The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How can you play a role in advancing workplace equality?” is written by Anka Wittenberg, chief diversity and inclusion officer at SAP.
When it comes to corporate diversity, we face hidden obstacles not only externally, but also inside ourselves. I was recently boarding a plane to speak at a conference in San Francisco and was immediately greeted by a female pilot. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this is great—a female pilot!”
At one point during the 12-hour flight, we experienced turbulence, and I remember vividly thinking to myself, “I hope she has it under control.” Once we safely landed in San Francisco, I realized that if a man had been in the cockpit, that thought would not have crossed my mind.
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Despite my own knowledge, education, and understanding of the positive impact of diversity and inclusion, I still held an unconscious bias toward this female pilot. This led me to think about how I could help build a diverse and inclusive workforce at my company.
While diversity has increased substantially within the general workforce over the past three years, change has been slower to come to mid-level management, and is even less evident among senior executives and corporate boards, according to the Leaders 2020 study conducted by SAP and Oxford Economics.
Today, a commitment to diversity and inclusion is much more than a convenience—it is a business imperative. So what role can each of us play in advancing workplace equality?
Make the business case for diversity
Receiving buy-in from the C-suite is certainly a key component for organizational change. To get that buy-in, it’s important to show how diversity and inclusion save money and boost revenue, while also highlighting the long-term value of these initiatives. As a recent McKinsey study shows, “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Additionally, a 2015 study from Bersin by Deloitte showed that diverse companies had 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period than non-diverse companies did.
Confront unconscious bias
Everyone has unconscious bias. In today’s workplace, it is time for everyone to stop tiptoeing around the issue. These biases are based on our personal experiences and how we see the world. Understanding the reality of unconscious bias is an important component of working to reduce it in the workplace. Providing diversity and inclusion training, using technology to identify and eliminate biased language in job listings, ensuring that underrepresented colleagues have a voice, and opening up opportunities at all levels of your organization are all ways to build a more inclusive, bias-free work environment.
To create real change, instill a sense of teamwork at your organization. You can arrange group lunches or host conference calls to discuss common professional experiences, share best practices, and build relationships. These will help create a stronger sense of community.
For example, SAP hosts a monthly “Women’s Professional Growth” webcast series, which has reached over 11,000 people in more than 40 countries. This program and similar initiatives have helped employees feel more connected to colleagues around the globe who are often facing similar challenges and obstacles, and creates a space to share and listen to inspirational stories. This sense of community creates better peer relationships, builds cultural understanding, and opens up honest dialogue.
Working to move your business beyond bias is critical to advancing workplace equality—and a more inclusive workforce is more innovative, better understands its customers, and outperforms the competition. The road to greater diversity can start with anyone at any level, and will ultimately lead to a more inclusive environment with happier and more productive employees. And it’s personally rewarding to know that you’ve transformed your professional culture for the better.