Tensions in the United States may be reaching a boiling point. Civil rights protests are shutting down traffic nationwide. Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's chief advisor, has been labeled a white supremacist by prominent figures in Washington, D.C. A wall between the United States and Mexico – once a fanciful campaign promise – is quickly becoming a reality. Millions of women and allies are hitting the streets in protest of legislative attempts to regulate reproductive rights.
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The list goes on and on, and none of the underlying issues appear to be going away any time soon.
But maybe it will all be okay – at least in the workplace. In a survey of an ethnically diverse set of college students conducted by global financial firm EY at the Discover EY conference, 97 percent of respondents said they were optimistic about diversity and inclusion in the workplace in the future.
"The diversity survey results from our Discover EY conference this year are indeed somewhat surprising, given the negative discourse on race relations surrounding the election," says Ken Bouyer, Americas director of inclusiveness recruiting for EY. "However, it is encouraging to see how optimistic the next generation of minority talent is about the future of diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace, particularly in professional services."
How to Get There From Here
It's up to businesses to realize the dream of workplace diversity for these up-and-coming students. Diverse workplaces don't happen on their own. They require corporate initiatives and partnerships to become realities.
"To build a robust talent pipeline, companies should engage with students from a young age, build relationships with faculty and administrators, and create campus-specific plans," says Bouyer. "They need to engage parents, guidance counselors, and any other influencers that might impact a decision on which career path to pursue, and [they need to] look for talent in different places."
Bouyer says a "multi-pronged strategy" is critical in this regard.
"Companies need to [make] a concerted effort ... to seek out various ways to source candidates," he says. "We look to engage with students from all backgrounds from a young age, even from middle- or high-school level, up through college and business school."
Establishing relationships with schools at multiple levels is a key first step to a diversity recruiting plan. Bouyer says EY invests in a number of outreach programs at various schools and colleges. In fact, it even has a dedicated team of "university relations professionals" who work with schools to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship between EY and these institutes of learning.
"This involves communicating our needs in terms of future talent, skills, and so on, and in turn we see if we can help through relationships with their business and accounting programs," Bouyer explains.
Bouyer also highlights EY's "Early ID" strategy, which involves giving high school and college students "value-added skills through resume workshops, skills seminars, and other programs to ensure that students are well-equipped to succeed once they enter the workforce."
Diversity Initiatives Don't Stop at Graduation
It's important to remember that diversity efforts don't end when a student graduates and an offer is made; they require continuous effort at all levels of the business.
"Companies should ensure that all processes are equitable and all employees are equipped and expected to team and lead inclusively," says Bouyer. "There should be equitable access to experiences and relationships – including mentors, sponsors, feedback, and leadership opportunities – which enable advancement and contribute to successful careers."
Bouyer says EY's competitive advantage depends on the company's ability to leverage the unique differences of its people – which can only happen when each team member is given equal access to resources and opportunities.
"To demonstrate their own commitment to diversity and inclusion, businesses should establish frameworks to deliberately foster an inclusive environment where differences, talent, and perspectives of all people are maximized to create the highest-performing teams," Bouyer adds. "We have seen that our diverse teams perform better and create more innovative solutions for our clients, which helps us to strengthen global and local communities."
A lack of empathy and understanding accounts for much of the tension developing in the United States today. Encouraging diversity in the workplace is one of the many important steps toward understanding between those who are racially or culturally different from one another. It may take a lot of time and effort, but in the end, a diverse workforce and the ideological melting pot that comes with it pays both metaphorical and literal dividends.