Inclusion and diversity are top-of-mind topics to business owners and enterprise leaders today. Each year, businesses are held to higher standards and are expected to invest more in these initiatives and in bringing equity to their workforces and advertising.

“2020 taught us all a lot about inclusion and why it’s important,” said Ashley Brundage, a well respected speaker, educator and corporate diversity leader. “Organizations are really valuing inclusion and they’re valuing the efforts that are necessary to really create an equitable environment for their employees. Making investments in employee happiness, but also the ability to have that level playing field, I think that’s the equity piece.”

Brundage who recently published the book, Empowering Differences, serves in a diversity and inclusion role in the corporate banking world and previously served as the President of the Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She holds advisory positions with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, Equality Florida, and the NGLCC-National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. In July of 2019, she was named on to the national board of directors for GLAAD.

Beginning when Brundage decided to self identify during job interviews as a male to female transgender woman, she faced discrimination and harassment. She was able to gain employment as a teller for a major US based corporation. Today she serves as a leading enterprise’s Vice President with its National Diversity and Inclusion team.

Why business leaders must take note

“You’ll see so many organizations realizing that they can’t recruit the top talent unless they have an environment that is inclusive in nature,” she said. “That starts with making a commitment. It starts at the top of the house. The leadership has to say, “We are on board for anything and everything.”

To truly breed collaboration and a positive workplace culture, people from different backgrounds are well suited to join together and will feel more invested in achieving the business’s end goals when they feel represented and that their voices are heard.

“One of the things I’ve noticed is how all of our differing communities are stronger together. We’re so intertwined, even though sometimes we don’t necessarily realize it. Whether that be through disability inclusion or LGBTQ rights or women movement or people of color, you name it. We’re all intertwined.”

Brundage pointed to gender advancement and LGBT workplace protections being won as a result of the Civil Rights Act.

“When you really think about the foundational concept of inclusion and moving people forward and building that connection for people, you see that all diverse communities really are stronger together. When they amplify each other’s voices, it really protects and moves the needle forward for everyone.”

Important diversity steps for businesses to consider

The first step business owners can take is bringing diverse individuals’ voices to the table.

“I think the moment that you have an executive boardroom and you shut the door, and then you look around the room and you do one of these little scanning things, if you don’t have people of color, you don’t have LGBTQ, you don’t have people with disabilities, people with differing abilities at the table, that are ready to give their perspective and their point of view, then you’ve done yourself a disservice and you’ve automatically started the conversation off exclusively.”

Businesses must be intentional from the start to bring in differing voices so that there is representation. While it’s not expected or common to have every single diverse POV represented, especially on the executive committee or in a boardroom, you certainly can have an expert come in, Brundage said.

“You can bring in a consultant. You can have someone there to give their perspective or their opinion. You can’t really create change for others without having their voice in the mix. That would be my immediate Step 1,” she said.

Once the voices are at the table or represented in some facet, business leaders must really walk the walk and make intentional commitments to really enact change.

“You have to bring the money. That investment that you make in inclusion, in the technology needed for inclusion, is all going to be worthwhile because you’re going to be creating the most inclusive organization that’s going to attract the best employees,” she said. “Then also you’re going to win the best customers and the most loyal customers, and then you’ll have to build in some trackable measures around how you can measure all of that.”

Trackable metrics for equity initiatives

Equity and diversity initiatives don’t come to fruition without investments. Businesses can look to further justify time spent and resources allocated to these initiatives quite easily, Brundage said.

Turnover and cost to hire are two metrics a business can analyze to start.

“You already know exactly how much it costs to create a new requisition and onboard someone. That has a measurable number. Just applying that to your Net Promoter Score, your survey skills that you do for your employees, and then as you improve your survey scores across your employees, that would be an easy, low-hanging fruit item to track internally,” she said.

Additionally, everything external can also be tracked, such as building a relationship with the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, customers made from initiatives, advertising efforts such as impressions and web traffic and much more.

Brundage suggests looking at all of the metrics that your business would likely track anyway, but then put a D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) lens on it to build out a way to follow your efforts and engagements with diverse communities.

The role of technology in creating equity

Technology is the key to how businesses can practice and employ more inclusivity efforts, Brundage said.

“I have a pretty good handle on the need for accessibility and technology and how technology really leads the way in that space,” she said. “From captioning to texting to screen readers, you name it, all of these things are really powerful in ways to create that inclusive environment, and make people feel like they’re welcome and that they’re going to be a part of the team.”

