So often, people discuss diversity in terms of labels and categories. More specifically, diversity is often discussed with a focus on legally protected classes. To create a workplace culture of diversity and inclusion, the conversation needs to continue beyond legal requirements, current trends, and specific labels.
When we stop the conversation at specific groups of people, we get stuck thinking that increasing diversity means increasing representation of people that fit into a defined marginalized group. While it is important to include discussion of marginalized groups, diversity in the workplace is also about promoting diverse thought.
I'm often approached by businesses wanting to promote innovation by increasing diversity. Frequently, these organizations have already attempted to reach their diversity goals but aren't achieving the outcomes they were aiming for. The most common barrier I see lies in their understanding of diversity, especially when it comes to employee selection. In an attempt to improve diversity, hiring managers often consciously select candidates from traditionally marginalized groups, while subconsciously still gravitating towards those they most closely identify with. This does not promote diverse thought and often does little more than create a more colorful company picture.
To promote diversity, we must be prepared to protect diverse thought. At every point in the employee lifecycle, we must be willing to hear out the thoughtful naysayer, reexamine work policies and procedures, and remove barriers for all employees, not just those we can identify as being part of a protected class. In practicality, this involves objective overhauls of job descriptions, salaries/benefits, and selection tools. It also means prioritizing saying 'yes' to an employee's request for flexibility or accommodation and removing 'because this is how it's always been done' from our vocabulary. It does no good to recruit for diverse thought and then punish it once it arrives- we have to be ready to walk the talk.
Companies that embrace diverse thought at every level will reap the most benefit and make the most positive impact on their employees and community. However, each person has the opportunity to make at minimum a small difference to at least one person- even if that person is themself. Often, middle management gets pressure from both above and below. Good managers are trying to create psychological safety and promote diverse thought within their teams, but are often impeded by upper management's expectations. Individual contributors are often stuck under the weight of a direct manager who stifles critical thought and new ideas. Upper management is in the best position to usher in a significant culture shift, but may still have difficult decisions to make. It is never going to fall onto one person to change an entire culture, but as one person we ought to do the best we can to foster respect for diverse ideas and ways of being.