Success in business is often measured through operational excellence—selling more, increasing production, improving scores or recruiting more volunteers. On the surface, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and operational excellence might not seem related, but recent research shows businesses committed to inclusive excellence are experiencing results, including increased revenue and improved morale.
“An enormous amount of research indicates that the more diversity and inclusion you have, the better employees are performing,” said Dr. Nichole Thompson, Executive Director of the Lab on Dexter. “We’re trying to show various industries and businesses across the board that it’s great to have operational excellence, but it’s even better to be a place of inclusive excellence.”
Thompson said true inclusive excellence means people of various backgrounds are included across the entire span of a business—from hiring practices to leadership. “You want diversity in thought as well as gender, age, race and all other points of diversity,” she said. “Otherwise, if everyone that’s at the table thinks alike and looks alike, you minimize the chances of solving problems in unique ways. You also minimize the opportunities to experience innovation.”
WHY FOCUS ON INCLUSIVE EXCELLENCE
The greatest benefit of adopting an inclusive mindset is directly tied to operational excellence—more dollars coming into the business. “A recent report showed companies that incorporate inclusion and diversity are outperforming the companies that don’t,” Thompson said. “Diversity and inclusion drive revenue and performance.”
Inclusive cultures also make employees feel more valued, which improves recruitment and retention. “Millennials are asking potential employers tough questions about their DEI policies, and if companies are not well-suited for them, they’re passing them over. Millennials and younger generations grew up with differences, and they believe that differences matter,” Thompson said.
HOW TO ACHIEVE INCLUSIVE EXCELLENCE
The journey to inclusive excellence is worthwhile but not easy, particularly for older businesses or organizations that might have a foundation based in exclusivity rather than inclusivity. It requires real commitment. “After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, we witnessed a lot of companies hiring DEI officers, but those offices were not equipped with what they needed to be successful,” Thompson said. “This takes a lot of work, and that’s why people shy away from it.”
Thompson offered two avenues for creating a DEI strategic plan: developing a DEI Task Force of current employees who represent each part of the business or hiring a DEI expert to lead the initiative. In either instance, the Task Force or expert need to be equipped with a budget and the ability to host programming. Once the Task Force or DEI expert has used these steps to develop a strategic plan and implement programming, Thompson said it’s important to measure the success of each initiative. She also warned that the process will not be fast or easy.
“This can be overwhelming, because you have to assess every thread of your company,” Thompson said. “Business-minded individuals ask, ‘Why does it make sense for us to do this extra work and analysis?’ I’ve seen people commit to DEI, and once you get this strategic plan under your belt, after the first year, you’re going to see greater success in your outcomes, your revenue and your production. It’s a dollars and cents thing that’s achieved by creating a culture of inclusion.”
PATH TO A PLAN
Several successful processes already exist to help businesses create their specific and strategic roadmap to inclusive excellence. In addition to the FOCUS process developed by Dr. Nichole Thompson, businesses can garner inspiration from institutions of higher education, which have decades of experience in DEI. The University of Virginia offers a framework for inclusive excellence, and leaders within university organizations, schools and departments are encouraged to determine strengths and weaknesses in each area. This assessment can be easily applied to businesses.
- ACCESS + SUCCESS: Who is being recruited? What support do employees receive once hired? What career outcomes are seen?
- CLIMATE + INTERGROUP RELATIONS: Are employees allowed to take risks? Do employees feel respected; why or why not? Are working relationships healthy?
- EDUCATION + SCHOLARSHIP: What career development opportunities are offered? Who is selected for those development opportunities? How do we communicate with staff?
- INFRASTRUCTURE + INVESTMENT: What is the organizational structure? What are our company-wide policies? How and where are we spending our energy and money?
- COMMUNITY + PARTNERSHIP: How are we supporting the community or communities where we’re located? How does the community, in turn, support our business?
“YOU WANT DIVERSITY IN THOUGHT AS WELL AS GENDER, AGE, RACE AND ALL OTHER POINTS OF DIVERSITY. OTHERWISE, IF EVERYONE THAT’S AT THE TABLE THINKS ALIKE AND LOOKS ALIKE, YOU MINIMIZE THE CHANCES OF SOLVING PROBLEMS IN UNIQUE WAYS.” - DR. NICHOLE THOMPSON