Inclusion as a Business Imperative

Inclusion goes farther than simply putting diverse candidates in seats


The benefits of diversity are well known. Whether measuring innovation, goal attainment, financial performance, or any number of metrics, it’s clear that diversity is great for business. Eager to capture these benefits, companies are diligently working to recruit diverse talent. But recruitment isn’t the primary challenge — retention is.

Consider the fact that approximately 50% of the entry-level workforce is comprised of women. However, we all know that the disproportionate attrition of women as they advance in their careers is real, and that the number of women in senior leadership roles is relatively low, particularly within the c-suite. A similar “leaky pipeline” phenomenon holds for minorities and people with intersecting minority identities (such as gender, race, ethnicity, national origin religion, and sexual orientation).

As you likely know, data unambiguously supports inclusion as a performance driver. Inclusive companies are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high performers, and six times more likely to be innovative. With these kinds of results, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is clearly a vital element of any world-class organization. However, inclusion goes farther than simply putting diverse candidates in seats. Inclusion means not only creating a diverse environment, but also maintaining that environment in ways that honor and foster individuality and unique differences. The results can be powerful!

“Inclusivity is achievable and powerful.

Guidehouse strives to be a good partner to employees and clients by fostering an inclusive environment. For Guidehouse, the first step toward building an inclusive company culture involves recruiting diverse candidates. Once our new hires join, we encourage employees to be their authentic selves at work, offering a host of programs and initiatives, cultural awareness webinars, and philanthropic opportunities designed around our colleagues’ personal, professional, and community interests.

Another crucial element of our inclusion efforts is maintaining both internal and external pipelines of development and opportunity for talented candidates from all backgrounds, along with correlated employee programming overseen by a grassroots D&I council. Our coaching and mentoring programs offer our employees an abundance of opportunities to further develop themselves, both personally and professionally. 

Guidehouse also builds opportunities for our workforce to come together in service of great ideas. For instance, our annual business plan competition engages employees from all corners of the company to develop new or enhanced solutions, services, products, processes, and technologies. Ideas presented at the competition have fueled innovation for both the firm and for our clients.

Our employee resource groups (ERGs) —  such as our Women’s ERG and our LGBTQ ERG — give our colleagues a comfortable means to gather, share career strategies, provide mutual support, and team with senior management on policy recommendations for the enterprise. These semiformal channels help employees feel connected and provide opportunities to address concerns and achieve goals that traditional performance management and human resources structures do not easily address.

At Guidehouse we acknowledge that we all have individual biases, and that it is crucial to be aware of those biases and to minimize their effects. To help accomplish this goal, all Guidehouse employees complete mandatory unconscious-bias training. We also include a refresher on unconscious bias in the annual performance-management process. More recently, we incorporated training on delivering effective feedback to help employees engage in sensitive and productive conversations in the workplace.

Of course, these training sessions are not cure-alls, so we also use performance ratings, promotions, and salary data for women and minorities — historically disadvantaged populations — to diagnose anomalies that could indicate effects of bias in employees’ careers. In this way, an enterprise commitment to inclusion is also hardwired into how we run the company.

The end goal of inclusion is to create environments in which people feel a sense of belonging and have the confidence to be themselves so that they may reach their true potential. Here are three key things we can all do to foster inclusive organizations:

  1. Help employees from all backgrounds stay in the game and contribute at the highest levels. Measures that support this goal include flexible work arrangements, family leave, and company-sponsored support networks. Human capital teams can also help employees find ways to continue to contribute and advance at work as their personal lives evolve.

  2. Constantly work against sources of bias. This effort includes bias training and the willingness to speak frankly about the possible role of bias in talent and performance conversations. We can expect to be uncomfortable sometimes. After all, to work against bias is to work against centuries of history that put those biases in place.

  3. Persist and measure. D&I is never-ending. We need to persevere, iterate, track our results, and keep pushing. This means not only measuring the surface-level diversity of our head count but also evaluating inclusion — representation, engagement, and full participation — at every level of the organization.

We now know that inviting diverse candidates to join our organizations is only the first step. The deeper and more rewarding work, both for employees and for companies, lies in inclusion. Inclusive efforts require a deep focus and a broad organizational commitment, which, when properly addressed and executed, result in healthy, inclusive organizational cultures.

Inclusivity is achievable and powerful. All your stakeholders — employees, clients and shareholders will benefit as a result.


This article also appeared on LinkedIn.

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