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5 Key Points Employers Need to Know About EEOC’s New Guidance on LGBTQ+ Workplace Discrimination

In observance of LGBTQ+ Pride Month and the one-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling over Bostock vs. Clayton County, the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced new resources to help employers understand the protection of applicants and workers against discrimination regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. Along with a new landing page summarizing information pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, they’ve released a new technical assistance document to “help educate employees, applicants and employers about the rights of all employees, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, to be free from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment.”

The EEOC’s new resources taken together with the Bostock ruling present wide-ranging implications for employers across the U.S. Before we dive into the key points of these changes, we need to take a closer look at how we got here.

Bostock v. Clayton County, a Brief Overview

The significance of the EEOC’s new guidance documents cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the consequences of last June’s Bostock v. Clayton County Supreme Court ruling. That 6-3 decision added discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of practices deemed in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Supreme Court consolidated 3 separate cases into this historic decision: two centered upon the firing of gay men due to their sexual orientation (Bostock v. Clayton County and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda) and another on the firing of a transgender woman due to her gender identity (R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission). The question at hand was “whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender.” The opinion of the court, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, was unambiguous: “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law”. Gorsuch also noted that various caveats regarding religious liberty issues stemming from the First Amendment, exemptions provided to religious employers in Title VII, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were not addressed.

Bostock v. Clayton County has since been interpreted by the EEOC and other courts to prohibit all forms of harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The EEOC’s New Guidance Explained

The new resources provided by the EEOC consolidate critical information concerning sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination along with links to fact sheets regarding recent EEOC litigation on this topic. Also included is a new Technical Assistance Document explaining the implications of the Bostock decision and reiterating that employers cannot:

  • Discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity with respect to terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, including hiring, firing, furloughs, reductions in force, promotions, demotions, discipline, training, work assignments, pay, overtime, other compensation, or fringe benefits.
  • Create or tolerate harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including harassment by customers or clients. This may include intentionally and repeatedly using the wrong name and pronouns to refer to a transgender employee.
  • Use customer preference to fire, refuse to hire, or assign work.
  • Discriminate because an individual does not conform to a sex-based stereotype about feminine or masculine behavior (whether or not an employer knows the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity).
  • Require a transgender employee to dress or use a bathroom in accordance with the employee’s sex assigned at birth. However, employers may have separate bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers for men and women, or may have unisex or single-use bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers.
  • Retaliate against any employee for opposing employment discrimination that the employee reasonably believes is unlawful; filing an EEOC charge or complaint; or participating in any investigation, hearing, or other proceeding connected to Title VII enforcement.

The Technical Assistance Document also notes that employers are prohibited from creating, or tolerating, harassment, or discriminating against straight or cisgender (those who identify with the sex assigned at birth) individuals. Additionally, the EEOC addresses the tension between protections provided to employers and employees with sincerely held religious beliefs and LGBTQ+ applicants and employees by noting, “Courts and the EEOC consider and apply, on a case by case basis, any religious defenses to discrimination claims, under Title VII and other applicable laws.”

5 Key Points for Employers

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 now prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity nationally, regardless of state and local laws. Many recurring questions regarding protections for LGBTQ+ employees have been clarified by the EEOC’s new guidance, and here are the 5 key points for U.S. employers to take away:

  1. Discriminatory action cannot be justified by customer or client preferences. “An employer covered by Title VII is not allowed to fire, refuse to hire, or take assignments away from someone (or discriminate in any other way) because customers or clients would prefer to work with people who have a different sexual orientation or gender identity.”
  2. Whether or not an employer knows an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity, employers are not permitted to discriminate against an employee because that employee does not conform to sex-based stereotypes about traditional feminine or masculine behavior.
  3. Employers requiring transgender employees to dress in accordance with the employee’s sex assigned at birth constitutes sex discrimination.
  4. Employers may have separate bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers for men and women. However, “all men (including transgender men) should be allowed to use the men’s facilities and all women (including transgender women) should be allowed to use the women’s facilities.” Because the Supreme Court left this issue unaddressed in the Bostock ruling, stating: “Under Title VII… we do not purport to address bathrooms, locker rooms, or anything else of the kind,” this is a controversial issue that is still developing.
  5. Accidental misuse of a transgendered employee’s preferred name and pronouns does not violate Title VII. However, “intentionally and repeatedly using the wrong name and pronouns to refer to a transgender employee could contribute to an unlawful hostile work environment.”

