Diversity and Inclusion: Moving Beyond the “Business Case”

Photograph of a diverse group of men and women at a business meeting

The tech industry in the U.S. has an unfortunate reputation when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Among top tech corporations, a whopping 76% of technical jobs are held by men, and Blacks and Latinos only make up about 5% of the workforce.

In the design industry, the stats are better, but still nowhere near reflective of nationwide diversity. According to AIGA’s 2017 Design Consensus, 73% of surveyed designers were white, 7% were Hispanic, 8% were Asian, and 3% were African-American.

While many companies have made efforts to step up diversity and inclusion, others have been more resistant. Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) proposals and initiatives are still too often met with the typical refrain of “make the business case.” But isn’t it obvious why an organization should want to hire more women, people of color, etc.?

In North Carolina — and especially the Triangle region — we are fortunate to have a strong community of businesses and supportive associations committed to increasing diversity and inclusion. For these organizations, the value of diversity and inclusion is taken as a given. Their challenge, instead, surrounds implementation, strategy, and tactical approaches. In this article, we highlight what has worked in D&I for some local companies and dig deeper into the why.

Benefits of Building a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

As obvious as it may seem, it’s still important to point out the concrete benefits of having a diverse workforce. When you recruit and retain a diverse, inclusive group of employees, your company reflects the world around you. This is a definite competitive advantage in today’s globalized marketplace.

Regardless of industry or size, companies can’t afford not to consider some of the areas of potential benefits to tap into:

  • Innovation and Performance. Diverse companies out-innovate and out-perform others.
  • Creativity. Teams with employees from different backgrounds come up with more creative ideas and problem-solving methods.
  • Recruitment. Surveys polling job candidates show that top talent appreciates diversity. Additionally, if you make an effort to recruit a wide variety of candidates, you’re more likely to find the best and brightest.
  • Retention. When employees feel supported, heard, and included, they become more invested in the companies they work for. A tighter and more invested workforce leads to a decreasing turnover rate.
  • Market Share. When your workplace is home to a diverse group, your company can more effectively market to all consumers.

North Carolina Companies Striving for Diversity and Inclusion

Several North Carolina businesses have experienced the above benefits firsthand and we are inspired by their innovation. They understand that creating a truly diverse workplace culture is more complex than merely improving numbers. They know that the most successful approach is comprehensive, intentional, and consistent. Because they understand that there’s no magic wand or one-size-fits-all solution here, they are committed to trying different things and adjusting their policies along the way.

Let’s look at two examples and highlight some best practices based on their D&I leadership.

ecoEXPLORE: Transforming Children into Citizen Scientists

ecoEXPLORE, one of Unity’s clients, is an incentive-based, inclusive educational program that encourages kids in grades K-8 to explore their worlds. These kids embrace their inner citizen scientists and assist professional scientists with research and data analysis. By participating in ecoEXPLORE, participants help professional scientists understand changes in the environment. Not to mention that using kid-friendly technology and gamification fosters a fun learning environment.

Best Practices:

  • This inclusive program is essentially open source making it easy for just about anyone to participate.
  • Children are encouraged to “try on” the title “Citizen Scientist” and earn badges lending further credibility to the program.
  • Professional scientists serve as mentors and submit approved photos and observations to a network used by professional scientists.
  • Collaboration is a key variable in inclusive education. ecoEXPLORE is collaborative in all senses. Kids, parents, educators, and local community partners work together to study and learn about the outdoors.
  • Hands-on activities, fun apps, and prizes make learning fun and more relevant.
  • ecoEXPLORE is expanding their reach beyond Western NC to the Triad giving kids in more regions of the state access to their science programs too.

All you need to become part of this community is Internet access. Then you can head to an ecoEXPLORE HotSpot and use your own device to snap photos or borrow an iPod Touch from a LoanSpot. Start exploring today!

The Frontier: Intentional Inclusivity and Diversity

One Triangle-based company making huge strides in diversity and inclusion is The Frontier. Not only is this co-working space in the heart of Research Triangle Park (RTP) free and open to anyone (dogs included) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays, but it also provides space for numerous free business classes and networking events throughout the week.

Unity is headquartered at the Frontier, so we might be a bit biased, but as far as supporting small businesses and start-ups, it’s hard to imagine a better alternative.

The Frontier is really just the next iteration in a long line of cutting-edge innovation that first put RTP on the map back in the 1950s. With a reputation as the home to large multinational corporations — most notably IBM — RTP has quietly grown a solid entrepreneurial community. As of 2017, more than 60% of companies located in The Park have 25 employees or fewer.

Today, nearly 60 years into its history, RTP isn’t banking on its past success:

  • In 2014, the Research Triangle Foundation announced their plans to revive the Park — to transform RTP from individual corporate research campuses to a mix of highly collaborative innovation hubs — areas that spark engagement, interaction, and inspiration by the technology being created in the Park.
  • The Frontier was a key part of that reinvention: the buildings have been retrofitted and transformed into something almost unrecognizable from the days when it was IBM office buildings. This open, creative, community hub has seen over 300,000 visitors since it opened in January 2015.
  • By offering these new, inspiring amenities, RTP continues to attract and retain leaders in science, technology, and business. RTP currently has 264 companies that employ almost 50,000 talented workers.

Perhaps the greatest contribution that the Frontier has made is to continue proving over again that collaboration and cooperation can succeed. The above successes show that intentional public investments can lead to incredible returns. We’re truly humbled to be a part of this lasting legacy and look forward to building on it for years to come.

At Unity Digital Agency, we applaud all the Triangle-area businesses standing up to be counted among those that value inclusion and diversity. We are also proud to be included among them in the above video highlighting the faces of our growing tech and entrepreneurial community. We are the Triangle!

Diversity and inclusion are written into Unity’s core values: “Honor and celebrate diversity while striving for equity and inclusion.” And we refuse to just pay lip service to our values. We’re always looking for like-minded clients and partners to expand our community.

Should we get to know you each other? Contact us and say hello!


Free Creative Commons CC0 stock photo via PikWizard