If there is one thing that we have learned from the past few months, which have seen a global health pandemic, an economic recession, and police violence and related civil unrest, it is that issues surrounding diversity and inclusion are of the utmost importance in the modern American landscape. Let’s look at three specific data points to back this up.
- The United States is becoming more diverse by the day. In 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 40 percent of the population is comprised of non-white residents. Even more interesting is the fact that among children under the age of 15, more than 50 percent identify as racially or ethnically diverse. These demographic transformations, which are projected to continue over the next several decades, highlight the country’s increasing racial diversity. Practically speaking, these numbers make it abundantly clear that learning how to co-exist and work with people who look, think, and act differently than you will be critical for organizations looking to maintain workplace harmony in the years to come.
- Race is not the only way in which groups can be diverse. Another factor by which the workplace is becoming more diverse is age. Indeed, due to vastly improved medicine and decreasing fertility rates, the proportion of American older adults is growing faster than any other age group. In fact, the percentage of adults over the age of 65 has increased by more than 30 percent since 2010, with this trend showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. The increasing presence of older adults in society will certainly translate to more of them remaining active in the workforce. In fact, the PEW Research Center shows that 29 percent of baby boomers were either actively working or looking for work in 2019. This, in concert with the fact that 75 percent of the workforce will be comprised of millennials by the year 2025, means that individuals who are roughly 50 years apart in age—along with values, beliefs, and culture—will need to coexist in order to keep future workplaces productive.
- Unlike race and age, which constitute what is termed as ‘surface-level diversity,’ there are also factors that are more difficult to see, but nonetheless contribute towards diversity and inclusion. One such example of this ‘deep-level diversity’ is disability. Currently, more than 40 million people in the United States have a disability, and many of these are not noticeable at the surface level. This fact underscores how many individuals in our workplaces may be dealing with challenges that their colleagues cannot even see. As such, being inclusive means that we must go beyond treating people the way we want to be treated, and instead treat them the way they want to be treated based on their unique circumstances.
The three examples above illustrate why organizations must take diversity and inclusion seriously. Equally important are the benefits that inclusion brings to a company. To begin with, there is a direct link between inclusion and the bottom line. Indeed, a recent study of 1,700 companies, spanning several countries and continents, showed that organizations with a diverse leadership team earned 19 percent higher revenue compared to their counterparts with less diverse leadership. At the individual level, employee performance jumps by 12 percent in diverse organizations compared to more homogeneous organizations.
Having established that diversity and inclusion is a topic that is here to stay in both our workplaces and societies, and that diverse groups significantly outperform their less diverse counterparts, we now turn to the most difficult piece of the puzzle—making it happen! Related to this, research by Boston Consulting Group has shown that 75 percent of organizations surveyed in 2018 were actively working to improve inclusion. Suffice to say this number has likely risen higher in light of the tumultuous start we have experienced in 2020.
Tackling topics such as race, diversity, and inclusion has never been easy. However, it is abundantly clear that organizations that are willing to take on these challenges and make some headway will have a major competitive advantage. Towson University’s Leading Diversity and Inclusion program aims to provide leaders with a framework for leading inclusion in their unique contexts. Specifically, we will aim to find the balance between theory and practice with the following two objectives:
- Examine the existing empirical research on the efficacy of various diversity training programs including implicit bias training and inter-group dialogue.
- Take a practical lens and introduce a step-by-step model for leveraging the existing talent within your organization to create and lead inclusion initiatives.
It is our belief that this combination of academic rigor and tangible solutions sets Towson University’s program apart from any other in the field.