Diversity, Voices, Inclusion and the Workforce

Diversity, Voices, Inclusion and the Workforce

By Ann Freestone, BA’89

The famous author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” The educator and businessman wrote his wildly popular book 30 years ago. Today, companies are using strategies and starting to understand the value of this idea in the workplace by focusing on diversity — and inclusion — to bring forward the cross-pollination of ideas, richness to teams and more.

Creighton’s Heider College of Business and Graduate School and the Greater Omaha Chamber developed a four-part lecture series for young professionals to explore emerging topics in the fields of diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace. Two professors were featured speakers: Regina Taylor, PhD, assistant professor of management, who specializes in factors that support or inhibit ethical behavior from leaders and employees, and Sarah Walker, PhD, associate professor of management, who specializes in diversity, recruitment, selection, training, testing and measurement. Creighton’s vice provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Christopher Whitt, PhD, also spoke as part of the series.

The lecture series is an important part of Creighton’s ongoing efforts to encourage diversity and inclusion, which included collaborating with the chamber, the Urban League of Nebraska, Assistology and the Latino Center of the Midlands this fall on the inaugural Conference on Opportunity, Diversity and Equity.

Taylor likes an analogy to explain diversity and inclusion. “Diversity is about being invited to the party and then inclusion is about being invited to dance,” she says. “In the work environment, once you get hired, are you accepted as a member of that organization and fully integrated into the operation? You’re not just a number fitting where needed. Are you fully integrated into the operations and allowed to be your professional self?”

Walker adds that diversity is about differences — each person’s status — and today goes beyond race to include gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, disability and even hairstyles and weight in certain states. Walker provides an example: “I’m a woman and a person of color. Am I allowed to be my full authentic self as a woman of color?”

Companies are now taking a closer look at inclusion. “You can have diversity, but if you don’t have inclusion, people will not dance and stay. There is a bigger focus on inclusion than just diversity,” Walker says. She explains that companies need to engage leadership in efforts to create an inclusive organization and retain top talent with structural and social support efforts such as creating affinity groups to increase engagement.

The same holds true for nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education, such as Creighton, says Whitt.

“Diversity and inclusion must be rooted in aiming to continually push for cultural growth across the institution with a focus on inclusivity that will ultimately lead to progress in diversity,” Whitt says.

Walker says social media has an impact on diversity and inclusion. “Hashtags have popped up that have led to conversations within organizations, so there’s more of an awareness of differences,” Walker says. “People have more of a voice because of social media and can make organizations move in ways they were not able to in the past.” She says companies are afraid of the backlash and provides an example of a video posted online of an Old Navy employee who falsely accused an African American of shoplifting. Old Navy then fired the employee.

Other emerging topics include academic journals framing diversity as an ethical issue, which stresses its importance within organizations; states such as California mandating gender diversity on public company boards; and companies looking at diversity and inclusion as broader than human resources to include all leaders and employees.

All Ears

The Walt Disney Company is all ears on the emerging issues and earned the 20th spot on the DiversityInc Top 50 Hall of Fame list out of 1,800 submissions. DiversityInc looks at the talent pipeline, talent development, leadership accountability and supplier diversity.

Disney’s website clearly states its values: “Inclusion is a critical part of telling the best stories, being relevant, and expanding audiences.” Audiences see this vision in shows such as the animated film Coco, which has an all-Latino cast, to Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, to The Good Doctor, which shows people with autism can do great things.

Having worked for Disney in human resources, Taylor knows firsthand that the company culture supports the idea that each employee has her or his own story — and that makes for a better work environment as well as products and customer experiences. “They were good at making sure you felt welcome to dance by fully integrating new employees into the organization,” Taylor says. Disney is all about the customer experience and making the customer feel welcome, she says, so to do that the company first makes employees feel welcome. “From a diversity standpoint, there’s diversity at the theme parks, diversity at the studios and diversity at the networks,” Taylor says.

Diversity starts with a talent pipeline. “If you want a diverse organization, you have to be able to attract people. You do the work on the front end,” Walker says. She says companies need to broaden their sourcing and recruitment efforts by, for instance, making sure that the technology used during the application process is mobile compatible. To attract a diverse pool, the company has to send the message that your differences do not matter and that people of all characteristics can work here, Walker explains.

