Real equality means inclusion at every level of your organization

From the bottom to the top.
From the bottom to the top.
Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
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The ethic of diversity and inclusion has become so important in the business world that it has its own jargon, including the acronym “D&I.” But while certainly a worthy path for every organization, D&I does not encompass the ultimate goal we should all seek: equality. So, let’s call it DE&I instead.

It’s an important distinction. Under D&I alone, an organization typically strives for better representation of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and ages in its overall workforce. With DE&I, all departments and teams are diverse—including the leadership team, which is often disproportionately white and male even at companies with decent diversity track records elsewhere in their organization.

By now, I hope everyone has seen the research showing that companies with greater diversity also enjoy greater profits. This makes logical sense, because the wider and deeper your pool of potential talent, the better your team will be, and the success of your organization is largely dependent on the quality of your team. If one group is under-represented, whether in leadership, mid-management, production, IT, or among new hires, you are limiting your chances for success.

With DE&I, leaders choose from among the most highly qualified talent available, from all population groups, and then place them in roles where they can contribute equally to a company’s success. Only through diversity and inclusion that leads to equality can an organization truly find and place the best talent. It’s also the only way to ensure that all voices, ideas, opinions, backgrounds, and identities are included in strategic and daily decision-making.

A successful DE&I program requires more than a commitment; it takes real work. Our company’s path began with collecting and maintaining accurate metrics, because you can’t change what you can’t measure. Right now, 64% of our entire team and 63% of our supervisor through senior manager roles are women. Our executive team includes many women, our CEO among them, and our board is 33% women. Our entire team is 31% nonwhite.

We are proud of most of our numbers, particularly our gender equality at all levels of our team. But when it comes to racial and ethnic equality, we are not there yet. While 31% nonwhite for our entire team is better than average for our industry (healthcare), we have not yet realized our aspirations for equality in leadership. So, we are working on our “E”.

To walk the talk, organizations have to develop and implement actionable solutions based on evidence. Accurate, consistent metrics must become your guides in all hires and promotions. At our company, talent-acquisition specialists include diverse candidates in all job slates that are presented to business-unit leaders who are hiring or promoting. We are always actively looking for diverse candidates. And everyone in leadership takes responsibility for moving our DE&I metrics in the right direction. While job decisions are based on merit, the purposeful inclusion of candidates from all groups in all job openings and hires will result in progress toward equality.

But changing hiring and promotion strategies is not enough. By demonstrating our values in action to the public, we actively seek to attract diverse talent to work at our company. We support diversity, equality, and inclusion programs in the community and in the marketplace because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s good for our company. It tells the community, and potential job candidates, about our corporate values. We also encourage our suppliers to actively commit to diversity, equality, and inclusion. And we take part in two corporate equality indexes to ensure our investors know about our commitment to DE&I.

Transparency is also important. We publish our updated diversity metrics on our corporate website every quarter, and we openly discuss our DE&I goals, so that everybody—including talent we want to hire—can see our commitment to equality in our workforce.

The final leg of the journey is an earnest commitment to action from leadership, and especially the board of directors.

The attainment of equality in the workforce requires a commitment to developing precision capabilities that can be applied to search, recruitment, promotions, and succession planning. You have to make sure that your systems support your strategies, as you would for any other strategic organizational initiative. This will take longer and require deeper work, but it’s essential for a values-based organization, and for reaching the state of equality we hope to achieve.

Julie Fletcher is the chief talent officer of AMN Healthcare, which provides staffing services to healthcare facilities across the United States.