Diversity has become a polarizing buzzword in modern society for a number of reasons – some dealing with successful approaches to improving workplace diversity and some dealing with failed attempts to do so. There are people who struggle to accept intentional, focused, organized efforts to increase diversity and others who struggle to accept the slow speed at which diversity often occurs.

However, shifting demographics demand attention. (Smithsonian magazine has an excellent overview of worldwide demographic trends, focusing on the United States compared to other countries). Minority populations (racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and sexual orientation) are growing as percentages of the overall citizenship.

Just as importantly, all sectors within the youngest two generations of consumers and employees are passionate about diversity, to the point that they often use diversity as one of their criteria when considering where to work. Businesses that embrace workplace diversity are thriving; businesses that refuse to do so will struggle to thrive (or even survive) as current trends strengthen.

For companies in less diverse regions, improving diversity can be particularly challenging. It is harder to recruit minorities to areas where they are under-represented – or even almost non-existent –  and it is harder to retain them. Feeling disconnected from everyone else (or even discriminated against by the community as a whole) is draining and can lead to an endless cycle of frustrated recruitment and poor retention.

Improving workplace diversity is not an easy task, but it is critical to the future success of your business. With that reality in mind, the following six suggestions can help you make a smoother, more successful transition as you strive to grow in a time of increasing diversity:

 1. At a bare minimum, try to make your workforce representative of the communities in which you operate and those you serve.

  • There is little that is more jarring to consumers and employees who care about diversity than a company whose demographics are radically misaligned with its surroundings.

 2. If there is little diversity in your area, work with local organizations (colleges and universities, other prominent businesses) to create a broader approach to increasing and embracing diversity.

  • Being a pioneer can be exhilarating, but real growth occurs when there is a concerted, communal effort, as well.

 3. Be open within your organization about the need to improve diversity.

  • Ask for input from your employees. Request referrals from them.
  • If you build a culture that embraces diversity, that culture will help you achieve it in a sustainable way.

 4. Create an equal opportunity employment policy that is based on merit.

  • Remove basic demographic information (including names) from résumés that are distributed for consideration and rank the résumés prior to initiating contact with candidates. This removes all biases (intentional and unintentional) from the initial evaluation process.
  • Hire based on assessment and rankings unless something egregious occurs later in the interview process, and make sure that changes in ranking are due to serious issues, not minor things that might arise as the result of prejudice toward specific populations.

 5. Address issues that might cause non-traditional candidates to consider your company more carefully by packaging benefits that address those issues directly.

 6. Assemble small groups (in which all employees participate) to brainstorm ways to expand into different markets.

  • Make sure these groups are integrated – ethnically and gender diverse – and that no group is marginalized.
  • Promote all employees equally. Do not favor any employee in the promotion process; be vigilant in assuring that under-represented individuals do not face additional hurdles.  

You can and must make significant changes in workplace diversity. Without such changes, your business will struggle as demographics around you shift. Make change your commitment  to the degree that you will do whatever it takes to make it work properly. Incorporate change into the fiber of your organization. Inspire others to embrace your vision and assist you in your effort.