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Illustrations by iStock; Security Management

How Managers Can Sustain Diverse and Inclusive Workplaces

These days, diversity is increasingly regarded as an essential component for creating a thriving workplace and for driving innovation, productivity, and competitiveness. The positive effects and benefits of sustaining a diverse and inclusive organizational culture are many, and they last for years. They include, but are not limited to, higher employee retention, an enhanced organizational reputation, and a workforce that generates a wider range of ideas and solutions.

Academic studies, as well as work conducted by recruiting and consulting companies, show that organizations that have implemented diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs usually increase their business performance compared with organizations that lack such programs. This finding is most marked in instances where the D&I strategy of the organization is aligned with the organization’s overall business strategy.

This alignment and the overall institutionalization of the D&I program can be sustained and greatly aided by security leaders. But to do so, security leaders must ensure that D&I practices are included in their security strategies as well as in all other programs that strive to provide added value to the organization.

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Inclusive Leadership

The role of a security leader, like the practice of management in general, is always evolving. Leadership in the 1990s differs from leadership today, and it will be different in various new ways 20 years from now.

Today’s inclusive leaders have courage, as well as strong interpersonal and collaborative skills. Their cultural intelligence is reflected by a mind-set open to perspectives different from their own. This mind-set allows them to create a rewarding work environment in which everyone’s voice is heard. They develop and unleash the strengths of all their employees, and this helps the organization get better business results.

Since many organizational structures are becoming flatter and more collaborative, inclusive leadership is considered a “future-proof” leadership practice. There is virtually no risk that inclusivity will become irrelevant in the future; instead, it will become more valuable over time, both in the security industry and the business world at large. The challenge for leaders is finding how to leverage their experience and insight to encourage this brighter future.

This may not come easy. Some argue that diverse organizations and workforces—especially those with employees from multiple generations—can be more complicated and difficult to manage. And generally, inclusive work cultures do not organically occur; they take effort, encouragement, and investment.

First, investing in both current and future leaders is essential for a diverse organization. Here, the human resource department plays a key role. HR leaders should consider endorsing customized training opportunities for different organizational leadership levels in order to cultivate attitudes and actions that support diversity and inclusion. Effective training helps self-reflective employees further develop new perspectives.

Even for the most open-minded leader, bias is an issue. Bias, whether unconscious or otherwise, is defined as an attitude or stereotype that affects comprehension, decisions, and attitudes in an implicit manner. Most people are not even aware that bias affects their judgment.

However, training and self-reflection may help leaders become aware of personal biases within themselves, as well as general bias that may exist within the organization. Both types of bias can hinder inclusivity implementation efforts in an organization.

When it comes to hiring, even well-intentioned security leaders might unwittingly make assumptions based on stereotypes and bias. To identify these cognitive barriers, leaders need to challenge themselves—or be challenged by their peers or teams—to find out why they make certain decisions. And to better understand the status quo of the security team, the manager should ask security employees how they feel about the workplace. By kicking off that conversation, the leader will be able to find out more about individual behavior and the team’s diversity culture.

Another way a leader can help mitigate bias is through strategic hiring processes. For example, hiring managers may decide to use gender-neutral job descriptions. An automated system may also be used that blinds out demographic characteristics in the résumé review process. In this way, the hiring decision will be based on predefined job criteria that are verified and supported by candidate data, effectively excluding demographic characteristics.

In addition, an applicant’s professional and educational background can be studied for evidence of diversity strengths—such as foreign language ability—that will help the firm build a multigenerational and multilingual security workforce. As an additional step, multiple interview feedback sources can be used to solicit different perspectives and outside views. It’s often good practice to establish an interview panel represented by various organizational stakeholders during the interview process, and to consider their unique perspectives when deciding on a candidate. Asking targeted questions about diversity experience during the interview process can also be key.

To help mitigate bias in decision making, security leaders should ask themselves and their teams if the decision being made is based on a tradition, preference, or requirement. In this way, managers can lead an effort to interrogate business practices and discover implicit factors that lie within them. Is there a pattern of favoritism that has been followed but is not discussed? Are some decisions made because of blind adherence to tradition? This type of reflection and discussion can be essential to breaking down any possible barriers to advancing an inclusive work culture.

Building a Diverse Team

Hiring the best possible talent is important for every security team and organization. In the last several years, there has been a war for talent, due in part to a low unemployment rate and tight labor market, and that has often held true for security. In addition, the security industry has a well-known cyber skills gap. For these and other reasons, the tight market for security talent is expected to continue in the near future.

Diversity can help overcome this labor shortfall by creating a workplace attractive to a talent pool that varies widely in background, age, gender, skill set, and life experience. Given this, new hiring opportunities offer a security manager the chance to create a diverse workforce with balanced and innovative teams, and to break away from the habit of drawing on the usual pool of similar candidates. For example, nonsecurity backgrounds such as IT, project management, business operations, and other functions may provide a great foundation on which security skills and knowledge can be built.

Another dimension new hires can be assessed on is cultural fit versus cultural add. For years, hiring managers have used the “Will they fit in with our company culture?” question as a key one in the hiring process. But another question can be just as vital: “Will they broaden our culture so that it becomes more attractive and welcoming to other new talent?” Cultural adds can also help drive targeted and purposeful innovation.

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Security job advertisements should reflect this openness and desire for diversity. In addition, the recruiting process can be shaped to limit unconscious bias. For example, to improve fairness and equality, managers may want to consider using blind hiring practices or a diverse interview panel. Of course, in these cases it is often advisable to seek direction from the HR department.

