Dr. Shirley Davis

How HR Professionals Can Foster More Inclusive and Innovative Cultures

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A 5 minute read

It’s an honor to be published in IPMA-HR’s November 2020 HR News Publication! Check out the article here:

The workforce has become more global, diverse, multicultural, multigenerational, virtual and hyperconnected. As a result, work gets done differently. Also, there is no question that numerous demographic shifts that have occurred over the past decade have disrupted many of our long-standing human resources policies and strategies.

The ability of HR leaders to lead their organizations amid these disruptive forces and across differences while fostering more inclusive and innovative work environments in a wide variety of contexts, cultures and complexities will be a key lever for attracting, engaging and retaining top talent.

Census data and global workforce studies continue to affirm the following realities:

  • Women make up 51 percent of the global workforce and 60 percent of all degree earners (from associate’s degrees up to doctorates).
  • There are currently five generations in the U.S. workforce. Among the two largest generational cohorts, baby boomers still account for roughly one-third (31 percent) of workers; however, nearly 70 million of the 79 million baby boomers are expected to retire over the next 5-10 years.
  • Aging employees are expected to continue working into and through retirement. Between now and 2050, the portion of people in the workforce who are over the age of 65 is expected to grow by 75 percent.
  • The other largest generational cohort, the millennials, now makes up 50 percent of the workforce. By 2025, millennials’ share of the workforce jumps to 75 percent.
  • By 2017, the oldest members of Generation Z (those born 1996-2010) had entered the workforce.
  • With 7.5 billion people on Earth, 1 in 7 has a disability.
  • In the United States, the minority of today (people of color) will become the majority of tomorrow, making up 54 percent of the workforce by 2030.

Of course, there are many other considerations, such as how to be more accommodating and appealing to the LGBTQ+ community, people with various religious beliefs and faiths, our veterans and active duty workers, and many more.

We have to consider the diverse needs, expectations, thinking styles, work preferences, communication styles and development needs of a new generation of talent. That includes making changes such as revamping our policies to allow for greater flexibility in work arrangements; upgrading our benefit programs from offering only traditional 401(k) and retirement plans to instituting additional perks such as unlimited vacation time, paying off student loans, offering public transportation passes, gamification, health and wellness programs, onsite daycare, dependent care and long-term care benefits; and much more. It also means expanding our recruiting and selection processes to ensure less-biased decisions are made and our nets are cast wider to attract a more diverse slate of candidates. Additionally, it means offering individual career ladders and unique development opportunities.

As HR leaders, we need to know how to navigate this complex and rapidly changing landscape. That means having the right skills and competencies to build more equitable, inclusive and high-performing workplace cultures.

Why is this important? Because these kinds of work environments produce higher performance, increase employee engagement, fuel innovation and creativity, increase retention and positively impact the customer service experience. Ultimately, they positively contribute to an organization’s bottom line and result in sustained success. In fact, research cited by Bain & Company revealed that companies that create a winning culture are 3.7 times more likely to be top performers.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak to more than 5,000 HR professionals and business leaders around the world over the past year, and these are the kinds of issues that are keeping them up at night. I am often asked, “What is HR’s role in fostering more inclusive and innovative cultures? And what strategies can we implement?”

Here are the top 10 tips that I’ve implemented as a former chief diversity officer and HR executive, as well as what I’ve seen bring sustained success in fostering inclusive and innovative workplace cultures.

Inclusive cultures afford all talent the opportunity to obtain a seat at the table and to feel a sense of connection and belonging. Make sure that your overperformers are not undervalued—or they will leave. Find the “hidden figures” in your organization who aren’t always the most visible or vocal but who are adding value.

Embed diversity and inclusion into your company’s strategic and operating plans, not just the HR strategy. D&I should not be a stand-alone effort or done in a vacuum. Rather, it should be integrated into your organizational DNA.

HR must upgrade and digitize. If not, HR will lose the ability to compete and add value because, according to Cisco Systems, nearly 37 billion things are connected right now. Digital transformation—cloud-based HRIS, recruitment solutions, internal communication platforms, workforce engagement—is key for HR’s transformation.

Without inclusion, you will not attract top talent. Physical and psychological safety issues will arise, and mental, emotional and physical wellness will suffer, which will lead to complaints, lawsuits, low engagement, high turnover and absenteeism. All of these result in $7 trillion in lost productivity every year, according to Gallup.

Think of diversity like an iceberg. Most often, we make 90 percent of our decisions based on the 10 percent of an issue we see. Look at the iceberg accompanying this article. And, yes, we all act according to our biases and make snap decisions within the first 5 seconds. There is so much that makes people unique and diverse that we miss out on because of our blind spots.


Learn to take greater risks and get out of your comfort zone. Being risk-averse, rigid and complacent are antithetical to innovating.

It’s HR’s strategic role and responsibility to build bench strength and leadership capability inside the organization. HR must also ensure that leaders develop the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that will be needed in the future. This can be done via workforce planning, succession planning and generating predictive analytics.

Stop using stock photos to show visible diversity in your company. Do not try to represent something you are not. People will see right through you. If your company lacks diversity, go get it. You can find top talent by casting your net wider than your usual sourcing channels.

If we are doing our jobs effectively, we don’t hire disengaged employees. Poor culture or bad leaders make employees disengaged. Stop selling candidates on experiences, perks and benefits that do not actually exist. Otherwise, employees suffer from buyer’s remorse and become disengaged, disenfranchised and disconnected.

Recruit for traits that can’t be trained. These include honesty, integrity, passion, trust, motivation and attitude. You can train for skills, but not for heart and soul.

If HR professionals are serious about fostering cultures of inclusion and belonging, it really comes down to three focus areas: great leadership, top talent and inclusive and innovative policies.