Companies hoping to create a working environment that celebrates diversity and inclusion might turn for inspiration to a somewhat unlikely but unquestionably cool place: Égalité Charity Drag Pageant, the annual drag queen contest at Publicis Groupe.

Launched by the company’s employee LGBTQ group Égalité, the event doubles as a fundraiser for LGBTQ charities and as a vehicle through which the company can show its support for LGBTQ employees. In the three years since its inception, the contest has become “the hottest ticket in town,” according to Publicis Health’s global chief talent officer Shannon Boyle, a self-styled “celebrity judge.” The fourth pageant is scheduled for June 13.

“It’s something that everyone can participate in,” Boyle says. “You can show your support, have a great evening and enjoy the diversity of this company — plus it’s for a good cause.”

The real question is why more organizations aren’t creating events such as this. Companies in all facets of healthcare are on the record with their belief that having a diverse workforce leads to more successful client work, while research from outside the industry has repeatedly found that more diverse/inclusive companies earn more in revenue. The reason is simple: With populations shifting, clients want their advertising to reflect what the world looks like.

“It makes us all more aware of the world that we live in,” explains Tracey Cooper, a member of Ogilvy Health’s diversity council. “It makes our work better and smarter. We look at it like, ‘These are things that we should have already been doing, because this is the way the world looks now.’ Our work can begin to reflect that.”

An inclusive environment also frees up energy for employees from different backgrounds, Boyle says, because they don’t have to focus on fitting in or trying to act like everyone else. “People spend time and energy and effort covering up who they are, and it’s not sustainable,” she explains. “If you’re hiding something, then you are not expending energy on the work product. That’s a bottom-line reason that it’s connected to the quality of work and productivity.”

Here are nine concrete steps you and your firm can take to start to create a more diverse and inclusive environment.

Égalité Charity Drag Pageant at Publicis Groupe
The Égalité Charity Drag Pageant at Publicis Groupe doubles as a fundraiser for LGBTQ charities and a vehicle the company can use to show support for LGBTQ employees.

1. Conduct unconscious Bias Training

This helps people identify biases they don’t even realize they have and, in the process, provides a framework to overcome them in the future.

“It helps bring awareness so that we, as leaders, can be more mindful in all of the decisions that we make,” says McCann Health regional talent director Dawn Serra. She notes that all 40 of the company’s senior leaders were required to undergo unconscious-bias training in 2018. “When it comes to hiring or promoting and all of those things, we want to be sure that we are aware and can check those biases and make decisions that are fair,” Serra adds.

2. Use Surveys to Take the Workplace’s Pulse

Continuously asking employees how they feel about workplace issues remains as vital as ever. To that end, McCann Health’s annual employee survey asks staff about conscious inclusion and workplace respect. Serra says the company’s leaders can act on those survey results anonymously and, at least in theory, help underrepresented employees feel more comfortable about sharing their experiences.

3. Network, Network, Network

This largely comes in two forms: employee-created groups and programs that pair senior leaders with junior employees. The former type of group, such as Égalité, often serves as a collective spokesperson for people from different backgrounds. “Each group has its own board and broad reach and impact,” Boyle says.

The second type of in-house networking has taken on differing forms in recent years. For example, Ogilvy Health piloted a reverse-mentoring group where younger employees mentored those in senior roles. McCann Health leaders meet with staff in small groups or one-on-one conversations about diversity and inclusion.

Of course, better internal networking on its own isn’t a panacea. One potential snag occurs when employees don’t feel comfortable sharing their experience with their bosses. But the conversations help foster a culture of trust, according to Cooper.

“When you’re a leader and you have that type of opportunity, you want employees at whatever level to feel that it’s a safe zone,” she says. “You want them to know that they can come to you in a space of trust, that they’re going to be heard and that there’s going to be some action taken.”

4. Launch a Speaker Series

Ogilvy Health and McCann Health have both started a series of speaking engagements that function as a kind of TED talk around issues relating to D&I. “We want people to realize that you can learn from anywhere,” Serra notes. “Employment level or age doesn’t matter. There are things that we can learn from people who are junior to us.”

5. Increase D&I leaders’ visibility

Ogilvy Health created a D&I council headed by three senior leaders and staffed with representatives from many different backgrounds to weigh in on the current state of the workplace. “We’ve introduced ourselves and told people we are working on diversity and inclusion across different parts of the company. We’ve said, ‘Here are opportunities for you to get involved,’” Cooper says. “You need to say, ‘If there’s something that we’re missing, let us know.’ We’re creating an environment of change.”

6. Rethink Job Requirements and Descriptions

Hiring managers need to examine job descriptions for details that may inadvertently exclude people from different backgrounds. For example, when Publicis was struggling to attract women to its tech-focused roles, the company removed specific educational requirements from the job descriptions and saw a “vast” increase in female applicants.

“We think about every open role as an opportunity for change in the organization,” Boyle says. “Does someone really need a college degree for this position or do they just need translatable experience? Do they really need experience in the industry or will potential and grit get them just as far?”

7. Examine Health Insurance Offerings

Members of different communities have different needs when it comes to health coverage. For example, gay couples need different types of parental-leave policies. When Publicis Health asked for input from LGBTQ employees about its benefit plan, their response resulted in significant changes to the company’s policies. “We wanted it to reflect their perspective and the things that they’re solving for,” Boyle explains.

8. Cut Down on Employee Referrals

Serra warns companies hoping to do a better job at D&I to cut down on hiring from employee referrals. Given the homogeneity in professional  networks, the process of asking employees for referrals essentially asks them to recommend people like themselves. “If you’re hiring based on employee referrals — and their network is the same as them — and you’re only looking at that source for hires, then you’re not diversifying your source,” Serra explains. “You’re not going to change anything. You have to think differently.”

For entry-level hires, building relationships at colleges known for their diversity is a better option than simply parachuting in for career fairs. “For us, it’s about developing a long-lasting relationship with the student body at various institutions,” Boyle says. “We use our internship program in a very focused way to create connection for the long term. We call that our long play on talent.”

9. Form Community Partnerships

Working with organizations that educate, empower or support diverse communities can also help companies create a better culture of D&I. When Zeno Group partnered with the DuSable Museum of African American History during Black History Month, the educational sessions touched on the history of the Great Migration (during which 6 million African-Americans moved north) as well as Chicago’s race riots of 1919. The partnership ultimately led to Zeno doing pro bono work for the museum.