Technology, such as tools built on AI, can have a major impact, and help an organization to truly show up and win for their employees and customers. For example, meetings or training sessions which aren’t accessible to all employees, like those who are hard of hearing for example, can really damage an employees’ ability to prosper professionally, as well as feel connected to the business.

“The last thing I ever want to do is have a meeting and then not be subtitled or not be captioned, or not be communicating in a language that someone can hear me. I think that that’s really powerful, has a lasting impact on your internal and your external customer, which helps to grow your organization forward,” said Brundage.

Economics & authentic inclusion efforts

Business leaders should also be strategic in how they approach inclusion. Far too often businesses align with causes and trends and do so in ‘obvious’ ways that don’t feel genuine. Employees and consumers will notice if these efforts are not approached and executed on with authenticity.

“You don’t get authenticity without representation. That’s step 1. You have to have the people at the table. You have to have their voices. You have to include them in the marketing. You have to write an inclusive job posting. All of this stuff is incredibly important in your mission. You don’t want to rainbow wash for the LGBT community. You may do that if you just change your color on your logo and you don’t actually make investments in the community,” Brundage said.

As an open transgender person, Brundage said she sees and pays attention to what businesses are doing to support the transgender community. For example, she said she wants to see that businesses are promoting trans or LGBTQ people in roles of leadership. If they aren’t she chooses to purchase elsewhere.

“I honestly practice equality through economics on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I don’t open up my purse and my wallet out of my purse without thinking, ‘is this organization aligning to my goals and my mission of economic equality or not?’ If the answer is no, then I shop somewhere else. I make that conscious decision every single time before I pull out my card to make a purchase, and if they’re not, then I move on to the next.”

Businesses therefore need to calculate the cost of not enlisting inclusive efforts. Customers are much more mindful in 2021 about their purchases and will seek out competitors who align with their beliefs and values.

Fostering community while working remotely

As remote work and hybrid work continue, building and maintaining an office culture and diversity ‘momentum’ can be a struggle for business leaders. Brundage’s advice is to replace the water cooler in some way, especially for the office extroverts who thrive on teammate collaboration and workplace interactions.

“I know for me, I’m an extrovert, so I have to be really purposeful to go out of my way to get my coffee chats or to get my water cooler time,” she said. “I use technology for all these things, I send so many a Skype message or I just chat them, or I Zoom Chat them or I set up a recurring meeting. So you have to really be intentional in everything that you do.

Similarly, you have to be intentional with inclusion efforts while remote, Brundage said. You have to create opportunities for intentional actions to drive real engagement and to make real change. Intentional actions and thought our plans or virtual events themed around relevant equity topics can help to drive inclusion efforts.

How to avoid diversity faux pas

There are many methods business leaders can adopt to ensure they’re providing equitable environments. For example, Brundage suggests businesses run initiatives through focus groups.

“You never know what the translation of a word could be in a different language, to understanding what the LGBTQ community thinks of your product, or your good or your service. You’d be amazed, the vernacular in LGBTQ+ community changes on a weekly basis that we’re using. So just our community is ever changing, so just imagine the way that we view brands, and products, and goods and services changes on a daily basis,” she said.

While it can be a significant undertaking to navigate all of this intel and differing perspectives, its critical. It’s also okay to recognize that businesses and leaders are going to make mistakes at some point. For example, Brundage often hosts trainings for leadership and the use of pronouns has been a key topic of interest currently.

Brundage educates leaders around the use of pronouns, why they’re so important and how they can be powerful when used correctly. Mistakes on pronouns can and should be handled with grace.

“If you use the wrong pronoun, you make a mistake in how you address someone, think about how you need to apologize and then you need to immediately start using the right pronoun and then move on. Don’t drag somebody through the mud, because it’s not going to necessarily help build their confidence and make them more impactful or make them a better employee, or make them a better customer. So you really have to think about that,” she said.

Key takeaways for enterprise leaders

In addition to representation being key, Brundage said 2021 should be the year of turning words into actions.

“We’re now in 2021. Let’s actually make it happen. You have to really, even if it’s just a small movement, make the effort to move forward. Have the conversation. Bring in an expert to talk to your organization. Read books that are going to actually really make an impact and help you understand the struggle.”

All of this work is tied to leadership. Everything around empowerment is connected to leadership, Brundage said.

“It’s the overarching concept that really binds us all. You could be talking about diversity, inclusion, equality, equity, empowerment, inspiration or access. All of it stems to leadership. You either have leadership or you don’t, and if you don’t, then you need to figure out ways to grow that, because that’s going to lead to all of these other things.”

Verbit is working with leading enterprises and business leaders to help make their workplaces and remote work environments, such as Zoom, more inclusive and accessible to employees. Contact us for more information.