Note: It’s important to preface our blog today with the caveat that we’re not legal experts – and we’re also not here to advise companies on how not to discriminate (that should be a given).

At Scouted, we prioritize and promote diverse and inclusive working environments and expect our partner companies to provide nothing less for their teams. And, given the monumental nature of the recent SCOTUS decision, we felt it important to address what it means for companies to actually create an inclusive place of work for their employees.

On Monday, June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down a landmark decision on three separate cases (Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., No. 17-1618, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623, and  R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, No. 18-107), ultimately ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender individuals in the workplace.

The decision read: “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII. Pp. 4–33.” And specified that, “…it is irrelevant what an employer might call its discriminatory practice, how others might label it, or what else might motivate it.”

Simply, an employer may not discriminate against an employee because of their sex or sexual orientation, no matter the employer’s reasoning.

Diversity does not guarantee inclusivity 

In 2019, Under Armour came under fire for their “boy’s club culture” that promoted an unfair and unequal environment where women, non-white, and LGBTQIA+ employees were not advanced or promoted in the same capacity as their white hetero-male counterparts. 

Under Armour’s executive team’s rebuttal? Simply spouting statistics about how diverse the company was, about the number of women on their board or in leadership positions (it was still low). 

What the Under Armour team failed to recognize was that simply because a company has some representation in key roles, it doesn’t mean all employees, especially historically marginalized employees, feel they have a place or voice at the company. 

Diversity is not synonymous with inclusivity. This is a critical distinction that is often lost or overlooked.

So, what can we do to make sure that our employees feel comfortable, stimulated, appreciated, and part of the team? How do we foster inclusive working environments? 

Five factors to consider when tackling Inclusivity in your DEI strategy

Know the state of your company 

When was the last time your leadership team sat down and discussed your policies? How do your promotion and salary processes impact BIPOC, women, and LGBTQIA+ employees? 

While it’s important for leadership to have these conversations, and set policy and strategy, it’s your employees at all levels of your organization that are experiencing what it feels like to be a part of your company. Talk to them. Learn from them. Ensure there are clear communication channels for them to safely speak up.

An internal audit can be useful in helping your team identify holes or inequitable practices in your hiring, promotion, lay off, and tenure discussions. Do not shy away from speaking to an expert (and a third party) about what you might not be seeing first hand. Identify what you can do better, and then implement new policies to address outdated or unfair practices. 

Getting a pulse on how your employees feel should not be a one-off endeavor, it should be a regular occurrence so you can continuously gauge internal feedback, how you are evolving, and where you still need to improve.  

Change starts in the c-suite

Entry-level employees can not expect to see and feel a tangible difference in a company’s priorities unless the leadership team is totally on board – and this is especially true for DEI best practices. Not to mention, managers and executive teams are responsible for hiring, salary bands, layoffs, and firing. 

Work alongside your c-suite to:

  • Impress the importance of constantly revising policies to meet the needs of all employees
  • Implement progressive educational opportunities for leaders and managers to help orient decisions and strategy sessions
  • Research industry best practices and do not hesitate to mimic other companies that are doing it better 

Create space for open dialogue 

Not every employee will feel comfortable speaking to senior leadership – or even their direct manager – about issues they see in the workplace surrounding inclusivity, and this hesitation may very well be fueled by their fear that speaking up will result in being fired. So, how do you promote a culture in which individuals at all levels and of all backgrounds feel supported enough to speak up?

Jennifer Brown, author of Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will to Change suggests forming a council that can meet to discuss broader goal-setting, address employee engagement, review feedback, and troubleshoot crisis scenarios. 

Every company will have its own tolerance for what is appropriate or not appropriate in the workplace, but it’s important to keep in mind that celebrating diversity is not enough. We must be open to the difficult conversations that will allow our employees to voice their opinions and help leaders understand changes that need to be made in order to address workplace inequities. 

Set goals and ensure accountability

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology examined the effectiveness of goal setting in the context of diversity training and found that participants who set specific goals surrounding supportive behaviors were more likely to actually act on supportive behaviors. 

Help your employees see what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. A 2014 study found that a company could increase the effectiveness of its diversity training by incorporating programming that helps employees internalize a fellow employee’s perspective.

By working with your team to increase their level of empathy and understanding of others’ lived experiences, you can create an opportunity for a more cohesive and inclusive team. 

Create diverse social events

When it comes to forging relationships at work, often the most meaningful connections – connections that not only lead to lasting friendships but also to faster promotions – are made outside of work meetings at company social events. 

When planning extracurricular activities for your employees, ask yourself: do you consider a variety of ways you can promote bonding in your company – or are all of your events one-note? 

A team will not have a homogeneous set of interests or abilities. Unintentionally, you may be creating space where people don’t feel comfortable and are thus excluded from the event. People with families might not have as flexible a schedule to attend evening events; people that don’t drink might be uncomfortable if every gathering centers around alcohol consumption. The fact of the matter is, if people are not participating in these key relationship-building events, they are not forging ahead in their careers simply from being left out. 

Creating an inclusive place of work is not a new concept, but it is one that needs consistent effort. We need to be constantly engaged in ensuring a more fair working environment for all of our employees. What the SCOTUS decision did offer, however, was an opportunity for us to look inward and think critically about the opportunities we have to raise the bar for what an inclusive place of work looks like for our teams.