Diversity, inclusion, and belonging best practices pave the way to success

To attract and retain talent, it’s crucial companies have a diversity, inclusion, and belonging strategy. What does this mean, and how do you get there?

a diverse workplace illustration

Ramona Blake

July 10, 2023

min read
  • Prioritizing diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace is crucial for companies, as research consistently shows that it leads to better financial performance compared to industry averages.

  • While correlation does not equal causation, fostering diversity and inclusion sets companies up for various achievements, such as improved talent retention and recruitment.

  • A diverse workforce not only enhances innovation and decision-making but also attracts a wider pool of prospective employees and customers, ultimately contributing to a company's competitive advantage and brand positioning in the global market.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of diversity, inclusion, and belonging at work. Research consistently shows that companies that prioritize building diverse teams reap the benefits. Companies that embrace diversity, inclusion, and belonging and create strategies around it have a better chance of outperforming national industry averages in financial performance. Embracing the power of diversity isn't just about doing what’s right; it brings tangible benefits.

While it’s true that correlation does not necessarily equal causation—meaning, having greater diversity does not inherently equal more profit—prioritizing diversity and inclusion sets companies up for a range of accomplishments that ultimately lead to success on the spreadsheets. For example, diverse companies can better recruit and keep top talent. One report found that if employees trust their employer’s commitment to diversity, the chance they leave the company falls by 87%.

A Glassdoor report suggests that one in three employees and job seekers (32%) will not apply to a company they perceive as not diverse. That number rises to 41% for Black individuals and 41% for members of the LGBTQ community. More than half of employees overall think companies should be doing more to increase diversity—which includes 71% of Black employees and 72% of Hispanic employees.

A McKinsey report says that 52% of employees have a positive sentiment on diversity. The same report found that the work of inclusion is harder for companies—only 29% of employees had a positive sentiment toward inclusion. This illustrates that for the work of diversity to be effective, it’s vital to make sure everyone feels as if they’re part of a cohesive effort.

What can leaders do to improve diversity in the workplace? And further, how can a sense of inclusion and belonging benefit employees, leadership, and the business?

What Is diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB) in the workplace?

Diversity, inclusion, and belonging get a lot of airtime in business discussions these days. The terms are interconnected, and each is uniquely important to a business and its mission. But their precise meanings, and their impacts on a business, can sometimes be muddled.

Diversity and inclusion, while related terms, are different. One way to think about diversity is simply the unique mix of differences in the workplace. Those differences can be visible and invisible, cultural, organizational, worldview-based, internal, and external.

Taking those concepts one step further is belonging, the state of being welcomed, accepted, and celebrated for who you are and what you do.

A simple way to think about these concepts:

  • Diversity is the mix of employees.

  • Inclusion is proactive behavior.

  • Belonging is an outcome.

Diversity: Who is in the workforce, and what demographics do they represent?

When business leaders talk about diversity, they usually start with who makes up their workforce. In the United States, this leans heavily into identities and the measurable dimensions of diversity (race, gender, age, nationality). It also can represent less tangible elements of identity, like national or cultural traditions, neurodiversity, education or training experiences, and religious diversity. Diversity comprises all these dimensions and so much more.

Inclusion: How do the people in the workforce feel about the workplace and their place within it?

Diversity is important, but without inclusion, the power of diversity cannot be realized. Inclusion requires intentional actions that are focused on creating fair and equitable access to resources, opportunities, and the overall environment.

Inclusion requires effort. Companies need to allocate and align resources to create equitable access to opportunities so everyone within a company feels they have the chance to achieve and be successful.

Consider these questions in understanding how to promote inclusion: What are behaviors that encourage colleagues to share their voices at the table? What institutional practices can a company implement to ensure inclusion at all levels of work?

Belonging: Do people feel engaged and embraced by management, coworkers, and a broader business community?

Intentional inclusion supports building a culture of belonging. Belonging ensures that the diverse perspectives and the people who share them are truly valued. An inclusive company can make people feel their contributions are meaningful and their ideas are important to the company’s success. This makes them feel that they are a valued and valuable part of the company’s future.

Consider these questions when gauging belonging: Do employees feel comfortable enough to bring their whole selves to work? Do employees feel supported and appreciated?

