As a woman from the Caribbean who immigrated to America more than 30 years ago, I understand firsthand how crucial it is for companies to celebrate diversity within their organizations. Early in my professional life, I did everything in my power to assimilate – I flat ironed my hair, toned down my native accent, and tried to look and act like those around me in order to blend in. Now, I’m at a point in my life where I'm more confident about being authentically "me," and I work for a fantastic company that puts great effort towards cultivating a genuinely equitable, inclusive and diverse workforce. As thankful as I am to be where I am today, I recognize that there is still quite a bit of work to be done.

Putting Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) at the forefront of hiring is not only socially imperative, but it’s vital to an organization’s development. Some might consider diversity a “hot topic.” But facilitating ongoing conversations about race, gender, ethnicity, and other human characteristics that define us and influence our actions allows businesses to take real action that creates a culture of safety where differences and perspectives are celebrated.

D&I at Work and Where to Start

Tackling a delicate and nuanced topic like diversity can be overwhelming for a company that has been operating the same way for decades. Employers are also often afraid of doing and saying the wrong thing, but if you are open to improvement and vulnerable about what you don’t know, you can create a safe space for you and your employees to learn with and from one another.

Simply acknowledging unconscious bias in the workplace is a huge step companies can take in their diversity and inclusion efforts. We all hold social stereotypes about certain groups – whether consciously or not – that impact how we think about and interact with them. By knowing what unconscious biases are and identifying which are most likely to impact your business, you’re on the right track to creating a more inclusive culture.

Establishing an official committee or council focused specifically on diversity is another fantastic tactic to consider. At Spherion, I lead  an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council that is made up of our local office employees, franchise owners and other corporate team members. The council gives us an official setting with which to implement a deliberate approach to address D&I-related topics and create concrete plans for the future. An official committee with the blessing to spend time and effort on D&I in addition to daily operational business activities signals that leadership is taking it seriously. It offers a chance for coworkers to learn from each other about this topic and creates a safe space for people to debate ideas about how the company should move forward.

“As simple as it may sound, representation matters and facilitating an environment where people feel comfortable being themselves at work is essential”

Leveraging the help of outside organizations with extensive experience in this area is also an excellent approach for companies just getting started. Aside from our D&I Council, at Spherion, we regularly invest time and resources to ensure D&I practices are woven into our policies and mindsets. Our hiring practices comply with all U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, and we consult our clients’ D&I policies, often sharing our own efforts and advancements to help them move the needle forward. We ensure that these conversations aren’t just happening at the executive level, but that the decisions we make have a direct impact on our franchisees, clients, employees and the underrepresented people in each local community we serve.

Why D&I in the Workplace is Important

On a macro level, inclusion in the workplace inherently creates diversity of thought. When employees embrace their unique backgrounds and skills and are able to show up authentically without fearing ridicule, they feel more comfortable offering creative solutions and bringing new ideas to the table that can drive a business forward. By extension, this builds a better brand and makes the company more attractive to job seekers, instilling a sense of relatability among customers and employees.

The future workforce is also looking for more diverse work environments. Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history. For many of them, working for a company that promotes and embodies a diverse workforce is not only a preference, but a requirement. Plus, there is quantifiable research that proves companies with diverse leadership outperform less diverse companies in the same vertical. Diversity in the workplace leads to a better/stronger bottom line so in order to survive and ultimately thrive, businesses must carefully examine and update their EDI practices.

Finally, and most importantly, I can say from personal experience being part of a workforce that celebrates you for what makes you different helps to create more confident, capable and happy employees. I was recently promoted to Executive Vice President of Franchise Development and Growth at Spherion, a role I’m extremely proud and honored to take on. I also know that being a woman of color in this position holds a lot of meaning. I’ve had several people come up to me throughout my career to share how proud they are to see themselves represented through me. They find greater confidence and hope in themselves simply because someone who looks like them was given an opportunity they never thought was possible.

As simple as it may sound, representation matters and facilitating an environment where people feel comfortable being themselves at work is essential. You must make a concerted effort to create a truly inclusive workplace that lifts the voices of every employee. It may be hard work but I can assure you, the benefits are well worth it.