3 Keys to Creating a Diverse (And Productive) Work Environment

Photo by    Mike Petrucci

Photo by Mike Petrucci

Demian Lucas


Many small business leaders today are charged with the stewardship of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (D/E/I) work of their organization. Those who truly embrace this work as core to the achievement of their overall business goals will experience more challenges and, yes more rewards. The diversity literature indicates that holistically engaging diverse workers will lead to increased creativity and overall team performance when the differences are managed effectively. 

So, what does this mean to you? 

As a small business leader, you should endeavor to create an environment where your workers can:

1.       Be authentic. This is the foundation of diversity engagement. Hiring workers with diverse backgrounds including race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, social economic status factors i.e. education is only the first step. Next, you must create an environment where these workers bring their rich experiences into the workplace. Honestly, it is the experience that will interact with the experience of other workers and result in the most creative and impactful business solutions.

Consider ways to “out” employee deep level differences such as college, hometown, hobbies, life challenges, and so forth. This sharing should be voluntary, and anyone should be allowed to opt-out without penalty. Employees who initially opt-out will likely observe the group’s interactions and may decide to participate at a later time. Initiation of sharing of this kind will help to establish the workplace norm of interpersonal authenticity.

2.       Understand the rules of engagement. Many workplaces have overtly stated rules in addition to much more nuanced rules that workers must learn to be successful. Access to the overt rules is typically simple as they can be found in a handbook, visual signs and routine workplace practices.

The less obvious rules might include things like regularly held events, the central role of certain meetings or informal leaders. In some cases, the more nuanced workplace information is not as accessible to diverse workers. To ensure the success of all new workers, these rules must be shared. Establishing a “buddy” for all new hires is a great way to work toward this goal.

3.       Feel safe as they engage with difference. It is important to establish the difference between safety and comfort. Within a diverse and dynamic workplace, ensuring employee comfort may not be a realistic goal. However, employee safety must be ensured. What is the difference?  Safety is the state of physical and psychological well-being. In other words, employees will not be harmed as a result of their participation of workplace activities. Comfort, on the other hand, is the alignment of a person’s values, beliefs and behaviors.

This is much more difficult to safe-guard in the diverse workplace. In fact, employees will encounter various perspectives in the workplace. Different ideas, beliefs, and opinions should be expected by all workers and managers. They must be carefully examined, discussed, and applied to achieve the best outcomes. In the beginning, you will want to discuss the difference between safety and comfort with the team and establish ground rules to support collaboration.

If you as a leader focus on these activities, you will both engage and manage the jewel we call diversity. As a result of your efforts, you will have plans, products and services that are uniquely reflective of a wide-range of possibilities, exceeding the potential of a non-diverse work group.

About the Author: Demian Lucas is an experienced human resource leader and holds both SPHR and SHRM-SCP designations.  Later this year, she will complete her MS degree focusing on Organizational and Interpersonal Communication.