If the business has done the work of recruiting a diverse workforce and expanding the company’s inclusive and equitable opportunities, then the important outcome of all that work—belonging—will be achieved.

5 reasons why DIB is especially important in tech

illustration of diverse employees in the workplace
DIB is especially important in tech because it enhances innovation and decision-making, appeals to customers and employees, and has been shown to boost profitability.

The rewards and benefits of DIB in the tech industry go far beyond numbers on a spreadsheet. Research suggests that diversity can give businesses a competitive advantage, greater market share, increased innovation, and other benefits as follows.

1. Better, faster innovations in product development and problem solving

Development concepts like human-centered design rely on just that—humans. Equitable design relies on diverse perspectives and participants to contribute to the design and make process.

In other words, having more humans with unique perspectives and backgrounds will lead to better products, problem-solving, and potential for a company.

Although there are many benefits of increasing diversity in the tech industry, innovation is among the most compelling. Innovation in problem-solving, product development, and approaches is critical for tech companies to remain competitive and relevant in the marketplace. Diversity, supported by an environment that fosters a sense of belonging, gives organizations access to different viewpoints, skill sets, and creative visions.

2. A competitive advantage that’s attractive to prospective employees and customers

A diverse and talented workforce speaks to more than the current employees. The innovation successes of a diverse company also tell a story to people who may consider the company for a future career—or those choosing to become a customer. According to McKinsey, nearly 40% of respondents in a survey said they have turned down or chosen not to pursue a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion.

Further, a survey from Glassdoor found that 76% of job seekers and employees report that a diverse workforce is an essential factor when evaluating companies and job offers. So whether or not a company is prioritizing diversity, the people it may be looking to hire are—and that has consequences for its ability to compete for the best talent.

Diversity within a company also tells prospective customers a great deal about what the company’s ethos is and what it can do for them.

All things being equal, a company that leans into diversity and inclusion can create a competitive differentiation within its industry through its ability to create, innovate, and execute in ways others can’t.

3. Higher-quality decision-making

Historically, the demographics of tech have been white, male, and in STEM fields. A lack of diversity in boardrooms and even on factory floors has led to inequity in how tech innovations are applied and how choices are made for future iterations. In short, people can’t design for what they don’t know.

Companies that represent the diversity of their customers, however, are better positioned to build smarter products—specifically ones that speak to the needs of their customers. The stakeholders are in the room, and they can authentically relay impacts, needs, and outcomes.

4. Improved financial performance

Companies that are well-run and managed with a strategic focus on diversity and inclusion are more profitable. According to McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity within executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the lowest quarter. That’s up from 21% in 2017 and 15% in 2014.

Gender diversity isn’t the only payoff in the paycheck, however. Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity were up 36% in profitability over companies in the lowest quartile.

5. A better brand position in a global market

A workforce that reflects the world responds faster, smarter, and more nimbly than one that is less diverse. A company that fosters inclusion and belonging can support people driven to innovate and adapt in ways that less diverse companies aren’t structured to do. And in a company where everyone sees their ideas valued and vaulted, innovation gives a competitive edge in understanding and responding to a diverse world of customers.

4 best practices to promote DIB in the workplace

illustration of employees at a PRIDE event
Employee resource groups within a company support team members who share unique elements of diversity, who can then in turn support recruitment outreach to diverse communities.

Knowing the benefits of DIB in the workplace does not necessarily make it easy to achieve. In fact, research from McKinsey shows that progress in these areas has been slow, despite intense interest. But companies that have successfully implemented these changes have several things in common, including these best practices:

1. Develop a diversity and inclusion strategy: Create a culture code

This first step requires two old tools of business: pen and paper. Concrete principles give people within a business something to strive toward and lay out a clear expectation for the company’s culture. As in other areas of business, a documented strategy provides a goalpost, defined objectives, and metrics that help to create clarity and alignment. Defining behaviors and how the company operates defines its values.

You can ask people to speak about culture. But everyone—including leaders—should behave according to culture. Once culture is embedded within what people do and the company operationalizes it in practices and processes, you will see the most change. You can talk about being inclusive, but unless it happens concurrent with doing the work of inclusion, then you’re just hoping that people make those choices.