The implications of the Bostock ruling and the EEOC’s new guidance are far-reaching and consequential, and they make it clear that any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is now prohibited under Title VII. However, some matters remain unresolved, such as gendered bathrooms/locker rooms and potential conflicts with protections provided to private employers and employees with sincerely held religious beliefs. It is paramount for all U.S. employers to review the EEOC resources, assess their policies and practices to ensure that they are in compliance, and remain attentive to further developments regarding LGBTQ+ workplace discrimination law.

What will employee benefits look like in 2021?

As we begin to settle into the new year, it’s important to take some time to both reflect on the past year and continue planning for the year to come. While 2020 was an unpredictable year, through the chaos we find insights that will shape the future of the workforce and employee benefits.

While many experts have made predictions for what 2021 might entail, there are a handful of themes that have come to the forefront for most. Likely the most notable of these is the prioritization among employers to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Following a year of civil unrest and mass protests for social justice, it makes sense that there is more interest in DEI. And we are seeing more people of color filling roles in high-profile positions – inspiring others, and influencing change. Additionally, we’ve seen a growing interest in environmental, social, and corporate governance policies among corporations where ESG had traditionally been less of a priority.

While priorities have been shifting regarding social equality, we have also been enduring the impacts of a global pandemic. This has shed light on many areas that have been overlooked in the past, such as improved benefits for working parents, women, and low-income individuals. These emerging themes have played a major role in what experts believe will influence the benefits strategies of employers in 2021.

Meeting a Diverse Range of Needs

It has become apparent that a broad benefits plan for all isn’t an effective strategy for companies that are working to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace. Instead, the standard has changed to a need for personalized benefits. While a change to benefits that serve a wider variety of employee needs (mental health, childcare, etc.) has been in the works for a few years, the events of 2020 have and continue to accelerate the need for more inclusive, well-rounded benefit programs.

More Equitable Benefits

2020 brought with it a variety of new challenges for employers and employees alike. While working parents struggled with the stress of ever-changing childcare solutions, many single non-parents struggled with the mental health concerns caused by isolation. The differences in the varying needs of employees brought forth the need for empathy and a shift in the benefits and services offered by employers. The effects of these differences will influence employers to have a more equitable approach to the benefits offered moving forward.

The Rise of Social Benefits

Social benefits refer to things such as student loan repayment programs, commuter benefits, child care, elder care, and more. They are a response to what many employees consider their employer’s social responsibility. While student loan repayment plans were expected to be the big trend of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly had a big impact on the emergence of such plans. However, that idea and similar non-traditional benefits are continuing to become more important as we see a growing interest in social benefits.

An Emphasis on Connecting Remotely

Our daily working environments have changed dramatically this year and with it came many opportunities and challenges. For example, remote work has allowed employers to tap into a wider pool of talent. However, employers need to continue to prioritize the use of technology that helps their teams succeed and educate them on time management and skills that will improve productivity while working from home.

Surge in DEI-Based Recruitment Efforts

Among all of the realization of the past year, we have seen a significant focus on the need for effective DEI initiatives from employers. The new virtual environment is not only helpful to the continuity of businesses, it encourages DEI initiatives in the future. Employers are no longer limited by geographical location when acquiring talent, rather, the virtual environment enables them to leverage recruitment platforms to access a more diverse pool of talent.

A Focus on Inclusivity, Despite Social Distancing

It uncertain when we will return to working in the office again. Many employers are feeling the struggles of the disconnect between employees. While Zoom meetings are helping us stay connected, it doesn’t quite replace the feeling of seeing and collaborating in-person. In the future, it will be important for leaders to structure remote work in a way that puts inclusivity as the top priority. Regardless of what the future holds, it is important that employers create a uniform and inclusive experience that encourages employees to do their best work.

The Future of Work is Now—and it’s Radically Inclusive

This is a guest post written by Launchways partners Rada Yovovich and Chanté Thurmond, representing The Darkest Horse, a next generation Diversity & Inclusion consulting firm.

The Long-Awaited “Future of Work” Has Come Early, and Brought Surprises Galore

Particularly in the last few years, Thought Leaders have been heralding the approach of “The Future of Work,” imagining a model of what “work” would look like in a world of abundant emerging technologies including artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation. That future vision has typically focused on the need to manage a shift of the workforce to virtual, remote, and alternative models to full-time staff (gig-based, contract-based, and part-time labor, for example).

