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Utah Business

Breaking Down Barriers to Inclusion

“I don’t think I will ever really feel like I belong here.”

“Let’s change that.”

One of the more significant issues facing many diverse professionals in Utah is perhaps the most intuitive: the feeling of not belonging. Companies must recognize and address the feeling of belonging as an important aspect of “inclusiveness” in order to both attract and retain diverse candidates. Listed below are four ideas for addressing inclusiveness head on:

1. Give Greater Weight to Alternative Experiences

Particularly in hiring and advancement decisions, give weight to a candidate’s or employee’s nontraditional experiences that align with the company’s business goals and might be indicative of the candidate’s long-term success. For example, consider how a continuing volunteer position in a local community group demonstrates a candidate’s focus, commitment, organizational skills, and ability to work in a fast-paced or sensitive environment. Similarly, consider these alternative experiences when making advancement or promotion decisions.

2. Develop Internal Mentoring Programs

Consider developing an internal mentoring program to encourage diverse candidates to develop stronger ties to the company and guide them toward success. For example, Holland & Hart LLP, the law firm I work for, instituted an internal mentoring program in 2018 that uses a customized matching software to pair mentors with mentees based on legal experience, areas of interest, and personal interests. These types of mentoring programs provide diverse employees with an opportunity to gain certain skills, connections, and practical tips that may not otherwise have been available to them. 

3. Be Clear About Expectations

Take an objective look at how the company’s expectations and general assumptions might affect employees from different backgrounds. For example, if you are directly or indirectly evaluating your employees based on certain unwritten expectations, consider having a supervisor or internal mentor take the time to address these expectations with all employees early on instead of assuming “everyone knows how to do this.” This practice incorrectly assumes everyone is the same and can negatively affect diversity retention, particularly if a diverse employee is overlooked for a bonus, raise, advancement, or other opportunity simply because “they didn’t know what they didn’t know.”

4. Encourage Diverse Employees to Join Industry Affinity Groups

Consider encouraging your diverse employees to join industry groups, write industry-specific articles, and seek professional development opportunities. Take the time to explain the benefits of becoming active in the greater industry and encourage community engagement. 

Ultimately, companies must remember that diverse candidates may not share the same experiences as non-diverse candidates, which is precisely the benefit of diversity—bringing a variety of ideas, perspectives, and approaches to addressing business challenges. To be truly inclusive and welcoming of diversity, companies must change their approach to ensure they are valuing diverse experiences that promote their business goals, encouraging employees to take a stake in both the company and the greater business industry, and taking the time to ensure that all employees have the tools to succeed and always feel they “fit in.”

Disclaimer: The statements made are provided for educational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views of Holland & Hart LLP or any of its attorneys other than the author. This publication is designed to provide general information and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Holland & Hart LLP.

Chelsea Davis, associate with Holland & Hart LLP, represents clients in complex commercial and environmental litigation matters.