2. Establish Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) within the company

ERGs are a way for employees to come together to build community and a sense of belonging and to support the company in its diversity and inclusion strategies. ERG members have unique elements of diversity that they share—and that they want to share with others.

Autodesk, for example, has a strong network of employee resource groups and recently added the MIND Network, which is an ERG focused on mental inclusion and disability awareness. Autodesk has also added a network for indigenous individuals.

Companies can join with their ERGs to ensure that the groups are strategic partners within the broader diversity and belonging initiatives. They can also invest in and empower their ERGs to reach out to their communities to support nonprofit organizations that prioritize their missions, as well as provide leadership development and recognition for employees who are leaders of these important groups. These employees can also support recruitment efforts focused on outreach to diverse communities.

3. Embed a diversity and inclusion strategy into hiring practices

Inclusive hiring practices are an important element of the equation.

These practices include creating diverse interview panels and training hiring managers and recruiters in inclusive hiring practices. Ask questions during the interview to assess whether candidates have an inclusive mindset. If you believe that inclusivity is important to the company, it should be important to the people you hire, too.

4. Get support from leadership

Commitment to diversity and inclusion must be top-down and bottom-up—it’s crucial that leaders buy into the plans and initiatives. They must feel like partners in the journey. Engaging leaders early and often and meeting them where they are is critical.

Starting with the norms of company meetings is impactful. By default, many meetings turn to the highest-ranking person in the room, who leads the meeting, sets the agenda, and aligns with team norms as they have been. Examples of more inclusive meetings include rotating who leads the meeting, ensuring that everyone in attendance contributes, and sharing important details about the meeting content in advance to give everyone an opportunity to reflect and process the information.

How to attract—and retain—diverse talent

illustration of employees networking and recruiting others using ERGs
Employees who experience belonging not only stay longer but also recruit people to work at the company from their communities.

There’s a cycle in diversity that feeds a company’s ever-changing or ever-growing needs: attract, retain, and advance the talented individuals that make your company strong. Attracting, supporting, and investing in the next generation of innovators are important steps in developing a diverse workforce.

Evaluate your company’s brand and reputation

Diversity efforts begin before a person ever steps foot into a meeting room or puts in a job application.

It is important to consider how your organization is branded within diverse communities. For example, defining the value proposition for people of color to be drawn to your organization means creating some degree of distinction in the talent marketplace. But this spark of connection between the company and potential employees may not come from the same places as it always has—such as online networking websites or job posting sites.

Consider these instead:

  • Current employees are among the strongest recruiters for companies—which is another reason why a sense of belonging is such an important goal of diversity and inclusion work.

  • Autodesk, for example, partners with outside organizations to reach a wider range of candidates, such as Lesbians Who Tech, AfroTech, Fairygodboss, Techqueria, and Power to Fly. These groups are already fluent in the work of knowing, growing, and supporting the candidates you’re seeking.

  • Through the Autodesk Tech Program, Autodesk collaborates with four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States. This program offers student stipends and mentorships with members of the company’s technical business units.

  • Professional associations for people of color can be critical to finding and hiring valuable candidates. The same approach is true for schools, including trades, colleges, and universities.

Develop talent at all levels across the organization

At the end of the attract-and-hire equation is the work of retaining employees. If you put a great deal of work and strategy into recruiting people, the work and strategy should continue after they’re hired and onboarded.

It isn’t enough to focus on creating a diverse workforce. There also needs to be a focus on retention, development, and the overall environment that is shaping the experiences employees have day to day.

Some steps that can help companies retain these valued employees include:

  • Commit to diversity at all leadership levels. If diversity isn’t reflected at all levels of leadership, it can be difficult for a person to see their future in leadership.

  • Remove barriers. All people are looking for a place to belong, a place where they can grow, develop, and be their whole selves. It’s important for businesses and leaders to understand when people of color or neurodiverse individuals, for example, are experiencing barriers to growth or inclusion. And if they are, how can the overall culture of the company be adjusted to remove these barriers?

  • Foster belonging. Talented people from diverse backgrounds will stay in a company if they feel like they can realize their full potential there. This takes fostering and promotion by the company at all levels. When people feel they belong, they remove their own barriers and feel safe to take risks, make mistakes, and embrace ideas they might typically ignore because they don’t know if it will be wholly accepted.