Enter COVID-19, and the timetable has changed, and brought with it a number of unexpected features. In a matter of weeks, we’ve seen non-essential workers being told to work from home (WFH) while sheltering-in-place. Organizations, in an effort to recalibrate their budgets in tightened consumer and supply chain markets, have done their best to be creative by adapting HR policies and employment contracts to allow for safer working conditions, flexible hours, and many have reduced their workforce resulting in employees being shifted to subcontractors, part-time status, or have simply been laid off, forcing them to seek new income opportunities from home.

Who would have guessed that these disrupting shifts to work-from-home would coincide, hand-in-hand, with equally disrupting shifts to school-from-home, making working parents into teachers as well? And who would have predicted the explosive and breathtaking speed of almost-universal adoption of Zoom and other web-conferencing services?

This is not the graceful, opportunity-driven entrance into the future we may have envisioned. In fact, initial waves of surprises produced longings for a “return to normal.” But, more recently, subsequent waves of signals from the future have pointed toward possible shapes of things to come. Many uncertainties remain, but some things have become quite clear. We most certainly aren’t going “back to normal!” The past has passed, and it is not coming back. Winners and losers will be defined by their agility in adopting new technologies, by the ability to learn and innovate quickly, and by how well they attract and retain top talent.

Competing for Talent in the Future of Work

In a world where more companies’ workforce is remote/virtual, the geographic and financial constraints of recruiting melt away. Suddenly, teams have an opportunity to pursue a truly global talent pool in a more democratized way—allowing them to expand their talent search beyond their local zip codes.

The expansion goes beyond geography. Entire populations of people for whom a traditional office role is challenging, unsafe, or even impossible are finally able to access the labor market in a more equitable and inclusive way. These include, just to name a few:

  • Individuals with significant physical disabilities
  • Individuals who are gender nonconforming or going through a gender transition
  • Individuals with phobias or other mental health challenges
  • Individuals with chronic or acute health conditions
  • Neurodiverse individuals
  • Caregivers, whether for children or aging/ill family members

These types of barriers to workplace accessibility can be easier to accommodate in a remote-work context. Individuals can curate their space and constraints to meet their own needs, particularly if their organization provides proper technology, infrastructure and policies to support them.

The Best Talent is Diverse

The greatest talent in the world includes members of populations who are suddenly gaining access in this new normal. If your organization is hiring the best talent without bias, members of your team will represent a wide array of cultures and identities.

Not only is diversity an inevitable outcome of unbiased recruitment practices, but the data shows diverse teams far outperform homogenous teams. This ROI has been proven time and time again — reports by Forbes, Mercer, the Harvard Business Review, and many more demonstrate that a diversified workforce drives innovation and business growth — bottom line: diverse organizations perform better.

Here’s How: Practice Inclusion and Equity Throughout your Employee Lifecycle

  • It starts with Attraction.
    • Inclusive employer branding, content marketing, events and continuous networking
  • Talent Acquisition and Recruitment.  
    • Engaging diverse talent, identify diverse sourcing opportunities, curb unconscious biases, reduce barriers to application process, create transparent process and develop culturally intelligent communication practices
  • Hiring and Onboarding
    • Transparency, over-communication and personalization can make all the difference
    • Combat bias by building a fair and consistent processes
    • Build interview guides and scorecards that are clear and objective
  • Employer Benefits and Compensation
    • Promotion of wellness programming is more important now than ever before
    • Re-evaluate and optimize for equity and gender parity
  • Employee Engagement and Training & Development
    • Make it a regular practice to check-in with your employees. Conduct pulse-surveys that specifically gauge inclusion, equity and belonging. Click here to learn how The Darkest Horse can help your organization with this!
    • Cultivate an inclusive culture
    • Offer inclusive and accessible learning experiences and develop clear learning/career pathways
  • Performance Management
    • Here’s your opportunity to acknowledge, celebrate and reward for each team member’s cultural contribution, unique ways of working, and fostering a culture of inclusion!
    • This is also an opportunity to re-evaluate your performance metrics. Some questions you may want to ask yourself includes:
      • Is your process fair, equitable and inclusive?
      • Are your policies unintentionally punitive or do they lean towards corrective action?
  • Foster Community
    • Create, support, and invest in Employee Resource/Affinity Groups

The Future is Yours!

Now is the time to catch the wave of change and surf it to success—don’t get pulled into the undertow of clinging to old ways of working! Here are a few steps to move your organization towards the future of work:

  1. Harness the inclusion capacity of your organization. Identify the innovative, forward-thinking, and inclusion-minded changemakers in your organization. Activate them toward a goal of fostering inclusion. Empower them to set audacious goals and affect disruptive change when needed, and support them with leadership buy-in.
  2. Get help. When you have reached the bounds of your team’s capacity for in-house inclusion efforts, partner with inclusion experts like The Darkest Horse to bring in external support for consulting, training, facilitation, and events/experiences.
  3. Use the right tools. Work with an HR and Benefits expert like Launchways to ensure your HR processes and benefits packages meet the needs of a modern workforce.
  4. Keep learning. Join our upcoming webinar on mental health in the workplace for forward-thinking business leaders.