“It’s important to create a pipeline of talent overall and that you pick the best candidate for the job. If you promote people on merit and if the best candidate happens to be diverse, make that person a manager,” Walker says. “Some people think you got the job or the promotion because of diversity to check off a box. If you care about talent and you develop your talent, some will be diverse.”

That pipeline expanded locally, Whitt says, with the recent establishment of the UP Diversity Scholars Program at Creighton, which will provide academic merit scholarships and professional development opportunities for minority students.

Taylor adds that a lot of systems and processes aren’t fair, so companies need to have the right systems and processes so the cream rises. According to Taylor, research shows the following components create a fair organization and if applied to promotions looks like this: Employees get to provide input into the process and can put in an appeal through an in-place mechanism. Processes must be consistent, neutral, unbiased, based on accurate information and consider the needs of all groups.

“After these components are in place, organizations should make sure that they incorporate and adhere to fair and just ways of interacting with and communicating with employees about promotions — and anything else really,” Taylor says. “Specifically, organizations should ask themselves if they are treating their employees with respect and refrain from using improper remarks.”

Creating a Safe Environment

To foster inclusion, companies like Disney create work environments where employees feel they can thrive. Taylor specializes in how leaders create a psychologically safe environment where employees can ask questions, make and admit mistakes and appear imperfect. Taylor points to Harvard professor Amy Edmondson’s research published in 2003 that analyzed 16 operating teams learning to use a new technology for cardiac surgery and focused on how comfortable team members were with speaking up. “She found that teams that reported the most errors had better rates of successful outcomes than those teams who reported the least. They were having conversations and felt safe to say, ‘How is this right? Should we be doing something else? What should we do?’ This was better for the patient in the long run.”

Creating a psychologically safe environment applies to all types of organizations. “Take this to a marketing meeting where outcomes are not life and death, but it’s still important for the organization,” Taylor says. “Do these professionals feel safe to say, ‘This number doesn’t look right?’” To build this environment, Taylor explains that leaders must focus on trust, justice, engagement and motivation.


Leaders admit it’s challenging to foster a dialogue on diversity. DiversityInc rated AT&T No. 1. At an AT&T diversity event, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephens talked about his closest friend, Chris, an African American physician, and how he only recently learned what formed his closest friend’s worldview about race.

Stephens said the dialogue at AT&T had to begin with him. “When we talk about race, let’s begin with why. Why does my colleague feel this way? If we could understand why, then it’s so much more likely we can agree on what needs to be done.”

“I’m not asking you to be tolerant of each other. Tolerance is for cowards. Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and to not make waves, holding tightly to your views and judgment without being challenged. Do not tolerate each other. Work hard, move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.”

If a company creates a psychologically safe environment, dialogue will result. Walker says, “You can create a culture where if a person makes a mistake or says the wrong thing, it can be corrected and not problematic.”

Beyond these challenges, certain industries (such as technology) lack diversity. When looking at the tech industry, Walker says it’s partially a pipeline issue because women don’t see themselves represented in the field. This summer, for example, her 9-year-old son attended coding camp and the class was all boys.

And, unfortunately, Walker says people still fall victim to hidden biases and points to the classic riddle where a man dies in a car accident and his young son is rushed to the hospital where the surgeon waiting for the patient says, “I can’t operate on this boy! He’s my son.” Who is the surgeon? Many adults get the answer wrong and let their biases cloud their thinking. The surgeon is the boy’s mother.

Business Sense

The business case for diversity is compelling. McKinsey & Company’s January 2018 report “Delivering through Diversity” found that companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability. In addition, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

Walker agrees diversity and inclusion are good for the bottom line. She adds diverse teams perform better and come up with more solutions because they bring different ideas and perspectives with them to discussions.

Those efforts can be multiplied through a university experience, Whitt says, that embraces and engages diversity and inclusion.

“We are producing students who will populate the workforce and lead into the future,” Whitt says. “We want them to have an experience at Creighton that they will remember as developing them to speak up for justice and inclusion both in the workplace, as well as in their communities.”

Organizations that act with respect, value each employee’s story and have leaders that understand the difference between simply being diverse and being inclusive will create workplaces where employees thrive and, ultimately, those organizations as well.