This is undoubtedly a turning point, but it’s not the only takeaway from the Bureau’s report. Maybe not even the biggest one. Given the demographic shifts, they opted to drop the use of “majority” and “minority” in describing population makeup. Why? The words limit the organization‘s ability “to illustrate the complex racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population.”
That may seem like no big deal, but here’s why it matters:
The way we understand ourselves in relation to others has too long depended on racial, ethnic, physical ability, and gender-based descriptors that have vague definitions. This extends beyond personal identification and underpins countless human resource departments in companies across the country. Even well-intentioned diversity and inclusion initiatives spend too much time on “deciding before defining,” creating entire programs around flimsy definitions.
Building a culture of diversity and inclusion is critical. But this requires an understanding of what identifications are safe and which are off-limits — and why. Dr. Akilah Cadet, CEO of a diversity coaching company, says that companies need to know more than just definitions of key racial, ethnic, physical ability, and gender terms. They need to know the behaviors associated with them, including those that are racist or offensive. Only then can diversity and inclusion initiatives be truly effective at changing hearts, minds, and actions.
For business leaders, this begins with using (and understanding) inclusive terms in your mission and vision statements. Even the word “inclusive” needs a definition — what do you mean when you call for a workplace grounded in principles of inclusion? Inclusive of what — and what behaviors do you expect as part of this inclusion? The details don’t need to be spelled out directly in your statements, but you need to be able to explain definitions and behaviors clearly to anyone who asks.
As you begin hiring, re-emphasize the inclusivity and diversity principles outlined in your vision and mission statements, supplementing these with third-party resources that offer definitions and behavioral guidance. Glossaries of key terms are widely available — find one that serves as a baseline and add to it over time as you hire more employees and build your human resources team. Be sure to include not only definitions, but acceptable and unacceptable behaviors/uses associated with each term.
Also, keep the conversation about diversity and inclusivity going. Culture is ever-changing, and a dynamic workforce reflects that. While many business leaders are too busy to do regular deep-dives into diversity and inclusivity program best practices, there are easy ways to stay abreast of cultural conversations around diversity issues.
For starters, read up: Use a news aggregator to track hashtag topics on diversity topics. Also, listen to different perspectives on podcasts that discuss the problems of race, gender, ableism, and inclusion/exclusion in the U.S. Code Switch from NPR is a highly-rated one, though there are several you can find through widely-available podcast apps.
Perhaps most importantly, listen to employees and think critically about equal accessibility to opportunities at your company. As you build programs, create new products or services, and expand your reach, ask yourself: Are these opportunities accessible to only some of my employees? Are there unintentional restrictions because of race, ethnicity, physical ability, or gender? Building a habit of looking at growth with this lens will go a long way to creating honest diversity and inclusion at all levels of your business.