About The Darkest Horse:
The Darkest Horse (TDH) is a women and minority-owned next-gen consultancy firm helping the workforce and organizations explore the intersections of Radical Inclusion; The Future of Work; Emerging Technology; Health, Well-Being and Human Potential.

The Darkest Horse partners with organizations to empower diverse talent to thrive by embracing emerging technologies and instituting strategies that maximize human potential.

Follow us: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Website: www.thedarkesthorse.com

Listen to our podcast: https://anchor.fm/tdh-podcast

Becoming Unbeatable Together: Building a Data-Driven Approach to Diversity & Inclusion

Part 1: Setting Yourself Up to Become Unbeatable

Defining Diversity & Inclusion

Before we dive deep into the power of Diversity and Inclusion, let’s take a second to establish our terms and clarify what D&I actually looks like.

  • Workplace Diversity: The practice of hiring, promoting, and building a team in a way that brings together people of different backgrounds, educations, personal histories, experiences, and areas of expertise.
  • Workplace Inclusion: The practice of ensuring diverse voices are fully comfortable, integrated into, and valued as members of a thriving, complementary, interdependent team.

To be clear, diversity is nothing without inclusion! It’s pointless and somewhat dishonest to build a diverse team only to maintain a leadership framework where a certain “in-group” maintains the power to impactfully steer the ship while a nominally diverse team underneath them feels disenfranchised or fearful.

Why Diversity and Inclusion Build the Best Possible Team

The true potential of humanity lies in our ability to come together and build a unit that’s more powerful than the sum of its parts. A group of people from similar backgrounds, educations, and ways of navigating the world might be able to put their heads together to come up with one, two, or even three ways of solving a given problem, but when you invite professionals of diverse backgrounds to the table, the possibilities are far more open-ended.

When businesses make diversity and inclusion main values and priorities, they can gain incredible benefits, includes:

  • Increased brainstorming/innovation potential
  • More access to outside-the-box problem-solving
  • A wider skill and knowledge base across the organization
  • A thinktank and business team that accurately reflects the national and global marketplace

Building a Foundation for a Great Team

There’s no magic recipe you can learn to turn D&I into areas of pride and opportunity for your business, but the key is to foster a strong culture. If that culture is one that values diversity of people and ideas, fights for representation and inclusion in every situation, and works to give everybody a voice, then you can really capitalize on the innovative power of D&I.

Workplace culture determines both the levels of buy-in, engagement, and persistence your team will put into their work on a day-to-day basis, their feeling of personal investment and their job, and the dedication they put into embracing and maintaining the company culture. Great talent wants to work in a culture that supports them and sets them up for success. When they encounter a situation where they don’t feel comfortable, valued, or positively plugged in, they leave quickly.

Creating a Level Playing Field Through Education

While diversity hiring programs are nearly ubiquitous in the big business world, they often lack the crucial, consistent ground-level follow-through (inclusion) that turns that diversity into business power. Employee education (in the form of in-house training or formal professional development) is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to shaping your existing culture into the kind of inclusive environment that sets the business up to win big with D&I.

Of course, you can’t just do diversity and anti-harassment education to check them off the list for compliance purposes – employees can smell that from a mile away, and it directly affects their ability to engage authentically with the training and reflect on the information in a way that’s going to augment their mindset or behavior at work. Discussions of diversity and inclusion need to be powerful, real, and backed by thought-provoking human-to-human engagement – not a comprehension quiz at the end.

Designing and building that education program is a key step in articulating, fostering, and supporting a great employee culture. When you give great talent something important to aspire to and make it real for them, the possibilities are endless. At the same time, worker education creates a foundation for accountability and makes it easier to remove toxic mindsets that do damage to inclusion or morale.

Don’t Hesitate to Be Great!

The biggest mistake organizations make is waiting to articulate the perfect approach to D&I. Every business can and should be doing something about diversity and inclusion at scale today. If you think diversity training or inclusion workshops would be valuable to your team, seek out a great independent PD provider who can help you today – don’t form a committee to discuss what the training might look like two years from now.