Whatever the hiring process, modern security leaders should invest time and effort in maintaining a proactive recruitment process that identifies promising candidates and reaches out to them, instead of waiting for them to apply. These efforts are made easier through professional networking, meaningful relationship building, leveraging social media, and bringing in younger, tech-savvy employees to assist with modernizing organizational processes. This approach has ancillary benefits—it helps put employees’ different strengths into action, resulting in an increased understanding of the evolving threat landscape and rapidly changing technologies.

Maintaining Inclusivity

Diversity, however, is not just about going out and hiring diverse people. It also requires making those employees feel included, retaining them, and providing them with opportunities to advance as their experience grows. With that in mind, security leaders should use a multipronged approach when implementing diversity programs aimed at identifying, developing, retaining, and advancing talent.

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A strong step toward achieving these goals can be made by maintaining a leadership communication practice that supports inclusivity. For example, security managers can foster transparency by communicating to all members of the team, not just selected ones. One of its primary goals should be to create an open two-way communication culture in which every opinion is valued.

To help achieve this goal, security leaders should embrace the uniqueness people bring to the table, and continually ask themselves what perspectives and voices have not yet been heard. Employees should always have the opportunity and space to present dissenting views or to challenge entrenched thinking without threat to their status or their sense of belonging.

In addition, a commitment to building a functional environment that is disability inclusive—and communicating that commitment throughout the organization—can be key to maintaining inclusivity.

For example, the organization’s human resources policy may state that the organization promotes equal opportunities and professional development for people with disabilities. Furthermore, organizational environments can be designed to be disability inclusive. Organization-sponsored programs can help jobseekers with disabilities learn more about career opportunities available within the firm.

Providing flexible work schedule options is another inviting step toward an inclusive workplace. Flexible scheduling options are especially appreciated by younger employees and those with long commutes. They can also help retain employees who have young children and want to maintain their career momentum without neglecting family. This is especially important in today’s environment, in which work and personal life are becoming increasingly interconnected.

Mentoring also supports inclusivity. Mentoring should be provided not only to new employees during onboarding, but also offered continually to all employees interested in furthering their careers. Ongoing mentoring support can boost employees’ confidence that they are valued by the organization, and it helps workers achieve their full potential. Furthermore, mentoring plays a key role in anticipating generational transition and knowledge transfer, while simultaneously helping security managers support employees’ efforts to leave their comfort zones and take responsibility for new and challenging tasks.

Security scholarships and internship opportunities offer another way to promote diversity and inclusion. These opportunities may allow underrepresented groups a chance to share their experiences and help prove their potential value to the wider security team and its services.

Finally, leading by example is crucial. Security leaders should either designate diversity champions or decide to become one themselves. As a champion, it is essential for the leader to be congruent in words and actions. They should be adept at promoting guest speakers, initiatives, and success stories across all management levels and functions to raise awareness of the organization’s rich diversity culture.

Culture is King

At the beginning of a value implementation initiative like a diversity program, there is often a tendency to try to quantify the organization’s diversity and then promise to improve it with the creation of a new diversity program. But a focus on a “new program” may be misguided. Some argue that that creating a separate diversity program only works if there are drivers and a dedicated sponsor, and many separate programs do not last long.

Instead, it is usually much better to integrate diversity into all organizational processes, so that an inclusive and diverse environment is created where employees can be their true selves, uniquely integrated into the organization. This type of integration should come from within the security department in question.

For example, let’s say one employee is making comments that could be reasonably perceived as offensive and possibly damaging to healthy workplace relationships. If trained in conflict resolution and adept at team coaching, security managers can often steer these conversations into a better and more inclusive direction.

Furthermore, inclusive managers can focus on proactively creating an environment in which problematic conversations are less likely to happen. One way is to help team members with cultural, educational, or other differences to collaborate and work on projects in groups that generate cross-cultural competence.

Scheduling recreational activities or fun interactions outside of work can also encourage communication and healthy relationship building that sustains an inclusive culture. Different individuals are motivated by different things, so managers should also pay attention to what individual team members value and adapt their management style accordingly to motivate and engage different kinds of employees.

For example, while some employees might be motivated by security leaders who use participative leadership techniques such as providing employees increased decision-making opportunities, others prefer a solely autocratic leadership approach that provides clear orders.

Still others might be motivated by a teambuilding focus, such as joint lunch and learning events for the entire security team.

This type of focus has become a productive way of doing business for organizations whose leaders realize that culture remains the key element for maintaining diversity and inclusion. A firm may aim to hire for diversity, but it still must be careful that its culture does not continue to promote and reward conformity.

At first, the changes that come with diversity and inclusion can be overwhelming for security managers. However, as understanding of the different dimensions of diversity builds, more stakeholders will realize that making a security function more diverse also makes it more resilient and better able to respond to uncertainty.

Of course, embedding diversity into an organization’s culture, operations, and processes does not happen overnight. Better to see it as a journey on a path towards sustainable and future-proof organizational structures, requiring time and patience. Security leaders should take the challenges and adjustments step by step, and lead by example to shape the organizational culture, which will prove strategically beneficial for employees, management, stakeholders, and investors.

Alexander T. Zippel, CPP, is a senior security expert with a strong background in business management. Prior to joining Deutsche Post DHL Group, he was responsible for international security management at a subsidiary of Total S.A. Group. His professional experience includes multiple years advising organizations on security, business continuity, and strategic risk management.

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