It Starts with a Plan: How to Embed Inclusive Diversity into the Fabric of Your Organization

Toni L. Coleman Carter, MSHRM
Diversity Strategy Director & Personal Development Coach,
Idaho National Laboratory

Case Study: Idaho National Laboratory

Organizations want to be more diverse, but that doesn’t happen with a snap of the fingers. It’s a strategic process. It takes time to lay the foundation and gradually build momentum. For several years at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), a Department of Energy national laboratory headquartered in Idaho Falls, Idaho, numbers of underrepresented employees had remained stagnant despite efforts to increase inclusive diversity. But things began to change in October 2015 when Dr. Mark Peters became INL’s director. Culture changes like increasing diversity and inclusion in an organization take time, but Peters didn’t want to wait. He wanted to do it faster and better than ever before.

Peters recognized the value an inclusive workforce brings to organizations, and particularly in scientific research and development, it’s not something just to aspire to; it’s a necessity. Research shows that workplaces with high inclusion and diversity elements perform better. A 2013 Deloitte University study of 10 industries with over 3,000 respondents of different ages, genders, races/ethnicities and orientations found inclusion not only drives business performance and market share, but also increases individual performance. People do their best work when they’re able to be their best selves; when they are celebrated, not simply tolerated.

In the past, the laboratory had valued diversity, but only in recent years has the organization moved from having an affinity with diversity to incorporating strategic inclusive diversity into fundamental laboratory goals.

Why the change? When Toni L. Coleman Carter became INL’s Inclusion and Diversity strategy director in October 2016, her first task was to review INL’s demographic data and create an Inclusion and Diversity (I/D) strategy. From this process, she created a comprehensive I/D strategy aligned to our Laboratory Plan and Agenda (business strategy) and embedded it into our People Strategy.

Inclusion and Diversity’s primary focus is to help widen our talent circle and develop employees by fostering an inclusive environment where everyone can develop, grow and maximize their potential. Our enhanced I/D strategy is embedded in everything we do, including requisitions and job postings. For instance, we’ve added language to our job postings to include “Women and People of Color are strongly encouraged to apply.”

In working through the strategy elements, five keys for success emerged:

  1. Get executives on board. Convert executives from lukewarm supporters to visible advocates.
  2. Reinforce inclusion with targeted internal and external branding.
  3. Change the way you think about recruiting. Everyone at your company can be a brand ambassador and recruiter
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Use communications to educate employees about inclusion and get everyone on the same page.
  5. Measure everything. Use transparent demographics and intentional action.

Tactics to leverage leadership, employment branding, communication and data to drive change

  1. Get executives on board. Convert executives from lukewarm supporters to visible advocates.

    Idaho National Laboratory is taking concrete steps to lead in inclusive diversity. It’s one thing to put a statement on a website or meet the minimum legal requirements for diversity; it’s quite another to embrace inclusive diversity as part of the fabric of your organization. We are doing the latter.

    In an open letter published on our website, our laboratory senior leaders share our core beliefs and values about setting a positive example and bringing people together to foster greater mutual respect and understanding while creating environments where everyone can maximize their fullest potential. We are serious about fostering inclusive diversity and expect all charities, entities and organizations with whom we collaborate or conduct business to see the value of inclusive diversity and to follow the same guiding principles.

    In 2018, we created an Executive Inclusion Council (EIC), led by laboratory director Dr. Mark Peters with support from the deputy laboratory directors and six operational strategists. Members provide visible support and strategic insight into where the organization is going to ensure deliberate inclusion actions are taken to accelerate effective end results. But they’re not just talking the talk – senior leaders are on board and walking the walk. The EIC prompts additional change because members are actively creating inclusion initiatives and owning their deployment. They’re holding each other and the rest of the laboratory accountable.
  2. Reinforce inclusion with targeted internal and external branding.

    We have taken strategic action to increase brand recognition throughout the nation by taking out highprofile advertisements, participating in conferences, winning national diversity awards and publicizing inclusive feature stories. All of these mediums help position us as an inclusive employer of choice.

    As one of the largest employers in the state, we provide funding to support numerous institutions serving underrepresented populations in the communities where our employees live. These institutions are often small 501(c) (3) organizations, and they count on our financial support to be able to provide services to those in need. Many employees serve on boards of these organizations and participation increases brand awareness of our laboratory, plus boosts employee morale and engagement.