Of course, long-term initiatives are key to harnessing diversity and inclusion as business strategies over time, but the best thing any organization can do from a talent-centric and corporate decency standpoint is to identify a starting point and dig into exploring the challenge and addressing the issues at hand.

In the next section of this book, we’ll explore some of the thinking points and strategies businesses can use to find a starting point for their D&I program, articulate a commitment to diversity and inclusion and begin creating that great culture and winning team. Depending on the size, industry, or existing culture of your business, some of these approaches might be more relevant or feasible early-on in the process than others, but any of these strategies will help you grow in your ability to embrace D&I in a powerful, data-driven way.

Part 2: Planning to Become Unbeatable

Webinar: Everything You Wanted to Know About Workplace Diversity & Inclusion but Were Afraid to Ask

Diversity and inclusion are the keys to creating a truly modern team that’s built to maximize each individual’s skills, shore up individual weaknesses, and build a powerful unit that can thrive, brainstorm, problem-solve, and celebrate achievements together. With that said, getting diversity and inclusion right is such an important responsibility that many HR and business leaders continue to hire for cultural fit, leaving a coordinated, purposeful D&I initiative for another day.

In order for businesses to succeed and innovate into the 2020s, that kind of thinking needs to stop. Each and every employer should be doing something at scale to encourage diversity and foster inclusion. The businesses that do not will soon stand to miss out on some of the world’s best talent and leave themselves exposed to costly lawsuits.In order to demystify the complexity of D&I and connect business and HR leaders with actionable strategies, Launchways recently held a free one-hour webinar, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Workplace Diversity & Inclusion but Were Afraid to Ask.”

The webinar featured an all-star panel of four of the Midwest’s leading experts on diversity and inclusion, each of whom provided crucial considerations and actionable strategies for businesses of any size or growth stage looking to improve their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Rebekah Wolford of Paylocity began the conversation by articulating the importance of diversity and inclusion as prized values baked into the core of what your organization does and represents. She explained how D&I initiatives all about building the “We” that’s going to maximize company potential and customer experience.

Rebekah also provided a valuable real-world case study for D&I success by walking through how she and her team planned, initiated, and built an impactful diversity and inclusion program at Paylocity. She discussed…

  • How to use surveys and HCM data to build an understanding of the current state of D&I at your organization
  • Which data points should be most important to your D&I planning and assessment
  • How to create a comfortable space in which employees and leadership can challenge each other
  • How to be sure you’re practicing inclusive behaviors and creating a strong culture
  • How to use employee resource groups (ERGs) as an on-going part of a D&I strategy
  • How to create and provide meaningful D&I training for your team

Rada Yovovich of The Darkest Horseshared some of her wisdom as an expert diversity and inclusion consultant, expanding on the vital importance of strong company culture and discussing how businesses can work towards getting there from any starting point.

Rada stressed that the workplace is an unintentional “bias factory,” which presents an unwelcoming or additionally challenging situation for diverse talent. She specifically discussed how organizations can work to identify and eliminate bias in their job postings, hiring interactions, and performance management evaluations. She also explained…

  • How to build buy-in for your D&I program by making it authentic to, designed for, and reflective of your organization’s existing culture
  • How to use employee engagement to drive forward the culture and team you aspire to
  • How to recognize, address, and eliminate the unconscious bias that works against diversity and inclusion
  • How to provide non-judgmental employee assessments by staying grounded in functional competencies
  • How to create a documentation trail that protects your business in compliance scenarios

Dr. Renee McLaughlin of Cignadrew upon her years of experience as an LGBTQ+ inclusion and healthcare professional to emphasize the importance of proactive planning in corporate D&I. Whether it’s an early-stage organization devising a plan for maintaining their strong culture if a merger or buyout occurs or choosing which healthcare offerings will ideally support your team, the best answer is to have a clear, powerful plan in place.

Renee also provided tremendous insight into the necessity of transition resources for professionals in any workplace. That means having a policy-backed transition plan, proactively working to ensure the safety of trans professionals, and providing healthcare offerings that provide trans team members with the best opportunity to be their authentic selves at work. She specifically discussed…

  • Why diversity and inclusion are especially relevant for early-stage businesses
  • How to work toward combining cultures in a positive, authentic way during a business merger scenario
  • How early stage companies can plan proactively to reduce these challenges
  • How to proactively address the needs of LGBTQ+ employees, particularly transgender team members, through company policies and insurance offerings
  • Which specific terms need to be included in your policies
  • How to plan to address resistant beliefs in LGBTQ+ inclusion scenarios
  • The importance of understanding all local laws related to LGBTQ+ rights, particularly for multi-site corporations

