Diversity and inclusion is a buzzword in the business world, countless company websites tout their commitment to building diverse teams and inclusive cultures.

Human resource departments are instilling D&I training for hiring managers and discussing their role in hiring diverse employees and creating a culture of inclusion. But what does this all really mean and why should companies care?

Most of us are likely familiar with Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle model, which posits that a company’s why is its most significant differentiator in the market. According to Sinek, inspired leaders and inspired organizations think, act, and communicate from their ‘why’, they know why they do what they do, and they have a sense of purpose, as individuals and as an organization. One of the greatest ways to empower an individual with a sense of ‘why’ is to acknowledge, celebrate, and encourage their unique perspective and recognize how this authenticity has a direct contribution to the why’ of the organization.

Done well, D&I actively recognizes that it is diverse backgrounds, worldviews, ideas, and cultural lenses that influence innovation, productivity, employee retention, and, yes, revenue. It might just be the best way to define your company’s ‘why’ because it recognizes and celebrates the unique contribution of each individual. The case for diversity and inclusion as a moral issue can always be made, but addressing the issue needs to be more than optics – it’s simply the right thing to do. The reality is that diversity and inclusion is a crucial ingredient for creating a workplace that fosters a culture of leadership and healthy employee engagement.

Unfortunately, diversity is not as simple as going out and recruiting diverse candidates, it’s much more than that. The first step is acknowledging the importance of diverse perspectives which starts with our organizational ability to increase our own self-awareness and collectively put individual unconscious biases to rest and choose to see that everyone has something to contribute regardless of gender, disability race, color, religion, sexual orientation, creed or any other criterion. 

The second step is up to companies – companies also need to focus on retaining diverse talent, which can be difficult. Diverse employees are often hired to share new ideas, lead change, and bring different perspectives, and a lack of inclusiveness sometimes causes those viewpoints to be devalued by the team or employer. Even after an employee has spent some time in an organization, dismissiveness leaves many feeling undervalued and unable to instill initiatives or programs they were hired to complete. This can lead one to a belief that in certain cases D&I isn’t any more than a PR play.

One sure-fire way to increase retention is by creating a culture of leadership. This starts with finding the right leadership who purposefully seek out diverse perspectives and embrace inclusiveness of thought. These leaders have a direct impact on improving employee engagement because they build cultures where employees feel supported, heard, and seen. Employees are both happier at work and more likely to stay in an organization when they feel that their unique viewpoint directly contributes to the mission of the organization – when people believe in and feel they are part of the organization’s ‘why.’ This is not just healthy for employees, it’s crucial to an organization’s bottom line. Disengaged employees cost companies up to $600 billion in lost productivity annually. This doesn’t factor in the high turnover costs for employee attrition…

Organizations that espouse true D&I recognize that every individual within the organization brings a unique perspective and contribution to the organization’s ‘why’ and thus organizations actively seek out hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds, and keep them by creating a culture of inclusiveness. There is power in embracing different beliefs, ideas, experiences, and ways of ‘doing’, this is an impetus for an organizational culture built on a foundation of employee engagement, transparent leadership, and the active recognition of the contributions of each employee.