by Rob Danna | September 05, 2017

All year long, we've been making the case for why diversity and inclusion should be infused within an organization. And for good reason. According to the Harvard Business Review, inclusion makes organizations smarter. It invites more diverse thinking and forces teams to scrutinize differences. And collectively over time, it helps you make better decisions, says McKinsey & Company.

But getting there is not easy. Our brains have been pre-loaded with information -- some good, some bad, some true, and some false. It takes time and dedication to override your emotional brain in order to actively engage your rational brain. Or as University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein say in their book "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Waelth, and Happiness," you have to move from automatic systems to reflective systems.  

Think of it this way. Muscle takes time to form. It starts by tearing fibers that, when healed, become stronger than before. But exercise takes a daily dose of willpower to overcome the emotional brain ("I want to sleep in!") so you actually work out ("I want to get fit and be healthy!"). It's behavior modification. 

It's the same process for diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace. As leaders, we need to employ all of our tools to achieve a future state of inclusion. It takes communication, recognition, rewards, reminders, sponsorship, meetings, demonstrations, and authentic leadership. 

And to get to that future state, it's critical to consider all phases of the employee life cycle, according to Pleasure Allen, people & culture manager at ITA Group. 

"The effort begins with recruiters and hiring leaders who are committed to building a diverse workforce inclusive of others," said Allen. "But that's just part of the equation. The initiative must also include a strategic onboarding process and thoughtfully administered developmental opportunities that ultimately contribute to a stronger culture." 

So, where to start? Here are seven ways you can actively incorporate diversity and inclusion tactics from pre-hire date through retirement. 

1. Hire unique. Stop hiring the same type of profile -- take a chance on an up-and-comer. Look outside your industry. And specifically encourage recruiters and hiring managers to seek out-of-the-box candidates. 
2. Pursue global perspectives. Our world is globalizing. Therefore, it's becoming critical to more deeply understand various cultures and their preferences, as communication strategies vary based on culture. When in doubt, don't go it alone.
3. Leverage the voice of the employee. Allow networks and teams to infuse ideas, and use anonymous voting/idea systems to strip away titles and pre-conceived notions. Doing so will help capture diverse ideas and perspectives.
4. Recognize success. Point out and reward those who successfully act on diversity initiatives. Constantly communicate their success and the results achieved.
5. Foster a culture of respect. Understand that initial reactions are often automatic and sometimes irrational. Take time to think things through. Eliminate fallacies and prejudices before responding.  
6. Be self-aware. If you've grown up in the "majority," it's tougher to be self-aware because you've always been "accepted." Don't be afraid to expose your own bias -- chances are, others might be able to relate, and you can all learn from each other.  
7. Consider your entire workforce. Employees nearing retirement will have a different perspective than newer team members who just graduated from college last year. All perspectives are valuable, and all should be used to shape your diversity and inclusion initiatives.

I recently read another Harvard Business Review article that said the most important skill for leaders to learn is how to manage across differences. The author -- Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of leading gender consultancy 20-first -- wrote, "If you visibly promote and reward those who do it well, actions speak louder than unmet targets." 

I couldn't agree more. Targets and goals are great, but nothing beats action and examples, especially when you're working to create a smarter, more strategic organization in today's multigenerational, multicultural, multi-talented workforce. 

Rob Danna is Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at engagement solutions provider ITA Group, an industry leader in events, incentives and recognition programs. With 25 years of experience, Danna has helped hundreds of large companies strategize and implement strategic performance improvement solutions; his diverse expertise helps clients address complex business issues including regulation, compliance, competition, employee retention, and mergers and acquisitions. 

ITA Group maximizes business impact and value for Fortune 500 organizations by aligning and motivating their most valuable assets: their people. Contact ITA Group at [email protected]