Leadership & Management

Why Leaders Need to Revisit Diversity

| October 1, 2018

We are fortunate to work in the rapidly growing cannabis industry that challenges the status quo and attracts a variety of people passionate about the plant and unexplored opportunities. Continuing to increase workplace diversity has been a priority for many marijuana organizations, as actively working to hire employees from different backgrounds helps companies perform better. A diverse team means a wider range of ideas and problem-solving skills that help an organization succeed.

But diversity isn’t just about improving business outcomes. It’s also about creating a workplace that is inclusive of backgrounds, experiences, and ideas. Leaders need to show employees that they are valued for who they are and the various perspectives they offer.

This starts with re-examining company policies and company culture. While things might seem inclusive from your perspective, it’s possible the needs of your diverse workforce aren’t being addressed. By taking a deeper look at the reality of diversity in your workplace, you can improve inclusivity in the entire company.

Here are four things to consider through a diversity and inclusion lens:

1. Diversity decreases at the top

Even if a company has employees from all genders, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds, chances are that diversity is not evenly distributed throughout the organization. For most companies, the team becomes less diverse higher up the ladder.

For example, research found that entry-level jobs are fairly evenly distributed by race and gender in regards to the overall population. White men make up 37% of entry-level employees, men of color 16%, white women 31%, and women of color 17%. However, white men hold 67% of C-suite positions. Conversely, women of color only hold 3% of these roles.

Even in diverse companies, there is something holding women — specifically those of color — back in their career. As a business leader, it’s up to you to find out where these obstacles are to increase diversity at all levels.

Everything from training opportunities to how managerial job descriptions are written impact whether women apply for and get higher level roles. Take the time to talk with female employees and learn about their experience. Ask for their opinions about the company’s career development programs to see how you can make effective changes.

2. “Family-friendly” needs to be a broader term

Many family-friendly policies and benefits were designed with the traditional nuclear family in mind. But nowadays there are countless ways for employees to have a family, each with its own needs.

Many companies don’t have parental leave policies for employees who adopt a child. And while it’s common for employers to offer childcare assistance, few provide benefits that provide elderly care.

Unless you broaden your definition of family-friendly policies, your unintentionally overlooking diverse family structures. One of the best ways to start making constructive change is by widening your paid time off policies. Then pay attention to why employees need the time out of the office. Are they taking ailing parents to doctors appointments? Are they spending time getting to know new foster children? By better understanding the needs of your employees’ families, you can create more inclusive policies that benefit everyone.

3. Be mindful of blind spots

If everyone was aware of their unconscious biases, it would be a lot easier to correct them. However, humans naturally favor perspectives and ideas that are similar to their own. This means the full range of voices in your company might not be heard.

Lead by example by actively asking all employees for their input during meetings and brainstorming sessions. Pay attention to who’s attentive, but quiet during these discussions. The issue may be that they don’t think their opinion will be valued because it’s different. Encourage these employees to speak up and give what they have to say full consideration.

4. Conversations end stigmas

At the heart of diversity and inclusion is a dedication to embracing differences. It’s about learning from others, their points of views, and finding ways to create a better organization.

When it comes to disabilities, it can be difficult to know how to approach these conversations. Given that the subject is often related to sensitive information like an employee’s medical history, business leaders are often nervous discussing disabilities with their employees. Approaching the conversation with an empathetic ear is key. For example, be careful focusing the conversation on what tasks employees have a difficult time doing. That’s asking employees to adapt to existing processes instead of changing and improving processes with their input. You’ve hired these individuals to do a job for which they are qualified. It’s up to you to provide tools and assistance that allow them to shine.

Develop a culture that embraces open, respectful and safe conversations. Encourage your team to speak up when they disagree with a point-of-view or are uncomfortable with a conversation. If your workforce feels invited to express themselves, a more diverse environment can be cultivated.

Diversity and inclusion are important in every workplace. They show employees that they are accepted and safe in the work environment. This allows them to share who they are and what they have to offer to the team. As a leader, a culture of acceptance starts with you. By taking the time to re-examine what you know about all of your employees, you can make better decisions for each and every one.