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Susan Uthayakumar is the president of Schneider Electric Canada.

Our world, and particularly our country, is wonderfully diverse. The impact that diversity has had on our culture and society is something to be celebrated. When our world is so diverse, why aren’t our businesses keeping up?

For example, PricewaterhouseCooper’s global diversity and inclusion (D&I) survey uncovered that while many employees know that D&I is a stated value or priority for their organization, it’s not always reflected in each person’s experience at their company. Organizations around the world are still struggling to embody diversity and inclusion in a meaningful way throughout their corporate structure and identity.

If we are to consider how we can best embrace D&I in the workplace, we must first understand what we mean when we talk about it. Diversity may be visible through representation, but inclusion is characterized by acceptance within diverse teams. This in turn creates room for mutual respect, and multiple perspectives. Simply put, diversity is meaningless without inclusion.

When a company champions its employees’ diversity and promotes a culture of inclusion – one that celebrates acceptance, equality and inclusion of all people – they get stronger teams, higher productivity, more innovative thinking and better problem solving. Research shows that inclusive teams make decisions twice as fast with half the meetings, and better business decisions 87 per cent of the time.

A McKinsey report found that the more diverse a company is, the better its financial returns turned out to be. D&I needs to be a key business driver that matters to everyone, from employees to mid-level managers, up to C-suite leaders.

So, how do you embrace D&I in the workplace?

1. Businesses – from senior management to entry-level staff – must start by making a 100 per cent commitment to diversity and inclusion

A true D&I environment must permeate throughout the entire organization, with a steadfast belief that equal opportunity is real for everyone in your company no matter culture, age, gender or location. That starts with everyone acknowledging that this is not just a human resources initiative, but rather something the whole company must own and work toward.

2. The power of employees is one of the greatest drivers toward achieving D&I goals

It is important to train and educate current employees on any shifts to the organization – and continue to find ways to empower them to be successful in an inclusive environment. For example, organizations considering hidden bias training should look to roll this out to all leaders and managers and enable them to role model the change that’s wanted internally. Exercises like this can help reinforce, reward and recognize inclusive behaviours to create lasting impact. When recruiting new employees, make a commitment to have inclusion featured as a key component of the hiring process, as you would with skills, education or experience. We’ve done this within our own organization and seen tremendously positive results.

3. Consider how your D&I initiatives show up outside your organization

In today’s competitive work environment and the ensuing war for top talent, prospective employees don’t just look for work they want to do: They look for companies they want to work for that support and reflect who they are as a person. Nurturing new talent and expanding D&I initiatives externally through partnerships or university relationships helps develop an early understanding of a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion with prospective employees. Schneider Electric’s Go Green in the City competition, a global environmental engineering challenge for university students, encourages more women to consider roles at our company by requiring a female student in every pair.

4. A commitment to diversity and inclusion must be backed up by real policies and practices

If we want to make D&I work in our organizations, we have to hardwire it into our company fabric. At Schneider Electric, we have made commitments to a time-bound, worldwide implementation for salary equity and our Global Family Leave Policy. This policy allows every employee, at all levels, to manage their time off for life’s significant moments, addressing the various needs for parental, care and bereavement leaves.

In an increasingly complex business environment, finding a way to prioritize D&I in a genuine way not only makes an organization more human, but it can be the missing ingredient for a more competitive, profitable and successful company.

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