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The role of diversity and inclusion in corporate America has transformed greatly over the last several decades. Yet, an extraordinary amount of work still remains unfinished.  

By and large, executives have shifted their thinking about diversity initiatives — from somewhat unnecessary to something that was the right thing to do, to something that is absolutely the right thing to do and critical to the bottom line. 

Dozens of studies have proven the strong business case for diversity and inclusion. One McKinsey report found companies in the top-quartile of greater cultural or ethnic representation on executive teams outperformed those in the bottom quartile by nearly 40 percent when it came to profitability.  

"A well-developed and nurtured environment that respects diversity and inclusiveness is now a business imperative and as important to the bottom line as net income," said Priscilla Hill-Ardoin, a retired AT&T executive who now sits on the WWT Board of Advisors. "Many of us would argue it's critically related to net income, and there has been research that shows companies that value diversity perform better on the bottom line." 

But just like any other transformational undertaking, strategy and execution are often disjointed from each other, making real progress hard to achieve. 

Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work, spoke about the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at the 2021 World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba. He emphasized the need to make diversity initiatives more than just window dressing.  

Diversity programs aren't "a separate program that you look at independently. It's everything," he said.  

Bush went on to identify seven ways companies can make sure they are optimizing their efforts to adopt a more inclusive culture that drives business outcomes. 

Set a foundation with trust 

Trust is a tremendous facilitator of progress and growth. When people trust each other — trust their leadership — they are able to more quickly buy-in and put in motion objectives that spur change.  

"You have to establish a culture that's based on trust," Bush said. "There is no engagement without trust." 

Lead with purpose and values 

When people are connected to purpose, they are more driven to change. And when leaders exemplify and live out this purpose, employees are more likely to buy in, creating a company culture that is driving in a single direction. 

Bush said purpose gives behavioral change stamina and engages others to join in. 

Leading with purpose and values — and exemplifying those values from the very top of your organization — can build momentum for true change to occur and get others to buy in to help move the needle. 

"It's as simple as that and that's what our research tells us," Bush said. 

Lean into equity 

In the end, people are looking for a fair shake and equal opportunity.  

"No matter who you are or what the person calls themselves in terms of a pronoun or what job title the person has, or whether you've been at the company six years or six months, you should be treating treated with respect, fairness and equity and be talked to in an honest and consistent way," Bush said.  

Bush highlighted equity not just in terms of opportunity, but also representation.  

"It's not just can I get the job, but can I get promoted to a new job?" he said. "Do I see people like myself at all levels of the company? Does my compensation look similar?" 

When equity is pervasive throughout a company's culture, it puts everybody on an even playing field, which in turn motivates everybody to bring their best selves to work each day. Teams that trust a company is equitable in how it treats, supports and promotes its people are more likely to freely share ideas and value the contributions of others. These teams are where diverse ideas come together, incubate and emerge as innovative solutions. 

But don't lose sight of belonging 

Belonging is a powerful feeling. When employees feel they belong — feel like they have ownership of team, department or company — they are motivated to contribute.  

"That is what you want for everyone," Bush said. "Those people come to work and live out company values and crush it on performance and get promoted." 

It's the difference between satisfied employees, who have the tools and training to do their jobs well, and inspired employees, who get meaning and inspiration from their company's mission and are inspired by the leaders in their company to do great things. 

Make it personal 

For people to feel they belong, personal connections need to be made. There's many ways to build personal connections with others, but to do so with large swaths of employees requires a sincere interest in their wellbeing.  

"Everybody wants to be cared for — not taken care of, but cared for," Bush said. "They need to know somebody is there to listen." 

When employees feel cared for and listened to and that their company has their best interests in mind, they're more willing to go the extra mile when it comes to production.  

Listen to learn. Learn to change. 

Listening to learn is a powerful tool for any leader. Being able to put that learning into action is even more impactful. 

"Listening without action is a waste of time," Bush said. "You can do all the listening you want, but what change will you drive based on what you here. That's key." 

Changed based on feedback and listening creates a powerful flywheel that accelerates positive momentum. It all leads back to trust. When employees trust their feedback and opinions will help lead to positive change, they're more likely to contribute more ideas and advocate for others to get involved, which only leads to more positive change. 

Stay the course 

Nobody said this work is easy. In fact, as Bush said, "this is the hardest work." 

Often when it comes to diversity initiatives, every step you take is going to make someone else feel uncomfortable. 

"That's the thing about diversity," he said. "You have to be committed even when it's uncomfortable. That's the difference between good companies and the greates of the great companies — if you're not committed, if your CEO is not committed, it's not real."