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If you hope to influence the trajectory of your organization, you need to question and challenge existing structures of power.

COURTESY: BBPDX - Kristen Gallagher on diversity.

For businesses of any size, there aren't just advantages to being inclusive; it's an imperative.

Studies show that when people of color, women and other underrepresented groups are given space to contribute their ideas and support to share their perspectives, companies see improved productivity, more creativity and expanded opportunities for business development and new markets.

Whether you're running a start-up, a nonprofit, or a government agency, you are missing out on innovative solutions if you haven't assembled a staff that is representative of the customers you serve and the community you operate in.

The value of creating diversity in your workforce is clear — the question is: how?

In recent years, many businesses have set a goal of hiring more diverse talent, with most focused on recruiting a more diverse pool of candidates to get the representation they seek.

The thinking is that if a company can just hire new employees of different races and backgrounds, it can reap the benefits of creating a diverse team while otherwise continuing with business as usual.

Creating a more diverse hiring pipeline is an important first step to building progress on goals for increasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), but without a sincere commitment to deconstructing institutional racism and traditional power dynamics in the workplace, the DEI equation doesn't add up.

When companies hire for diversity, but don't make an effort to shift their culture to meet the needs of their employees, talent will seek out other employment opportunities and companies will be back to where they started, only having damaged relationships and hurt employees.

Substantial shifts in corporate culture to create diversity can feel daunting, conjuring up images of day-long workshops and off-site retreats.

While organizational changes do require time and training, the process can start on the level of the individual employee — in other words: it starts with you. If you hope to influence the trajectory of your organization, you need to question and challenge existing structures of power.

This is true whether you manage a project team of two or a staff of two hundred. When you look at the your company's HR practices, consider how promotion processes work and whether compensation is equitable.

In meetings, take the time to observe the power dynamics and recognize if women or people of color are interrupted or sidelined in the conversation.

Who is leading the meeting and who is asked to take notes? Observe your own habits and language at work. For example, do you use language that's about your own experience to avoid making generalizations about perspectives you don't have context for? Do you interrupt and try to show how knowledgeable you are? When you make a mistake, do you acknowledge it and apologize for the impact it may have on others?

There's no reason to wait until your next quarterly meeting to get started. Think about situations where you receive the benefit of the doubt while others need to first prove their worth.

Intentionally create opportunities to elevate the voices and perspectives of people of color and those from underrepresented groups within your organization rather than placing the burden on employees to take on the work of correcting a system that has excluded them.

For Portland companies, it's critical that your employees can afford to live and work here, and thrive in the workplace and at home.

Does your staff have access to housing and health care that's affordable? What is their commute like? Are they able to balance the demands of performing at work and supporting a family? If not, what would it take to make your staff feel stable and safe? When you're ready to begin this work, there are many talented and accomplished black, indigenous and people of color advisors right here in Portland who can lead your company through this transition.

The process of creating a more inclusive workplace culture is neither quick nor easy, but it will absolutely result in improved productivity and less turnover among talented staff.

It all starts with the realization that if a company's culture isn't inclusive, then it's exclusive, and it's time for a change.

Kristen Gallagher is the founder and CEO of Edify. She can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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