The HR Professional’s Guide to Diversity & Inclusion

By: Rob Danna

Diversity and inclusion is a critical component of a thriving organizational culture. As an HR professional, it’s your job to create an environment conducive to the different experiences and perspectives among the workforce to attract and retain talent and remain competitive in the industries in which you do business. But that’s no easy feat.

In this guide, you’ll learn new ways to connect diversity and inclusion to business value and, in turn, shape a workplace culture that thrives even in the most unpredictable business climates.

Team members putting their hands together

Strategic Inclusion as a Value Proposition? Absolutely.

Better yet, are they among your strategic priorities? If not, they should be. They’re among the hottest of topics for organizational leaders, and not just because they drive performance (according to Deloitte Australia, inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments. 80%!)

No, it’s more than just performance numbers. Diversity and inclusion enormously influence factors that impact the culture of your organization, specifically recruitment and retention of the unmatched, often hard-to-come-by talent that drives those results. But before I speak to how you can attract and retain through diversity and inclusion, let me first deliver some context.

How Diversity Drives Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion have come a long way—they’re no longer the compliance-based, meet-the-minimum-requirements-set-forth-by-law prerequisites they once were. Now, they’re more progressive, aiming to get the best possible return for the investment (the investment being diversity itself).

Because diversity represents all the ways we differ, inclusion harnesses those elements productively. Beliefs, backgrounds, talents, capabilities, and ways of life—inclusion aims to leverage them to facilitate an environment of involvement, respect and connection, and ultimately, create business value.

Deborah James, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, explains why diversity is so powerful within military culture as it relates to the overall mission and how it ultimately comes down to aligning and motivating any organization’s most valuable asset: its people.


“Diversity is important because we have to be top-notch in innovation. We are a high-tech force…facing enormous challenges around the world. We need people that can handle ambiguity and work on their feet. People that can make split-second decisions with life or death consequences…”

“These young people grow and become leaders, not by [someone] just telling them what to do, but by getting them to all march in the same direction and take on a mission. All of which comes back to diversity of thought, innovation and problem solving.”

Making Inclusion Strategic

As organizational leaders and proponents of aligning and motivating people through strategies like events, incentives and recognition, our goal is to create emotional connections to the mission; to get our people to march in the same direction.

Strategic inclusion allows us to do just that. It takes the concept of inclusion one step further by fundamentally focusing on solving problems and realizing opportunities with people rather than against people.

What’s more, it offers a viable framework for sustainable business success and can serve as a value proposition for your organization by:

  • Driving a meaningful and measurable advantage for attracting and retaining talent
  • Providing meaningful and measurable value to the customer
  • Contributing a meaningful and measurable increase in shareholder value

Strategic Inclusion’s Spot in Your Big-Picture Plan

Now that you know the why of strategic inclusion, we’ll help you with the how. The following articles spotlight how organizations and individuals are adopting and harnessing diverse and inclusive practices.

This article originally appeared in Incentive Magazine.

Team members laughing together

Looking for World-Class Talent? Look to Inclusive Organizations.

What does inclusion look like within your organization today? Is it strategic? Are you going beyond the compliance-based, minimum-requirements-set-forth-by-law prerequisites to harness and maximize the potential of your greatest asset: your people?

And, as a result, are you benefiting from a talent recruitment and retention perspective? If you are, great. Keep it up. If not, let’s talk about how you can strengthen your culture to foster strategic inclusion within your organization. But first, hear what science has to say about it.

Your People Long for Inclusion

Science tells us that people have a deep-seated need to belong; to be noticed; to be appreciated. The need to belong is literally embedded in human DNA. As a species, we’ve neurologically evolved to depend upon our fellow humans to survive and thrive. We can actually observe via functional MRI how our brain’s capacity to think more creatively and process more complex problems is enhanced by the secretion of serotonin and oxytocin. These “belonging” neurotransmitters are released when we feel connected to each other, to common causes, and to trusted leaders. In a nutshell, we’re literally hard-wired to work more effectively together than apart.

Your Culture Lays the Groundwork for Inclusion

More specifically, how your company’s mission and vision translate through to your culture is what provides the foundation—and it has to be intentional. After all, you can’t mandate your culture, but you can exemplify it. It takes care and strategy to do so, though.

Intentionally aligning your culture is what gives your people a unified purpose to stand behind in times of disruption and challenge, and times of success.

What’s more, when your people are emotionally connected to your organization’s mission, they produce more and perform better. You know you’ve achieved alignment when they’re putting their hearts into their work (and your numbers reflect it).

So how do you get there? Follow the waypoints of respect and inclusion to intentionally strengthen your culture through the strategic design of corporate initiatives.

Related: Read more about why organizational culture matters (and foolproof success factors to make it work for you).  

What Intentional Design Looks Like

In “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek said, “If you take care of your people, the numbers will take care of themselves.” And it’s true. When people’s diverse backgrounds are respected, they feel included and are therefore prepared to emotionally connect with your cause. But before you hang that poster and roll out your next mantra, take a step back.

Start from the beginning and consider each employee’s role and their purpose for joining the cause. Look to focus groups and surveys to objectively gauge what is most meaningful to your people as it relates to organizational culture.

