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Why diversity and inclusion matter

It may be the key to growing your business.

It’s not a box that needs to be checked. It’s not a feel-good slogan. It’s not a form of regulatory compliance. And, it's not a buzzword. In fact, it's here to stay.

So, what, exactly, do diversity and inclusion entail, and why are they important to your business?

In general, a diversity and inclusion initiative is a purposeful approach to business that merges two important features: ethics and performance. And today’s business leaders know that this approach can give their company a competitive advantage.

What's the difference between diversity and inclusion?

“I think of diversity as a noun, and inclusion as a verb,” says Rona Berinobis, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield vice president, inclusion and organizational development.

“Diversity is simple. It’s all the ways people are different. Workplace diversity is understanding differences between people of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, abilities and sexual orientations. Diversity also includes differences in education, personalities, skill sets, life experience and knowledge."

“Inclusion, as a concept, is also quite simple,” says Berinobis. “It's what happens when a diverse group of employees respects, accepts and values each other. It’s having employees who feel heard, accepted, valued, and celebrated, rather than ignored or even discredited, for their differences.”

But there’s more to it. A lot more. “Ultimately, inclusion is about leveraging diversity to achieve organizational strength and a competitive edge,” says Berinobis.

That’s a lot, admits Berinobis, who has been working in her role for more than 14 years. “It’s not something that happens overnight. It is a journey. It’s a way of doing business. And when embedded into the culture, your company will see increases in productivity and improved employee morale.”

So, why does it matter?

Attracting and retaining a diverse group of employees has a whole host of benefits. Here are a few:

  • Improves your bottom line.

    A 2018 study External Site found that companies with diverse management teams have a 19 percent higher revenue. Differing people offer various ideas, opinions and beliefs, and a higher degree of creativity, overall. That means innovation, which is key to growth.

  • Creates a more engaged workforce.

    Employees who bring their authentic self to work will feel more comfortable and valued, and will give more of themselves. Yet, the Harvard Business Review has concluded many people of color, for example, feel they must compromise their authenticity External Site in the workplace, particularly if they want to be leaders. “In an inclusive environment, your race, your background, your way of thinking — it’s all welcome,” says Berinobis. “The company sets the stage and tone. The employee brings the positivity that is consistent with the company’s core values.”

  • Lowers employee turnover.

    Turnover is an issue across all generations in the labor force. In 2018, nearly 27 percent of American workers External Site voluntarily quit their jobs. “When employees are valued for their individual and unique contributions, they are likely to stay with you longer,” says Berinobis. “The employer in an inclusive workplace heightens and strengthens each employee. It’s up to each employee to lean into their strengths.”

  • Helps you reach customers.

    It just makes sense that having a diverse workforce can help a company better understand their customer base. In fact, teams are 158 percent more likely to understand target consumers External Site when a team member is of the same gender, race, age, sexual orientation or culture as the consumer.

Ultimately, leaders in today’s economy realize that lack of diversity and inclusion can cost them talented employees and loyal customers. Traditional business practices of the past don’t cut it in today’s cancel culture External Site, where individuals and businesses who have not embraced the changing times and cultural shifts are held accountable for their actions.

It starts at the top

There isn’t one cookie cutter approach to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, says Berinobis. The important thing is to set about doing it. The first step? "It starts from the top," says Berinobis. "At Wellmark, our Chairman and CEO, John Forsyth, leads by what he calls 'walking the talk.'" He also serves as the Chair of the Inclusion Council.

Forsyth has been nationally recognized Opens in a new window for his commitment to diversity. According to Forsyth, "At Wellmark, diversity and inclusion are fundamental to who we are and what we do. In fact, it's part of our core values. It's vital to our business and long-term success." He adds, "We are all different, so recognizing, respecting and maximizing these differences provides us a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace."

Get everyone involved

Next, says Berinobis, “You’ve got to invite employees to the table and have honest conversations.” She offers these tips:

  • Create an Inclusion and Diversity Council External Site.

    This is a cross sectional group of employees, made up of different races, genders, gender identities, sexual preferences, and abilities. “At Wellmark, this group meets monthly with leadership, and they are really the voice of the people, as well as the eyes and the ears,” says Berinobis.

  • Get leaders on board.

    Large cultural changes such as diversity and inclusion won’t happen if leaders aren’t informed and providing support. In fact, over a quarter of External Site employees at large companies do not feel that their direct manager is committed to diversity and inclusion. As organizations seek to hire a more diverse workforce, inclusion won’t happen if leaders aren’t “walking the walk.”

  • Offer on-site (or virtual) learning and development.

    Provide ample opportunities for learning, including employee workshops about relevant topics such as unconscious bias Opens in a new window, anti-racism and recognizing and responding to microaggressions. “At Wellmark, every employee has diversity and inclusion (D&I) training when they are hired. While we offer several D&I related classes, inclusion is infused into all of our curriculum, says Berinobis. It’s a non-negotiable.”

  • Communicate regularly.

    Prominent, regular communication reinforces a culture of diversity and inclusion. “On our corporate intranet, we have what we call our ‘Inclusion Hub’,” says Berinobis. “It is a key part of our employee communication strategy, and continually reinforces the message of diversity and inclusion, with personal interest stories about employees, and more in-depth features about how employees use the principles at their job."

  • Host special events, within and outside the company.

    Celebrate diversity and inclusion within the company, and get involved outside your four walls. "At Wellmark, we’re engaged with nearly every minority and inclusion-based organization that we know of in Iowa and South Dakota. We support them, we’re on their boards, we sponsor events, and we’re engaged and active participants.”

Free resources to continue the conversation in your workforce

The best place to start is through educating yourself. We've rounded up a few of our favorite free inclusion and diversity resources for employers to leverage.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark account representative, or email us at Send Email.