Alex Koglin of Launchways applied his expertise as a leading employee benefits consultant and LGBTQ+ rights activist in the Chicago area to provide specific insight into how you can build alignment between your benefits offerings and your commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Alex provided specific employee benefits recommendations that organizations can use to build the necessary support for diversity, inclusion, and transition that Renee, Rebekah, and Rada discussed. He explained…

  • How to create a strong, supportive D&I framework regardless of your personal feelings through employee benefits and healthcare offerings
  • The importance of benefits offerings that account for domestic partners and same-sex spouses
  • How to ensure your transgender employees’ healthcare needs are met
  • The importance of providing robust mental health coverage as well as physical healthcare
  • How to provide on-going health and wellness education to maximize team-wide well-being

    Get the Full Webinar!If you’re a business, HR, or finance leader looking to learn more about the potential of diversity and inclusion within an organization or connect with real strategies you can use to turn your business into a D&I powerhouse, be sure to check out the full “Everything You Wanted to Know About Workplace Diversity and Inclusion…” session here.

The hour-long diversity and inclusion webinar contains a wealth of knowledge on D&I topics, including…

  • The first steps of D&I initiative design
  • Strategies for fostering a company-wide culture of diversity and inclusion
  • How to back up diverse hiring with meaningful inclusion
  • How to view your employee benefits offerings through the lens of diversity and inclusion
  • How you can ensure your policies and procedures support LGBTQ+ talent to maximize their comfort and value

The Real Cost of Getting Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Wrong

When businesses truly embrace diversity and inclusion, they create a powerful, complementary team that’s unbeatable together . Unfortunately, though, there’s no magic wand you can wave to get there.

To leverage the incredible team-building and innovative potential of diversity and inclusion, businesses need to articulate strong values, make them a real part of daily work culture, and create policies and procedures that hold themselves and their employees accountable. It takes honest commitment, thoughtful planning, strong follow-through, and built-in checks and balances along the way.

With that said, no business should be dissuaded from working towards building diverse and inclusive HR policies just because the work is complex. In fact, organizations who don’t tackle the challenge and opportunity of diversity head-on only set themselves up to stagnate.

In this post we’ll explore:

  • What strong workplace diversity and inclusion “look like” as we near 2020
  • How truly valuing diversity and inclusion builds success for businesses
  • The many costs associated with undervaluing and not practicing workplace diversity and inclusion
  • How HR professionals trying to increase their knowledge of current best practices for diversity and inclusion can connect with the best resources

The State of Workplace Diversity & Inclusion

The world of workplace diversity has transformed immensely over the past decade. A diverse, progressive, and inclusive workplace culture can no longer be treated like an optional, industry-specific perk. Instead, a commitment to diversity and inclusion has become a necessity for businesses at any size. In fact, diversity and inclusion policies are increasingly requirements when it comes to disclosures for business partnerships, grant applications, and proposals.

In today’s modern work climate, organizations that don’t understand and leverage the value of workplace diversity will fail to outperform their competitors.

Let’s take a minute to break down both the words “diversity” and “inclusion” and think about what they really mean in today’s marketplace.

Workplace diversity means hiring, promoting, and valuing professionals from a variety of different backgrounds, experiences, and approaches. It means employing people who think differently, look differently, and experience the world differently from each other. It means thinking beyond age, race, religion, disability, or sexual identity. It means trying to build a team that is truly complementary and reflects the world and marketplace as a whole.

Diversity, however, is nothing without inclusion. In fact, it is inclusion that has become the hot-button issue and the trendier topic over the last two years. Inclusion is the company’s devotion to and strategies for ensuring their diverse workforce functions as a true team, and all people’s skills, values, and perspectives are valued in a fair way.

As we approach 2020, diversity is firmly cemented as one of the most important values for all corporations and businesses, while inclusion is continuing to emerge and take its rightful place as a key focus of HR. Let’s take a minute to think about what benefits forward-thinking HR departments can create for their organizations when they get both diversity and inclusion right.

How Diversity & Inclusion Help Businesses Win

As an HR professional, it’s your job to build a team that sets your business up for success. From that perspective, diversity and inclusion aren’t even really values or ideals anymore – they’re simply matters of best practice.

When your organization embraces a variety of professionals, perspectives, and people, you create a team that can accomplish more than any homogeneous group. With that said, maximizing their impact means pairing that diversity with inclusion – that is to say, diverse staffing practices must be supported by policies, leadership, and day-to-day workflows that keep everybody feeling empowered and engaged.