  • Encourage recruitment. Employees who feel as if they belong are more likely to stay—and they’re more likely to recruit people to work at the company, too. Employees who feel a strong sense of belonging want to see others they know succeed and may share opportunities with their communities. The attract-and-retain process begins again.

Prioritizing diversity, inclusion, and belonging to address staffing shortages

illustration of employees collaborating in different parts of the world
Cultivating a hybrid workforce that combines remote and in-office employees has been shown to attract job seekers from underrepresented groups.

It’s no surprise to business leaders that manufacturing firms, as well as architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) companies, are facing shortages in staff—and have been for quite some time.

These industries have also lacked diversity historically. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, just 9.9% of construction professionals were women. According to the Society of Women Engineers, only 9% of mechanical engineers are female.

Efforts to prioritize DIB in recruitment can go a long way toward addressing these staffing shortages and create companies that more clearly reflect the diversity of the world and communities. These efforts can also have a long life of benefits—you’re beginning the recruitment phase of a whole new generation of future employees. Sustained efforts can pay off for years or even decades.

Prioritizing diversity as it relates to staffing and talent in the manufacturing and AEC industries is really about an investment in future talent pools to diversify the pipeline. Committing to strategic, consistent outreach is not only about where you look but also how you think about the industry, current state, and future.

Technology has transformed jobs and careers in manufacturing and AEC. Gone are the days when every job in construction means working with a hammer and a hardhat. This transformation should also influence the industry to take another look at the degrees and educational background needed to succeed.

Autodesk’s NEXT LEVEL program is one such effort. It was designed to create a pipeline of strong, diverse candidates that come from underrepresented backgrounds. NEXT LEVEL was born out of an ERG and a goal to create a strong bench of talented individuals that can become the next generation of leaders.

These strategies can help:

  • Develop programs for under-recruited people. In 2021, just 6.2% of construction professionals were Black, and only 2% were Asian. Recruitment programs designed to engage and attract people to construction can open up the field to those who historically would not have access.

  • Fund partnerships with nonprofits. Think beyond the typical organizations to find nonprofits and community organizations that might not align with the job descriptions of yesterday but can help find the employees of the future. These organizations can foster and mold people through training and mentorship.

  • Commit to strategic and consistent outreach. The market for companies is changing so rapidly that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to outreach and networking efforts. Companies, like the job seekers themselves, must remain nimble and constant in their efforts. This may mean contributing long-term and ongoing support for the organizations, beyond what can be achieved for recruitment purposes.

  • Try to understand reasons for attrition. For example, Autodesk conducts Career Advancement Retention Effort (CARE) interviews to understand and mitigate reasons for leaving the company.

  • Consider developing a hybrid workforce. A hybrid workforce—blending remote and in-person work arrangements—has gained recognition for its ability to attract diverse candidates and foster inclusivity within companies. By providing flexible work options, a hybrid model accommodates individuals with diverse needs, backgrounds, and abilities. Research conducted by McKinsey shows that remote work options are highly valued by job seekers from underrepresented groups, including women, people of color, and individuals with disabilities. The hybrid model also empowers individuals with disabilities or caregiving responsibilities to participate fully in the workforce, leveling the playing field and enhancing inclusivity.

Moving toward a more diverse and inclusive future to ensure belonging in the workplace

When companies succeed at hiring people at the rate in which they are professionally available, then full representation for underrepresented groups has been achieved. But getting to that point requires companies and organizations to support people from the ground up—through education, training, outreach, and mentorship. In fact, this starts long before a person ever enters an application process.

It also starts by creating holistic strategies for enabling people to succeed in their jobs and by creating an environment where dimensions of diversity are respected and honored. Successfully bringing those diverse perspectives and experiences together can inform everything the company does.

Autodesk succeeds as a company when all individuals—no matter where they live, who they are, what their backgrounds are, or what dimensions of diversity they represent—are truly welcome at the table and celebrated. They have a voice that is honored. They’re able to do their best work in an environment that leads them to be who they are, rather than hide who they are.

Ramona Blake

About Ramona Blake

Ramona Blake is the vice president or Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Sustainability at Mozilla.

Recommended for you