Nobody can say diversity and Inclusion is suffering from a lack of attention. Companies now spend over $8 billion a year on diversity programs and nearly 1,000 CEOs have signed the CEO for Action Diversity and Inclusion pledge.

But diversity and inclusion is suffering from a lack of results.

While women make up 50% of the world’s population and non-whites make up a sizable and growing part of the population in many countries, talent from these groups remain woefully underrepresented in many sectors—especially at the top of the corporate world.

The time for talk is over. Organizations now need to take clear and decisive action to diversify their talent pools and create the inclusive environment needed to make diversity a success.

Below, we outline six steps you can take to increase diversity and inclusion in your workplace.

1. Diagnostic: understand current levels of diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Before you can take your organization to another level of diversity and inclusion, you need to understand where you are right now. Where are the biggest obstacles and barriers to individual development? What are the root causes of behavioral and structural biases? Which systems and processes need to be redesigned?

The answers to these questions are not always obvious. Take one of our clients, a global technology consulting company. Despite hiring consultants at a nearly 50-50 male/female ratio, they were struggling to retain female consultants at the five- to seven-year mark. The cause, they told us, was a 60-hour work week and intense travel requirements that left no room for work-life balance.

To which we said: how do you know that is the cause? 

We then ran our diversity and inclusion diagnostic. It revealed that women were in fact leaving the company due to the poor management skills of their people managers. This issue applied equally to men and women. But because women did not have access to the same informal support systems as men, it had a disproportionate effect on their ability to thrive and grow. The problem was further compounded by the people managers’ lack of understanding about gender inequity dynamics.

Without our D&I diagnostic , none of these issues would have been uncovered. The organization would have wasted precious time and resources addressing barriers that were in fact not barriers at all. This is why the first step of every successful diversity and inclusion journey has to be understanding.

2. Strategy: set priorities to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Some best practices—such as employee resource groups and mandated diverse candidate pools—are so compelling that once leaders implement these, they think their work is done. But while these solutions are powerful, they are not comprehensive.

No organization can increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace through a single initiative or action. Instead, you need to take a comprehensive approach, setting and working towards strategic priorities in key areas.

Think back to the example of the global consultancy that was losing female employees due to poor management. Their response was to address the root cause of the problem by implementing targeted training for managers and leaders and by introducing reinforcing mechanisms, including accountability metrics.  An all-encompassing solution that is backed by data helps to ensure that change will take root in your workplace.

3. Inclusive leadership: increase diversity and Inclusion in the workplace through leaders at all levels

Improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not a task that can be delegated. The CEO must lead the charge. Your senior leaders need to be accountable for the diversity and inclusion strategy and its implementation. And, most important, you need to cultivate inclusive leaders at every level of your organization.

What is an inclusive leader? Inclusive leaders are leaders who empower team members to take risks, manage their own development, and bring their authentic selves to work. In this way, they unleash individual potential, enabling all talent to contribute and excel.

Inclusive leaders are critical for increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. At the upper- management level, they define the culture of the organization and ensure diversity and inclusion goals become reality. At the middle-management level, they increase diversity and inclusion throughout day-to-day interactions, whether they’re improving engagement and retention or creating teams where all employees feel they’re supported, respected, and valued.

Read our article, “The Journey to Becoming a More Inclusive Leader” to learn more about how you and others in your organization can be inclusive leaders.

4. Structural inclusion: increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace by removing systemic bias

What’s the best way to increase diversity and inclusion in your internal talent pipeline? You need to level the playing field so that everyone has an equal opportunity to move to the next level up. This is the only effective method for diversifying your talent pool in the long term.

Creating a level playing field requires concerted effort. First, you need to examine your talent processes at a systemic level. Are they fair and equitable? What barriers or biases might be holding underrepresented talent back? Then you need to reshape your talent systems according to the principles of inclusive design. The aim is to achieve what’s known as structural inclusion.

Here are some steps every organization can take to increase structural inclusion:

  • Enact policies to ensure that no one is favored or unfavored on the basis of who they are
  • Conduct equity audits of your talent processes including talent acquisition, onboarding, development, advancement, succession, pay and rewards to unearth disparities and inequities
  • Design talent systems based on the needs, wants and aspirations of the most excluded user
  • Make talent systems work for the exception, so you end up with a better design for all

For a comprehensive guide to structural inclusion and diverse leadership development read “Rejecting the Reference Man”.

5. Behavioral inclusion: increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace by mitigating unconscious bias

Maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace is everyone’s responsibility, and every leader and employee can take part by practicing behavioral inclusion.

This isn’t just about understanding the biases that hamper decision-making. It’s also about building the skills needed to mitigate those biases and take inclusive actions and decisions on a moment-by-moment basis.

Here are some of the ways you can increase behavioral inclusion in the workplace:

  • Facilitate workshops that enable individual contributors, managers, and HR practitioners to unearth their unconscious biases and then interrupt them
  • Address issues of power and privilege related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and other factors
  • Equip managers, including senior executives, to lead their teams inclusively and unleash the collective genius of their entire teams
  • Design high-impact career advancement programs that address the specific issues that underrepresented individuals face.

For more on behavioral inclusion, read our article “4 Steps to Building an Inclusive Organization.”

6. Driving change: increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace through effective change management

No organization can increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace overnight. To ensure your strategic and programmatic interventions work and stick, you need to take a longer-term approach to managing change.

Here are some of the ways you can drive and sustain changes in your workplace:

  • Prioritize what you need to do to make change happen
  • Facilitate dialogue and difficult conversations
  • Determine the key metrics to track and measure outcomes of diversity and inclusion efforts
  • Develop a communication strategy and plan that incorporates listening channels and feedback loops
  • Establish trust, belonging, and high performance

Conclusion: increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a team effort

Increasing diversity and inclusion is a major challenge. The good news is, you don’t have to tackle it alone. Working with a trusted partner can help you get to the root cause of your diversity and inclusion issues faster. It also brings an objective, outside perspective to your organization, which is critical if you’re looking to develop innovative solutions.

Here are some of the ways we’ve helped our clients increase diversity and inclusion:

  • Reduced the turnover of ethnically diverse talent at a global organization from 42% to 2% in less than three years.
  • Helped a financial services company identify that managers’ actions were resulting in mainly white men being promoted.
  • Enabled a global pharmaceutical company to double female representation at director and VP level in two years.
  • Saved a company millions in operating costs through innovative ‘diverse by design’ teams.