    We also rebranded our employee resource groups as Leadership Councils and realigned them to focus on laboratory objectives that produce high performing teams and a return on investment to our organization. They are now moving from a simple awareness into the next phases of development and maturation.

    The Leadership Councils provide tools, resources and development opportunities to assist colleagues in becoming more culturally astute and better leaders. Everyone at our laboratory has the opportunity to participate in several leadership councils including Multiculturals in Leadership, Newcomers in Leadership, Prism (an LGBTQ and ally group), Women in Leadership, and the Veterans and People with Disabilities in Leadership.
  3. Change the way you think about recruiting. Everyone at your company can be a brand ambassador and recruiter.

    Expand the talent circle
    We’re helping widen the circle of candidates we draw from by searching outside of the local and regional area, not just for senior leadership or hard to fill positions, but also for junior level employees and crafts positions. This requires working with hiring managers to provide additional time for recruiters to go source and have conversations with underrepresented candidates. Opening a position for only a few days or weeks is often not enough to find the pool of inclusively diverse candidates we’re looking for.

    You don’t have to sit around and wait for human resources to find talent for you. Everyone at your organization should be recruiting. Have employees help source talent by getting information from people who work in the field.

    They know what is truly needed to be successful in a role like theirs. Candidates will still go through the formal application process, but it can be a great avenue to reach an audience that recruiters may not have in their network.

    Set managers up for success
    When hiring, help managers think strategically about their teams and determine what skillsets would be a culture add versus a culture fit. For instance, if everyone on a team is from a major city, would it be helpful to bring in someone from a rural area? If everyone on a team is from a tier one university, would it benefit the team to look at other universities to diversify and get some different thinking?

    Help managers be more inclusive in their hiring by working with the legal team to create a managerial guide explaining what they are and are not being asked to do to be inclusive in their hiring. For instance, Idaho National Laboratory developed this basic guide for managers: Idaho National Laboratory Guide
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Use communications to educate employees about inclusion and get everyone on the same page.

    Different communications avenues will work for different people, and the most successful messages are those conveyed multiple times through many different methods. We’ve found success in a combination of articles, videos, social media posts and a dedicated space on our website for people to find out more information. We’re also exploring more nontraditional ways of communicating with employees including using mobile apps or text messages.

    Educating employees on inclusion
    We provide employees with short, interactive mental training workouts designed by Mind Gym to help employees recognize and conquer biases. Employees have responded well to these workouts, and we’re seeing people holding each other accountable in a nonconfrontational way. The Mind Gym curriculum provides tailored culture workouts that organizations need to prepare for an influx of inclusive diversity. Idaho National Laboratory has several certified Mind Gym trainers and, depending on the workout, also brings in an external certified Mind Gym coach. The philosophy behind these workouts is that with the right content, you can get people thinking in a different way in a short period of time. However, it is important to continue to provide people with refresher information all the time.

    Additionally, in 2018, we introduced a new Laboratory Director Award called the Inclusive Diversity Champion Award which highlights a high potential, high performing employee who has gone above and beyond to model influential inclusive behavior and help facilitate courageous conversations.

    We also launched INL CultureWizard, an online and mobile app cultural learning resource to help employees better understand cultural behaviors, preferences and work styles. This tool uses interactive learning experiences to help people avoid faux pas, build cultural agility, and maximize effective communication.

    Our inclusion team also hosts several leadership symposiums each year, which are open to all employees. These sessions typically center on how inclusion and psychological safety can lead to enhanced organizational effectiveness and individual performance. One secret to making these successful labwide is not branding these events as inclusion and diversity initiatives, but as leadership development and professional acumen opportunities. The events still build in inclusion and cultural agility skills, but we subtly work them into each session. This ensures we attract more than our “choir” to each session, which ultimately helps to move everyone further on the inclusion journey.

    Responding to controversy
    Controversy and resistance to ideas about inclusion is expected because it requires people to change behaviors and become more self-aware. When encountering controversy or resistance, don’t shy away. Lean in. Ask questions to determine the root of the resistance, and you’ll get clues on a) how to bring that person along on the journey, and b) how to modify your future tactics to be more effective.

    Be aware of changing times and trends
    When developing inclusion communications, be aware of changing times and trends. Things that have worked for the last five or six years may not work anymore. Understand where your industry and the inclusion discipline are going. Position your organization ahead of them. Create “next practices” in your discipline, and don’t get caught up in best practices. When best practices are shared, they are a few years old, so more than likely something more innovative is already out there. Be a leader!
  5. Measure everything. Use transparent demographics and intentional action.