Businesses that call pull those two components off can reap significant business results that less diverse or inclusive workplaces simply can’t access.

Talent Attraction and Retention

One of the most seismic shifts of the twenty-first century has been the deemphasis on base salary, especially in the face of a thriving workplace culture. Simply put, great talent wants to work in a great environment – one that feels warm but professional, welcoming and collegial.

People also want to work in a place where their perspective is appreciated and valued. That’s where the organization that values diversity can connect with outstanding talent. If you can establish an identity and a reputation as a business that truly creates opportunity for people based on the strengths of their talents and thinks beyond twentieth-century concepts of what corporate leadership and a productive office look like, you’ll be operating a workplace where the very best talent of every background will want to work.

Increased Authentic Engagement

When your boss is the person who signs your check, you’ll work to meet their expectations. When your boss is a person who shares your values, applies fairness in every possible situation, and builds a team of diverse voices that makes you (and everybody) feel heard, you’ll work to exceed everybody’s expectations.

By fostering a diverse team, promoting diverse leadership, and creating a workplace where everybody has the level of comfort, support, and safety they need to get their work done, you can build something truly special: an environment without glass ceilings or toxic secret inner circles. You will have a workplace where all employees feel like they’re working positively toward shared goals. This sets talent up to be their best selves and function as a whole that’s much greater and more powerful than the sum of its parts.

Building a Variety of Perspectives

Too often, organizations lock themselves into a vision, a culture, and a way of thinking early on in their lifecycle and craft hiring and promotion programs in a way that reinforces that orthodoxy. This can be a recipe for business stagnation.

Forward-thinking businesses aren’t afraid of a diversity of perspectives or approaches destabilizing what they’ve previously built. On the contrary, these businesses realize that a team with a wide variety of backgrounds creates a much greater pool of ideas for innovation, problem-solving, messaging, and more.

When each department, committee, and project team is diverse and everybody knows their perspective and work is valued, businesses create the strongest possible framework for innovative thinking, innovative work, and innovative approaches to quality assurance.

Fostering a Reputation as a True Modern Business

If you can establish a great, diverse, inclusive workplace culture where everybody feels supported and bought-in, you can turn your organization into a destination landing spot for great talent and great buzz alike. Your HR and marketing departments can leverage your thriving, positive culture as an anchor point for campaigns that help your business grow and spread the word about the great work you’re doing.

How Businesses Lose When They Don’t Prioritize Diversity & Inclusion

Organizations that lack a strong commitment to diversity don’t just miss out on all the benefits discussed previously, they also create several very real and very dangerous business problems for themselves. Whether it’s through explicit exclusion or simply a lack of care at the leadership and HR levels, businesses that disregard building a thoughtful approach to diversity put themselves in a tenuous business and legal position.

Businesses that preach diversity on paper but do little to make inclusion a daily workplace value at every level leave themselves vulnerable to many of the same problems. In fact, in some ways, a half-hearted approach to diversity and inclusion can set you up to lose bigger, as the organization comes away looking either disconnected from its values or like a fraud.

Increased Turnover

When employees don’t feel fully safe, valued, appreciated, plugged-in, or supported, they head for the door. Of all the changes to the workplace over the last twenty years, this is the one that’s caught senior leaders and HR professionals off-guard the most.

Turnover due to gaps in diversity and inclusion isn’t just the result of stereotypical harassment or bullying, though. Today’s top talent is sensitive to their environment and can generally gauge whether or not they are a fit for a job and its culture within six months. If talent feels there is a glass ceiling or lack of potential for success and personal happiness due to your organization’s lack of devotion to diversity and inclusion, they’ll just hand in their notice and move on.

No HR professional needs to be told how damaging the spend associated with turnover is. Gaps in productivity, hiring expenses, and training time all hurt the bottom line and significantly impact the team’s ability to fire on all cylinders. Even if you’re great at identifying and hiring diverse talent, you’re just setting your organization up for a brain drain if there isn’t a framework in place to ensure those professionals are valued and supported.

Lower Employee Morale & Reduced Engagement

Discrimination and exclusion are ugly things, and when people see them in the workplace – even devoted professionals – they simply can’t work like their best selves. To put it simply, toxic cultures bum people out, and nobody is motivated to do their best work when their workplace feels toxic.

With that said, the way gaps in inclusion affect morale can be subtler but no less devastating. When employees are physically present but feel like they aren’t valued, heard, and included in the same ways as their peers, their engagement level, buy-in, and quality of work begin to drop at a steady pace.

