5 Effective Strategies for Cultivating an Inclusive Workplace Now

February 25, 2021

Photo of two smiling women working at desktop computer

As many companies reassessed their diversity and inclusion efforts last year, there was a growing sense that even with all the ambitious goal-setting, something was missing: company-wide accountability. “One of my peers in talent acquisition last year said, ‘Hey, we’re the only ones being held on the hook for these aspirations. What about retention?’” says Danny Guillory, head of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Dropbox. “I said, ‘You’re right, you are the only ones on the hook for this. So how do we spread the burden? How do we have everyone see it as part of their role?’”

Danny joined Melissa Thompson, SVP of talent acquisition at Nielsen, for LinkedIn’s recent virtual event, Driving Change: how to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace, to discuss how to start the culture shifts needed to create truly inclusive companies. During the hour-long discussion, they spoke about the importance of continuing to educate your workforce, driving the inclusivity conversation with data, and using a tracking tool that Danny thinks everyone should know about. This is the second of two posts on the event, held for Black History Month; the first was on diversity and retention

Here are five strategies Melissa and Danny recommend for creating a more inclusive culture for Black employees:  

1. Keep educating your workforce

It’s important to take action toward creating an inclusive workplace, but everyone first needs to understand what the issues are and how they affect employees from underrepresented groups. That’s why, after the fatal attacks on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others by law enforcement, Dropbox launched a six-month series of talks, panels, and multimedia content called Truth and Reconciliation to educate its employees.  

“We brought in academics, poets, and artists,” Danny says, “to help people understand in a comprehensive and in-depth way the history and the current state of the Black experience in America, covering topics from policing to their experience of the educational system to voting. We wanted to stop for a second and educate and understand first.”

For companies that can’t undertake such a big project, Melissa recommends the YouTube series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” hosted by Emmanuel Acho as an insightful resource. “The episodes are absolutely fantastic for just breaking it down around how you can be an ally,” Melissa says. “And if you just start with the first three, it really sparks excellent conversation and what you can begin to think about.”

You don’t have to work at Dropbox or Nielsen to further your education on inclusion-related topics. When you register for Driving Change, you will gain access (through March 1) to eight courses offered by LinkedIn Learning that range from Diversity Recruiting to Confronting Bias: Thriving Across Our Differences

2. Use data to drive the conversations 

Twice a year, Dropbox sends all its employees a survey, asking questions on a variety of issues. About 90% of employees participate, and Dropbox uses their responses as “one of the major sources of truth,” Danny says, in driving conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Usually, we break the data down by groups,” he says. “So one of the things we do when we meet with our employee resource groups for a discussion is a data analysis of the experience for that particular membership in the organization. For example, when we meet with Black Dropboxers, we’ll do a presentation about what they’re experiencing and what we’re hearing and how we should move forward. Then we’ll have an open discussion about it.”

Numbers and data can be an effective way to start the difficult — and necessary — conversations required to be inclusive. If the data shows, for example, that many Black employees feel they can’t advance in your company, that’s an opportunity to ask: How can we improve? What changes do we need to make? “We do listening sessions,” Danny says, “and sometimes we do focus groups with one group in particular if we feel like there’s someplace we want to get more knowledge.” 

3. Encourage employees to stretch a little (or a lot)

Companies can take a critical step toward inclusion by making sure that employees from underrepresented groups have a chance to grow professionally — without having to look outside. Nielsen and Dropbox have both taken creative approaches to learning and development. 

“One of the things we did last year with our Black employee resource group,” Melissa says, “was a program called ‘Your Career is a Jungle Gym,’ so that people stop thinking of career ladders, but instead start thinking of ‘what are the experiences that I need in order to move up?’ That may mean you move to the side or take a slight step back before you move forward.” As workplace strategist and author Erica Keswin has put it: “Across is the new up.” As part of the program, Nielsen invited several Black employees who had followed “jungle gym” career paths to talk about their experiences and spark conversation. 

Dropbox also wants people to get the experiences they need to succeed. The company offers a yearlong opt-in program for junior employees from underrepresented groups. It provides one-on-one mentoring, peer mentoring, professional development opportunities, and, most importantly, stretch projects. 

“We actually have you do the stretch assignment with your manager,” Danny says, “because your manager is the one who’s typically going to determine your promotion or advancement. It’s a subtle element but a really important one in contributing to the career mobility Melissa was talking about.” 

Development opportunities — stretch assignments, leadership programs, learning and development courses, mentoring, and even “jungle gym” lateral moves — are important for both retention and for increasing the numbers from underrepresented groups in company leadership.

4. Track your progress with an innovative assessment tool

Danny is a huge believer in tracking inclusion efforts through metrics, and he’s a fan of a set of evaluation tools created by the National Center for Women & Technology Information. NCWIT is a nonprofit dedicated to women’s participation in computing across the entire ecosystem.

“This is a great tool,” Danny  says, “whether you’re a small organization, with a small or no diversity function, or a large one.”  The tools include checklists, templates, and self-assessments on topics such as recruitment, development, and performance management. Danny finds them particularly powerful because they serve as an audit, indicating to a company where it has made progress and where it needs to do more work. 

After providing a thorough evaluation, the tools also lay out pathways that show companies what they need to do in certain areas. If, for example, your company learns that it needs help in reducing performance review bias, the tool will suggest specific actions you need to take, based on your evaluation results. (You can listen to Danny talk about this tool on NCWIT’s podcast here.) 

5. Bring former employees back into the fold

Companies are becoming more deliberate about building and maintaining their alumni networks. “[E]x-employees can be a treasure trove of brand ambassadors, potential clients, future business partners, and top-notch rehires,” says the SHRM Blog.

And another way to create a more inclusive culture is by welcoming back employees who have left, as Nielsen does with its “boomerang program.” The Black employee resource group at Nielsen manages an alumni network and focuses, in particular, on employees who left  within the last two or three years. They reconnect with them, offer them opportunities to network with the company, and, if alumni are interested, find an avenue for them to rejoin Nielsen. 

It’s not only a proven way to land “top-notch rehires,” it’s a way to keep people from leaving in the first place. “The retention value of that,” Melissa says, “is that people begin to see there’s an opportunity to stay and that we really do value them.” 

Final thought: To reach your endgame, do the important things, rather than everything

For most companies, diversity and inclusion efforts are still a work in progress and lifelong journey. One thing is clear, though: If you want to shift the culture, the whole company needs to be on board. 

“In the end, the metrics need to be for what you want the endgame to look like and it can’t just be recruiting,” Melissa says. “It has to be broader than that. It has to be: What are we doing in compensation? Do we have issues with the way our benefits show up across our diverse populations? And then we need to figure out the two or three things that are most important. Not the 10 or 12 things. Just pick two or three things for this year and focus on that. Then pick up the next three for 2022.”

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.