    Data and measurements are key ways to show results and progress. Track analytics for your feature stories to see readership. Analyze social media posts for reach and audience. Examine employee and hiring demographics. When people ask about inclusion results, if you can only say “I suspect” or “I suppose,” that doesn’t help your efforts. Think about it: Would your chief financial officer get away with those types of responses? Data helps remove the ambiguity.

    Disconnect from underperforming initiatives that don’t work, and try something else. Investments should only be made into areas where the organization has the possibility of producing a maximum return on the investment. Unless, of course, your organization has money to burn.

    In the spirit of transparency, beginning in December 2016, INL began sharing its employee demographic data publicly via the external website. This provides an added awareness for the world, but it also helps us hold each other accountable for driving intentional actions which produce effective outcomes.

    The inclusion team shares employee demographics with managers to help them better understand the amazing talent in their organizations. Some managers thought they were doing a great job with hiring diverse candidates, but the demographic numbers painted a different picture. This level of awareness moves hiring managers from “I think I’m doing that” to “Yes, I’m making a conscious effort to do that.”

    We’ve also shared applicant tracking data (ATS) with a few managers. We’ve demonstrated what happens when Human Resources sends a candidate to the manager. Who gets interviewed? Who gets hired? This is critical for organizations to analyze because you want to make sure your teams aren’t operating along the lines of similarities – something sociologists call homophily. Hiring managers may not even be aware of the underlying biases that are leading them to hire people who remind them of themselves and/or look like them. Increasing awareness by providing straightforward data can help overcome these biases.

Lessons Learned

Data doesn’t lie
With the increased emphasis on data, measurement and awareness, we were able to start tracking candidate pipeline and hiring information. Our inclusion office collaborated with the Human Resources Technology team and INL data scientist Carole Jesse, who designed and built INL’s first inclusion simulator.

What’s revolutionary about the simulator is it populates the exact percentage of underrepresented candidates who need to be in our acquisition process, in order to meet our overall inclusive diversity goals.

For instance, if our organization wants to increase underrepresented talent by 10%, the simulator can determine how many underrepresented candidates need to be in our process in order to achieve that 10% increase. Often that means not just sending over 10% more, but sending over 20% or 30% more underrepresented candidates to achieve that 10% increase.

The simulator also allows us to assess data several years out. Our goal is to double the number of women and people of color at INL by 2023, and the simulator allows us to enter current data and determine how we need to perform in hiring and retention practices each year to meet that goal.

In addition to using data for the simulator, our team also tracked the percentage of underrepresented candidates from the management review, to interview, to hiring via our applicant tracking system.

The initial review found that the actual hire numbers mirrored the interview numbers for women. In other words, the percentage of women who got interviews was the same as those who received job offers.

Figure B shows some sample data for fictitious company Inspire. This example models how organizations can track candidate pools beginning with candidates provided by staffing consultants to hiring managers, through manager review, interviews and hires. Consistently tracking this information can provide insight into potential hidden biases.

Figure B indicates that hiring managers at Inspire have a bias toward hiring women. This data will be even more valuable if tracked for several years and the trend continues.

Suggested next steps to overcome this bias include:

  • Continue intentional action discussions with all hiring managers (create awareness).
  • Review interview questions and experiences. Ensure they are not unconsciously excluding men.
  • Significantly increase the number of men in the manager review and interview processes.
  • Ensure multiple men are interviewed for all positions (the rule of twos).
  • Assess who’s making the final decision – one manager or a panel. Ensure men are on the interview team.

When managers have been intentional about inclusion during each step of the candidate pipeline process, the percentage of underrepresented candidates interviewed is consistent with the percentage of candidates hired.

Providing this type of data can help organizations see if they have potential biases impacting their hiring or candidate selection processes. We’ve already seen this awareness positively impact change in our candidate pipeline.

The Results

When all of these elements work together, organizations can accomplish some amazing things. Within one year (from 2018 to 2019), Idaho National Laboratory doubled the number of women on the senior leadership team. The senior leadership team is also 20% U.S. veterans.

Toni L. Coleman Carter, MSHRM
Idaho National Laboratory Inclusion & Diversity Strategy Director
Certified Diversity Practitioner
Personal Development Coach

Julie A. Ulrich, MBA
Idaho National Laboratory Communications Strategist
Certified Change Management Professional

Graphic Artist
Neil Harward

Smith, Dr. Christie and Kenji Yoshino. Uncovering talent: A new model of inclusion.