One of the biggest mistakes HR leaders make is underestimating how many people are sensitive to issues of diversity and inclusion. When discrimination occurs or inclusion is clearly not a priority, the blow to morale and buy-in extends far beyond the direct victim of the situation. That means that organizations that do wrong by their minority or LGBTQ+ employees are actually damaging the productivity, motivation, and engagement of a much higher percentage of the workforce, who stand as allies to those groups.


Diversity is a synonym of “variety,” and the less diversity an organization has, the less variety there will be in terms of innovative thinking and profit-driving work. If you get a room full of 10 people from similar backgrounds and ask them to solve a problem, they’ll probably come up with one or two well-defined ideas. In a room of 10 people from diverse backgrounds, however, you can have a much richer discussion about possible solutions because there are more ways of looking at the problem and a wider range of past experiences and familiar approaches available.

Organizations that don’t prioritize diversity and inclusion at every level within the organization set up themselves up to fall victim to groupthink. This can be especially limiting at the executive or leadership level, where a true team of complementary minds is necessary to steer the work.

Reputation & Perception as an Innovator

In this day and age, reputation is everything, for individuals and businesses alike. Tone-deaf marketing campaigns sink brands overnight, and reports of regressive, toxic, or non-inclusive culture on sites like Glassdoor can quickly limit an organization’s potential to land great talent.

When people encounter a discriminatory or non-inclusive environment in today’s culture, they’re not going to suffer in silence or keep it to themselves. They will use the tools available to make sure that the world knows exactly what gaps exist in their current or former employee’s commitment to inclusion.

Legal Issues

Of course, litigation is always the elephant in the room, especially when HR issues are concerned. When it comes to inclusion and diversity, a lack of HR commitment can quickly spiral into a costly legal situation.

On one hand, all organizations in the U.S. with at least 15 employees are beholden to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). EEOC investigations and adjudications can last for months, or even years, creating a long, damaging process that can devastate an organization’s ability to turn a profit in both the short- and long-term. Depending on the state in which your business is located, there may be additional anti-discrimination and inclusion laws you need to consider.

On the other, there’s the specter of civil litigation. Civil cases can be resolved much more quickly than EEOC investigations, but they can be just as damaging in terms of finance, reputation, and ongoing employee morale. No matter where your organization is located, there are several attorneys in your area who make their bread and butter on discrimination claims, and they know how to use your own policies (or lack thereof) against you to win the biggest possible award for their clients.

Key Takeaways

As an HR professional, it’s your job to build the best possible team and create an environment in which that team can thrive and succeed. Part of building that great team is truly understanding the importance of diversity to high-quality work; another part is commitment to supporting the team you’ve built with policies, procedures, and structure that help them feel plugged-in and valued.

Some key takeaways from this post include:

  • Diversity and inclusion are no longer optional workplace values
  • Businesses that create a welcoming, diverse, inclusive environment provide themselves with the best opportunities for innovation and the widest array of skills and perspectives
  • Organizations that don’t embrace diversity and inclusion stand to lose the war for talent and set themselves up for legal and financial trouble

How to Learn More

Whether you’re an emerging HR leader trying to build a better understanding of diversity and inclusion or an experienced veteran looking to bring yourself up to speed on how D&I best practices are evolving, be sure to reserve a seat at Launchways’ upcoming Diversity & Inclusion Summit for HR and Finance Leaders.

The free education session will take place after hours on Wednesday, October 16th at TechNexus in Chicago and will feature an expert panel with the Midwest’s leading HR professionals and diversity and inclusion experts, including…

·      Rebekah Wolford of Paylocity, a culture- and success-oriented HR leader with experience leading data-driven D&I initiatives

·      Alex Koglin of Launchways, a leading Chicago-area employee benefits consultant with a passion for LGBTQ+ rights

·      Chanté Thurmond of The Darkest Horse, an executive talent consultant who specializes in radical inclusion and expert team building

·      Manny Flores of SomerCor, a small business lender with a track record of empowering diverse entrepreneurs

Panel discussions will be packed with takeaways related to diversity and inclusion, including…

·      How to foster a diverse and inclusive company culture

·      How to build diverse and inclusive HR policies and practices

·      How to ensure compliance with federal and state diversity and inclusion regulations

·      How to create diverse and inclusive benefits packages.

In addition to these key insights, open Q&A and networking time will allow attendees to guide and personalize the summit experience to maximize their takeaways. If you’re a finance or HR leader in the Chicago area, be sure to save your seat at the Diversity & Inclusion Summit for HR and Finance Leaders!

This post is brought to you by our valued partner Paylocity.