In today’s world, a diverse workforce is more than just a “nice-to-have” or a lofty ideal. Diversity in the workplace not only helps employees of all backgrounds feel included, but also leads to better business outcomes: diverse companies are more innovative and draw in top talent more easily than their more homogenous counterparts. The best part: you don’t have to be an enterprise to reap the benefits of a more diverse workforce. Read on to discover why diversity in the workplace matters, and how your business can best support employees from diverse backgrounds. Importance of diversity in the workplace. Diversity in the workplace ensures that a range of voices are represented within your company. A diverse workforce—especially when that diversity reaches all the way up to leadership—provides a multitude of perspectives and ideas. These differing viewpoints can help your business innovate to better meet the needs of a variety of customers, as well as empower employees of all backgrounds to share their insights and make an impact on the company. It’s no surprise, then, that diversity is becoming an increasingly crucial component in attracting and retaining top talent. According to a Glassdoor study, 76% of workers cited diversity as an important factor when determining whether to apply for or accept a job. Additionally, 32% of all respondents would not apply for a company with a lack of diversity—increased to 41% for Black candidates and 42% for LGBTQ+ candidates. Benefits of having diversity in the workplace. Prioritizing diversity in the workplace comes with a host of advantages, including: Higher profits - Teams with higher rates of diversity, particularly within their C-suite, tend to financially outperform their competitors. Increased innovation - Employees of historically-underrepresented races, genders, sexual orientations, education levels, and neurotypes can offer your company unique views and drive new solutions. Improved company culture - When employees of diverse backgrounds are actively supported in the workplace, it creates an open, collaborative, and innovative company culture. Better customer engagement - With a variety of perspectives at the helm, you can more easily understand and meet the needs of your diverse audience. Additionally, current and prospective customers are more likely to engage with a business when they see themselves represented within it. Supporting employees from diverse backgrounds. No matter the size of your organization, here are steps you can take to support employees of diverse backgrounds. Acknowledge the validity of systemic racism. According to Talisa Lavarry, founder of Yum Yum Morale, a workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion firm, and the author of “Confessions From Your Token Black Colleague,” before organizations can make any progress, they must first admit that a problem exists. “It’s important to acknowledge that systemic racism is a valid concern that should be taken seriously,” she says. “People of color have always been mistreated and underrepresented within corporate America.” And she notes that Black women face double discrimination as a result of their race and gender. Listen to the concerns and ideas of your employees. If you’re serious about supporting your employees, don’t do anything until you talk to them. “Instead of creating shallow policies or offering empty promises, employers can simply ask their team members to explain their experiences, concerns, and expectations,” recommends Fatimah Pierce, Ph.D., founder and principal at Hickman Rose Strategies, which provides management consulting services for organizations, entrepreneurs, and government agencies. But this strategy won’t be successful until you create a safe space for them to have these conversations. “Team members will be compelled to speak up if they do not fear repercussions or retaliation, and if they know their recommendations will be taken seriously,” she says. Offer diversity training. After talking to your employees from diverse backgrounds, consider offering diversity training across your organization. Though bigger companies may have more financial leeway to conduct wide-scale training, small businesses can still provide valuable resources to their teams. Online resources are a great option, particularly for remote or hybrid teams. Many available diversity and inclusion training courses are offered for free or at a low cost, making it ideal for newer or smaller teams. If you have a little more room in the budget, you can hire a professional for a live training session; smaller law firms or solo HR consultants may offer these sessions at a more affordable rate than larger institutions. Of course, this training won’t make a meaningful difference if it isn’t carried out at all levels of the organization. Lead by example by showing your ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and your team is likely to follow. Create affinity groups. One way to create a safe space is through affinity groups. “If currently exist, make the announcement that you will be starting one, and in your announcement, invite people to sign up if they’re interested,” advises Dr. Rassheedah Watts, Ed.D., a diversity trainer and allyship coach, and chief diversity officer in Minneapolis, MN. She suggests polling the group to find the best date and time, or choose an allotted time (during work hours) that usually works for your employees. While affinity groups tend to meet once a month, if there’s group interest in meeting more often, that’s acceptable. The importance of affinity groups can’t be overstated. Watts says they’re an instant bonding space where employees can let their guard down, speak freely and openly, and just be themselves. Encourage self-care. Adam P. Gordon, Miami-based co-founder of PTO Genius, an HR tech platform that helps companies increase employee satisfaction and engagement, recommends going beyond the usual, “How are you?” and asking more specific questions like, “Are you getting enough sleep?” or “What additional resources do you need right now?” Another question to ask: “Is there something the company can do to make your life easier?” “By asking questions in this manner, you can hone in on how best to help, and it can also reveal gaps in organizational resources and programs that may need to be ramped up or filled,” Gordon says. Diversify projects and assignments. One of the most practical means of supporting a diverse team is ensuring fair project and assignment distribution. By ensuring employees of all backgrounds have their equal share of work—especially those that are substantive enough to warrant a promotion—you’re providing opportunities for career development and advancement. This is especially important for employees from underrepresented groups who may not have had formal training or experience in the past, but have the potential to grow within your organization. Make accountability a core value. You may be doing everything you can to support your employees, but unless you hold others in the organization accountable, your work is for naught. “You must challenge xenophobic, racist, and biased behaviors as they happen—especially in team settings,” says Gordon. “When left unaddressed, these comments and behaviors become permissible and normalized in workplace culture.” And if you haven’t done so already, he also recommends creating a handbook and training managers to root out bias in the recruitment and hiring processes. However, accountability entails more than just holding wayward employees responsible for their actions. It also includes the company holding itself responsible for following through on grievances. “Companies must create a process for team members to articulate their particular pain points within the employee experience,” says Kia Roberts, J.D., principal and founder of Triangle Investigations, a group of lawyers, investigators, and policy advisors that perform misconduct investigations in workplaces, schools, and other organizations. Roberts is also a former director of investigations for the NFL. “Whether surveys, a listening tour, or working with outside DEI consultants, companies must be intentional about creating space for … team members to fully and freely express themselves.” But it’s not enough to just listen. “Once companies have thoughtfully reflected upon what team members have shared about their experiences, companies must be creative and specific about the follow-through process to address these sore spots,” Roberts says. This isn’t just in the best interest of employees. The ability to cultivate adaptability is crucial for business longevity.