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Diversity pays dividends with inclusion

Four key levers to infuse inclusion

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Diverse group of men and women walking Looking around their workforce comprised of gender, age and ethnically diverse employees, today’s business leaders might think they can check diversity off their to-do list. They’d be wrong.

Diversity without inclusion is a story of missed opportunities, of a workforce so used to being overlooked that they no longer feel compelled to share their thinking, ideas and insights. Simply put, diversity without inclusion doesn’t stick.

As noted diversity advocate Verna Myers puts it, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

While many lump together diversity and inclusion, it is inclusion which makes the crucial connections that attract talent, foster innovation and lead to business growth. A significant difference between the two is that diversity can be easily measured but quantifying feelings of inclusion is more challenging. However, organizations can use a wide variety of mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of their inclusion efforts including qualitative surveys, facilitated focus groups and one-on-one interviews.

Research from the Center for Talent Innovation reveals four key levers that drive inclusion:

  • Inclusive leaders. This kind of leader is a conglomeration of six behaviors: ensuring that team members speak up and are heard; making it safe to propose novel ideas; empowering team members to make decisions; taking advice and implementing feedback; giving actionable feedback; and sharing credit for team success. Of employees who report their team leader has at least three of these traits, 87% say they feel welcome and included in their team, 87% say they feel free to express their views and opinions, and 74% say they feel that their ideas are heard and recognized. For respondents who reported that their team leader has none of these traits, those percentages dropped to 51%, 46%, and 37%, respectively.
  • Authenticity. Most everyone in today’s world of work expends at least some energy repressing parts of their persona in the workplace in some way. But according to the research, 37% of African-Americans and Hispanics and 45% of Asians say they “need to compromise their authenticity” to conform to their company’s standards of demeanor or style.
  • Networking and visibility. For certain workforce segments, such as women and people of color, the key to rising above a playing field that remains stubbornly uneven is sponsorship. A sponsor is a senior-level leader who elevates their protégé’s visibility within the corridors of power, advocates for key assignments and promotions for them, and puts their reputation on the line for the protégé’s advancement. For those who feel marginalized by their gender, ethnicity, age, sexual identity, or educational and economic background, sponsorship is particularly crucial in invigorating ambition and driving engagement.
  • Clear career paths. One of the hallmarks of an inclusive culture is a clear career path strategy for employees. However, according to the Center for Talent Innovation, women, LGBT individuals and people of color have an unclear map to career success. The research reveals that 45% of women off-ramp to take care of children, with elder care is increasingly pulling women off the career track (24% leave to care for aging relatives). But a significant number of women also feel left behind and pushed off the ladder. Twenty-nine percent say their career isn’t satisfying, and 23% feel stalled in their careers. In focus groups, women revealed they feel frustrated by being passed over for high-profile assignments and believe they’re missing out on the right opportunities.

To address these barriers, organizations need to develop solutions to challenges that are preventing these individuals from achieving their potential. They can then provide programs, policies, training and other options to ensure each group of individuals finds the path that’s right for them.

By focusing on these four key levers, real change can start to drive results. The Center for Talent Innovation research found that employees with inclusive managers are 1.3 times more likely to feel that their innovative potential is unlocked. Employees who are able to bring their whole selves to work are 42% less likely to say they intend to leave their job within a year. Those with sponsors are 62% more likely to have asked for and have received a promotion. And 69% of women who off-ramp would have stayed at their companies if they’d had flexible work options.

Mike McGuire"Creating a diverse, inclusive culture means we discover what is important to others, and make it important to us. It means we do not tolerate our differences — we value our differences."

Mike McGuire, Grant Thornton CEO
Leveraging the business benefits of a diverse, inclusive culture takes effort and intentionality. It means not just accepting differences but embracing them. According to Grant Thornton CEO Mike McGuire, building a strong culture can not only serve to attract top talent but also provide a powerful competitive advantage. He explains that a commitment to creating a diverse, inclusive culture requires listening intently. “It means we discover what is important to others, and make it important to us. It means that we do not tolerate our differences — we value our differences.“

Eddie Adkins, partner, Washington National Tax Office and National Human Capital Services Tax Technical Practice Leader, agrees that inclusion is all about embracing differences. “To me, an inclusive workforce is one that not only accepts but embraces individuals who are different from themselves. As an example that is particularly relevant to me, it is a workforce that treats a man who has a husband no differently from a man who has a wife, and includes both men equally in social activities, conversations about family.”

