be recognized and grow their sense of belonging. In this way, recognition programs honor the value of diverse contributions.
When recognition programs are done correctly, they can help people feel appreciated, valuable, and motivated to work towards a shared purpose. With a diverse group of people all being recognized and feeling a sense of belonging, the workplace environment becomes an inclusive space where everyone is valued and engaged. And the more engaged the employees are, the more likely they will stay at the organization and be excited to put in the work.
2. Recognition encourages a culture of shared values.
By recognizing employees, companies are able to encourage and support a certain office culture. In particular, visible public recognition allows for the reinforcement of desirable behaviors that make up an office culture. It is far more powerful to reinforce social norms such as inclusivity and compassion through social rewards like recognition than it is to do so with external, financial rewards like gift cards.
No matter what values are a core part of the company culture, the best recognition programs will be extremely effective at promoting continued progress towards shared values and goals. Because more and more companies are turning towards diversity and inclusion as shared values, it is crucial for them to utilize recognition to promote behaviors that best support diversity and inclusivity initiatives.
3. Recognition can be measured and used to encourage further progress.
Although diversity is relatively easy to measure with demographic data collection, it's a lot harder to come up with ways of measuring inclusion. In addition, the way diversity is measured doesn't tell the whole contextualized story. It's typically those in charge who set and measure diversity goals, and as we know, most of these leaders (in the United States) are white men. Because most diversity and inclusion programs are being run by those who need them the least, it is vital for companies to find other ways to measure progress being made in this area.
With a good recognition program, the organization will have access to a plethora of data related to engagement and appreciation. Digital tracking of recognitions gives everyone real time data that shows who is recognized/engaged and who is being left out. Suddenly, it is possible to measure inclusion in a variety of ways including seeing how many recognitions related to the company's value of inclusion are awarded. These measurements can then be used to show which areas need more work and which are succeeding, allowing the organization to make the most insightful changes to its culture.
What does this mean for the future?
With diversity and inclusion only growing in popularity, it's more important than ever to think about how recognition programs can be utilized to optimize the benefits that come from a diverse and inclusive workplace. Some companies have already taken it to the next level, creating a top leadership position called the Chief Equality Officer. Although this maneuver can be commended for its innovation and forward-thinking nature, it isn't necessary for every company looking to promote a more inclusive work environment. All it takes is starting the chain of recognition, and a culture of inclusivity and diversity will follow.
"Imagine this: imagine a place where people of all colors and all races are on a climbing on every rung of the corporate ladder; where those people feel safe -- indeed, expected -- to bring their unassimilated, authentic selves to work every day, because the difference that they bring is both recognized and respected." - Janet Stovall, TEDTalk