Many companies are evaluating diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices as discussions of racial injustice continue to take center stage in the national conversation.
Research has shown that improvement in diversity, especially in executive teams, is achieved by companies that take systematic, business-led approaches to D&I and also place special emphasis on inclusion. But, it's also important to identify the root causes of a non-inclusive culture, according to Laura Hamill, co-founder and chief science officer at Limeade, an employee experience software company.
"Command and control leadership, lack of trust, not giving employees a voice, lack of listening — these are all signs of a potential non-inclusive culture," Hamill told HR Dive via email. "At the root of this is not fundamentally valuing your employees as human beings and not understanding that when you fail to value your employees, ultimately your people and business results will suffer."
Limeade defines inclusion "as a sense of belonging, connection and community at work," Hamill said. Allyship in the workplace is a key driver of an inclusive culture.
Effective allyship is based on trust
Healthy, supportive allyship must be "based on trust and intentional and conscious efforts that are perceived as helpful and positive by those you are seeking to be an ally to," Hamill said.
Although allyship for people of color can come in many forms, Hamill explained, it's "especially important for leaders to actively support people of color to set company-wide norms." This can happen through public advocacy and support, she said.
In the wake of the national protests following the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police May 25, major employers have taken a stand against racism. For example, in immediate communication to its workforce, TD Bank leadership affirmed that any act of racism or hatred is unacceptable. The company committed to augmenting D&I education and training modules, placing a greater focus on issues affecting black employees and creating spaces for discussion, Girish Ganesan, global head of diversity and inclusion at TD Bank, told HR Dive in an interview.
Allyship can also mean taking a stand by making bold moves. Reddit named Michael Seibel to its board June 10, after Alexis Ohanian Sr., co-founder and former CEO of the tech company, stepped down. Ohanian announced June 5 that he resigned from Reddit's board and urged members to fill the seat with a black candidate.
"We need diversity at the highest levels of business now more than ever," he said.
Allyship can also be similar to mentoring relationships, Hamill said. It can happen through one-on-one conversations and by providing advice and resources, she said.
Set new behavioral norms
A benefit of allyship is new awareness and behavioral norms, which in turn drives inclusion, according to Hamill.
"For example, if a person of color is interrupted repeatedly, an ally can point that out and offer the person the space to talk without being interrupted," she said. "Once repeatedly practiced, this can start to create more awareness and others doing the same thing."
She continued, "it may also show the person you are supporting that you see them and value them and hopefully that they feel more included with your support."
Microaggressions can be defined as comments or actions that subtly express a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group. A Dec. 9 report from the Center for Talent Innovation found that black professionals are more likely to experience microaggressions and prejudice more than other racial or ethnic groups.
Accountability for inclusion
To measure inclusion, Limeade utilizes its own technology including "a research-based survey that gathers feedback from employees on the drivers of inclusion," Hamill said.
"Companies should be checking in using confidential surveys like this so that employees can be open and honest about what's going well and what needs to improve," she continued. "If companies don't have inclusion surveys, they should consider adding inclusion items to their engagement surveys."
Low engagement and lack of inclusion in the workplace can be a retention risk. A Limeade Institute white paper published in October found that 60% of employees surveyed who felt "cared for" said they plan to remain three or more years with their companies, in comparison to only 7% of those who said they don't feel cared for.
Hamill also cautioned that allyship is just one important piece in creating inclusive workplaces.
"There's much more companies need to do to drive inclusion, such as ensuring behavioral norms of inclusion are articulated and trained," she said. All employees — especially leaders and managers — need to be held accountable to these behavioral norms, Hamill said; "people practices" such as hiring, onboarding, performance management and development, need to "be aligned and promote inclusion as well."