Niles Brown, managing director, Business Risk Services, who is a member of Grant Thornton’s African-American business resource group, stressed that organizations need to remember that the road to diversity and inclusion is a journey, not a destination. “It's a journey and when people embrace that it's a constant evolution and process that you have to work towards, it can be challenging sometimes,” Brown said. “But if you never feel any pressure along the way, it’s probably a good indication that you’re not fully pushing the boundaries around diversity and inclusion the way you need to. When you embrace the challenges and bumps along the way but keep moving, you find the journey is where all the value comes from and where we grow as individuals and an organization.”

Acknowledging the importance of “bringing your whole self to work,” Brown said it is invaluable to work on teams “when everybody comes together, truly being honest and open and willing to contribute the best that they have to give.” He added, “We have seen some very powerful team dynamics and outcomes.”

However, Brown suggested that inclusion is not something necessarily that organizations can mandate. “When you try to mandate it with a policy, it can be difficult to achieve that same level of authenticity,” he said. “People know what’s right. Sometimes it’s hard to do what’s right, and it’s very hard to script what’s right.”

Nicholas Sanford, senior associate, Mergers & Acquisitions Tax Services, explained one way that he experiences Grant Thornton’s commitment to an inclusive culture is through participation in its Business Resource Groups, or BRGs. He had an opportunity to lead training programs with the talent acquisition team nationally to educate others on diversity and inclusion. “It’s such a great aspect of our business resource groups that someone so early in their career can take on a leadership position, be able to make change and that’s helped me grow professionally,” he said.



Sanford also related an incident that he says exemplifies the true meaning of inclusion in the workplace. As a member of his local chapter of Equality GT, Grant Thornton’s LGBT and ally business resource group, he participated in the Charlotte Pride Parade. “We had senior leadership from the office here and even Mike McGuire, our CEO, came down to show his support. If that’s not inclusivity, I’m not sure what is.”

Like Sanford, Chris Albarado, regional marketing specialist, noted that it’s critical to feel valued for one’s differences. “I’m able to fully contribute to my team and stakeholders resulting in better outcomes and business results.”

Grant Thornton’s inclusive culture is focused on encouraging employees to bring their whole selves to work and share their unique thinking, experiences and backgrounds. It received a perfect score on the 2018 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a national benchmarking survey and report on corporate policies and practices related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) workplace equality, administered by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Courtney Anderson, Grant Thornton’s Leader of Culture Innovation, explained that the company’s eight business resource groups, aimed at creating an atmosphere for those who identify with certain ages, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations, has a senior leadership team member who serves as an advocate. “As part of their role, they represent the voice of those members,” Anderson explained. “They are accountable for making sure the strategy and plans surrounding the BRG are supported and executed with excellence.”

As a way of intentionally creating a culture of inclusion, Anderson noted Grant Thornton sponsors workshops that allow employees to role play and really explore what it means to think differently. “It’s really about embracing the concept of inviting people to the table for conversations,” she said. “We help people understand what it means for them to process information one way based on their own experiences and to recognize that’s not the way that everyone else is processing it.”

Jackie Rosenfeldt, partner, Audit Services, suggested that one important hallmark of an inclusive culture is having a mechanism in place to allow employees to provide feedback. “An organization is made up of people and although we have these set behaviors associated with values, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people react in the same fashion or have the same feelings toward things,” she said. “There needs to be some sort of mechanism that you’re able to give that feedback.”

Rosenfeldt also stressed the important role that leaders play in exemplifying a culture of inclusion. “They need to be aware of their blind spots and understand the importance of really listening to what’s important to their teams. If you’re one of my team members, I need to understand what’s important to you so I can support you and I can help you meet your goals.”

Interested in an organizational design that supports diversity and inclusion? Grant Thornton can help. Reach out to our professionals below.

Contacts Erica O’Malley
Erica O’Malley

Partner, Organizational Strategy
T: +1 312 602 8786


Dr. Tiffany Yates
Dr. Tiffany Yates

Senior Manager, Organizational Strategy
T: +1 678 515 2314