From time to time when I go to events and do presentations in the U.S. and abroad, representatives from companies--ones that seem fairly advanced in the area of D&I--raise their hands and ask, "How can we better retain and engage the diverse people that we've hired into our organizations?" My response is always the same:

"Focus more on inclusion."

Inclusion is needed for the engagement and retention of diverse people, as well as to reap the business benefits of having that diversity beyond just meeting local compliance regulations. This strategy is crucial since it's not just having diversity, but also leveraging diversity--a function of inclusion--that makes organizations more agile. Finally, investing in inclusion also reduces turnover costs.

So what can you do to increase your organizational inclusion? The first installment of this two-part article offers actionable tips for HR practitioners.

1) Address unconscious biases among management with tools and processes

Recognize the impact of bias as an obstacle to inclusion. Furthermore, recognize that we are all biased and that conventional diversity training--or, for that matter, even bias awareness training--does not put us in charge of our biases. We need tools and processes to manage our biases.

For example, one of my clients trained business executives to recognize and address unconscious bias through peer coaching. These executives--descriptively known as the "Inclusion Champions"--would then be invited to other executive team meetings to ensure that the people immersed in the process of making assessments were not overly influenced and swayed by bias.

Having a trained peer with an outsider's perspective monitor how meetings are conducted can help organizations increase objectivity and "catch" themselves when bias creeps in.

"Among organizational efforts to promote inclusion in i4cp's upcoming study on the values and behaviors that support D&I, initiatives to help leaders and HR professionals better recognize and manage their own conscious and unconscious biases were the greatest predictor of high market performance," says Eric Davis, i4cp's Creative Director and Senior Editor. "It's amazing how quickly the micro-inequities stemming from unconscious biases can pile up and become a poison within the culture. While no amount of training can eliminate biases, awareness of them and willingness to confront the behaviors go a long way toward reestablishing the equity needed for an inclusive culture to flourish."

2) Continuously seek to refine the fairness and transparency of all people-practices

As the American aphorist Mason Cooley once said, "The rich feel full of merit." Likewise, managers, executives, and others who have done well within a particular system will tend to consider that system a completely fair and equitable meritocracy. After all, successful people believe they got where they are through hard work within that system (many studies today challenge that belief). Unfortunately, not everyone in an organization will agree with that sentiment because, frankly, the process is not fair to everyone. This is almost always the case, even without attribution of malice on anyone's part.

For example, a process or practice may be unfair to female professionals simply because it was put in place before women joined the company. I recall finding just such a situation years ago in an IT organization where all of the top project executives were male. In order to progress to service manager--which places people on track toward higher-level management and executive positions--candidates needed to have a good general understanding of the technical side of the business as well as the administrative side. As it turns out, the company had a management-training program that was designed to provide entry-level technical roles--primarily men--with exposure to the administrative side of the business. It did not, however, have a corresponding program to provide those who enter the business from the administrative roles--primarily women--with a lens into the technical work. By adding the missing track into the management-training process, the number of female managers and subsequently project executives increased dramatically. This resulted in increased gender balance as well as an uptick in the trust female professionals felt in the fairness of the company's promotional process.

Baby HandAnother example of refining fairness via a bit of updating is offered by Jacqueline Robertson, Senior Director Inclusion & Diversity, W. W. Grainger, and a member of i4cp's Chief Diversity Officer Board. According to Robertson, Grainger offered a Short Term Disability policy (STD) governing maternity benefits that, upon further inspection (and external benchmarking by its Women's Business Resource Group), was not completely inclusive of adoptive parents, surrogate parents, and foster parents. The name alone--STD--didn't seem inclusive of all that the policy could potentially offer team members. After careful research and consideration, the company looked to support a newly branded "Parental Policy." The newly evolved approach recognizes and includes a broader spectrum of team members performing the role of child-caregivers in the 21st century.

A careful review of people policies, especially those that have long been in place and perhaps not critically examined for some time, will offer many great opportunities for refining existing practices and increasing the opportunity for greater inclusion in an authentic manner. It is paramount to an organization's inclusion efforts to ensure all team members view processes as being clear and transparent, while providing a good team experience.

Part Two of this article will look at other actions that can be taken to increase the effectiveness of inclusion initiatives.

Meanwhile, for more information on the leading practices that are being used to drive inclusion, consider joining i4cp's Chief Diversity Officer Board. For more information, download the brochure.

Mr. Santana is i4cp's Chief Diversity Officer Board facilitator and Chair and an established thought leader in the field of D&I; for additional insights, read: 6 Thoughts from Diversity Leader Joe Santana.