Different people are moved by different things, so really listen. Even if you disagree, hearing the feedback lays the groundwork for respectful debate, and ultimately, a powerhouse culture.

Then, leverage the takeaways to begin designing intentional employee-focused corporate initiatives. Take it one step further and use them to create an enhanced brand strategy that supports those initiatives. Or, go the extra mile and craft an enhanced culture story for your organization. Whatever you do, do it intentionally in an effort to take your cultural transformation to a new strategic level.

Attracting and Retaining World-Class Talent Isn’t About Compliance. It’s About Culture.

Corporate initiatives are more successful when built on a foundation of strategic inclusion. Without it, they’re significantly more prone to be approached with apprehension and trepidation. And it’s important to view strategic inclusion as conceptually separate from compliance-centered diversity hiring and procurement-focused vendor sourcing and, rather, see it as a framework for sustainable business success.

Strategic inclusion posits that world-class talent flows toward inclusive organizations that embrace diversity as the best way to create great products and services for customers, innovate to solve challenging problems, generate above-market profits and provide meaningful career paths for highly engaged and loyal employees. And isn’t that what we all want?

We've talked about how incorporating diversity and inclusion attracts and retains world-class talent. In the next article, we'll discuss how to weave inclusion into the very core of your overall organizational culture design.

This article originally appeared in Incentive Magazine.

Group of team members discussing culture

5 Steps to Creating a Culture That Fosters Inclusion

Smart HR professionals must celebrate and support all of their team members. Bringing in a mix of people from all walks of life simply creates a better environment, where people feel welcome and accepted.

After all, doing otherwise would devastate employee potential and hinder valuable business results such as employee recruitment and retention.

Here’s a startling fact: according to a recent Deloitte survey, 72% of respondents said they would leave or may consider leaving an organization for one that has more of the inclusive aspects they desire.

In fact, nearly a quarter of all respondents have already done so.

However, there’s a way to better, more strategically foster inclusion—and it lies in an organization’s foundation. Or rather, in its culture

Like it or not, the world is getting smaller, and globalization is demanding cultural assimilation. That means everyone—from individuals to organizations to countries—will struggle to survive in the future when they’re rooted in the past.

The strength of your culture can and should position you for the future, but the creation of a strong culture doesn’t happen by accident. It’s intentional. And that means you need a plan to get there. We did it at my own organization, and we’ll continue to execute on it for the rest of our existence.

Inclusion Starts with Building Solid Culture Foundation

  1. Define what you want your culture to feel like. That vision starts at the top, but often the best ideas come from below. That said, it’s critical for senior leadership to believe in inclusion and act accordingly. Because you’re the one who sets and implements policy, it’s important that your belief is genuine in order for your people to foster it.\
  2. Outline your culture’s existing strengths. You’ve got some great things already working in your favor, so identify them. And, conduct a quick evaluation of their effectiveness. Such awareness will reinforce your foundation and remind team members of existing cultural assets, and will guide better decisions.
  3. Conduct focus groups and gather intelligence. This is the crux of your cultural transformation. Bring your people together without HR and senior leadership, and use surveys and focus groups to collect ideas on how to improve inclusion. The best ideas typically don’t come from HR or senior leadership, so embrace the concept and trust your community.
  4. Define necessary behaviors. In order for each initiative to take hold, it’s important to define specific behaviors you want to see. List them. Communicate them. Foster them. Check out more examples of behaviors necessary to build a solid culture foundation.
  5. Communicate. What that looks like is up to you. One of our biggest successes was an annual celebration we threw that aligned with our re-energized, inclusive culture. We invited all team members—both on-site and remote—which allowed us to embody our strategy in a live setting. But outside of that, we continue to reinforce the message by providing frequent recognition of inclusive behaviors through our employee wellbeing platform, and by leveraging multi-media messaging because, as we know, everyone learns in a different fashion.

Moving Forward With Your Inclusive Culture 

It probably won’t be easy (change never is), but when you know the objections, you’ve got the power to overcome them. So, know this. Typically, organizational leaders are resistant to change because:

  • They’re skeptical due to past failed change efforts
  • They don’t feel involved in the change process
  • They don’t understand the reason(s) for change
  • They feel threatened by the change
  • Competing priorities create change fatigue
  • Systems, processes, and incentives don’t support change

The Results Pay Dividends

At the end of our first year following our culture transformation, our organization was awarded six different “top workplace” distinctions. We also reduced voluntary turnover by 4%, increased revenues and earnings and 93% of our employees were enthusiastic or inspired by our future.

How does that look?

This article originally appeared in Incentive Magazine.

Future-Proofing Your Organization

Now that you have a new perspective on diversity and inclusion and understand that a solid company culture is critical for organizational success, what will you do with it?

The changes HR professionals are facing on a daily basis shapes the core way companies do business. How you respond to that change is what will set you apart. A strong culture is the key to remaining relevant to incoming talent and staying ahead of the competition. And it’s not just a buzzword. Organizational culture is your competitive advantage. Find out how to future-proof your organization with a thriving organizational culture.

Rob Danna
Rob Danna

As Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Rob is a savvy leader with over 25 years of experience in technology and sales management. He prides himself on making work more like play with innovative engagement solutions that transform how business feels for leading brands around the world.