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Posted on January 31, 2018

Telling Real Stories of Diversity

In our modern world of work, diversity seems like a no-brainer – an obvious tenant of a good company and something in which nearly everyone believes. However, it can often be a passive agreement. As in, “I believe in diversity and inclusion and I treat everyone equally around me, but I don’t really do anything to make it happen.”

So how do you get more people invested and involved in diversity and inclusion efforts? How do you encourage those who don’t see a glass ceiling to participate in events and programs? How do you help employees understand agreeing isn’t enough?

It’s all about making it real.

For some, metrics, goals, and business outcomes drive behavior. With no shortage of demands on time and the ambiguous goal of “innovation” everywhere you look, a pragmatic approach can make a lot of sense. There are stacks of research and countless articles confirming diversity’s business value. A new study looked at three thousand publicly traded companies between 2001 and 2014 and found a strong correlation, if not a causal relationship, between diversity practices and productivity and organizational resilience. (Spoiler alert: they excluded companies in California who tend to be ahead of the curve.) You can read more about this study here.

For others, real stories help to broaden the mind. The recent #metoo movement was illuminating for many men and validating for many women because it showed the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. Real stories from real women helped everyone understand the role they can play in creating a safe and inclusive environment. Likewise, hearing stories about how bringing cross-functional and cross-generational groups together to problem solve can set the tone for breaking out of silos. Even stories about an unconscious bias that caused a setback can help people understand inclusion isn’t passive. (Take this anonymous test to uncover your unconscious biases.)

What we find most effective is when you pair the two – encouraging employees to tell their stories and sharing best practices while connecting those stories to company values and business goals. A manager is more likely to try a new inclusive technique if they know their colleague found it successful. A peer will understand the power of being an advocate if someone they respect shares why they’re involved and how that involvement has helped grow their career.

There is power in storytelling, especially when those stories connect to larger goals, values, ethics and even metrics. They can transform your employees’ perception of not just diversity, but of culture.

Sara Howland