There are two words that continuously resurface in every work arena today: equality and diversity. Finally, women’s equality in the workplace is at the forefront of public debate. I want to focus on the latter, the great value of diversity in the workplace.
Diversity is about gender too of course, but it’s the inclusion of different cultures, ethnicities and religions that yield the greatest opportunities in the globalisation of industry. Understanding and appreciating these differences, in addition to education backgrounds, sexual orientations and age, is one of the most important emerging leadership competencies.
Only 1 in 16 of current FTSE 100 board members is from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background[i] and only 1 in 15 people from an ethnic minority background are in a management position.[ii] Yet these ethnic minorities make up over 14% of the greater population[iii]. Why is this group so underrepresented in influential positions? Simply put, there are less opportunities for exposure and recruitment into the greater business markets for minority candidates.
The difficulties of change
The affirmative action movement in America, that helped minority youth gain equal access to their white counterparts, is seen by some as controversial and divisive. However, without affirmative action, access to education and opportunity for talented, young, non-white kids are incredibly limited. Even with so-called “equal opportunity”, there is a struggle for people of colour to reach the higher echelons of education and industry.
Arguably, this is more evident in the UK. While the dynamics of race relations here are different from those in the States, equal opportunity for people of colour in this country is deeply rooted in the structures of education and industry. Traditional hierarchical businesses find it more difficult to implement innovative, diverse change. As a culture, the British are averse to confrontation and transformation. It is human nature to gravitate towards like people; however, in a global environment, diversity is crucial to the strength and success of any industry on a domestic or international level.
What are the benefits of a diverse workforce?
Fortunately, forward-thinking industry leaders recognise the importance of having a diverse team. When managed properly, cultural diversity can provide an organisation with competitive cost advantages and makes good business sense. LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2018 pinpointed diversity as “the biggest game-changer and most embraced trend with over half of companies are already tackling it head-on.” Far from being a mere box-ticking exercise, the same report revealed that while 78% of companies prioritise diversity to improve culture, 62% do so to improve company performance, and 49% say it is to better represent their customers.
Diversity can also improve creativity and productivity among staff and cultivate a culture that’s genuinely open to new ideas. Diverse teams with different genders and age were found to be 87% more effective in making decisions than individuals. Meanwhile, in research published by Harvard Business Review, it was revealed that it isn’t diversity itself but the cognitive diversity of a team that’s important – a team that has different ways of thinking will solve a problem faster than a team of cognitively similar people. An environment that encourages this diversity in thinking is crucial as researchers noted: “people like to fit in, so they are cautious about sticking their necks out. When we have a strong, homogeneous culture, we stifle the natural cognitive diversity in groups through the pressure to conform.”
In addition, by embracing a policy of inclusion the business in a better position to attract the best personnel. The sense of “belonging” said LinkedIn’s report “allows employees to be their best selves at work. Even at the most diverse of companies, employees will disengage and leave if they don’t feel included and accepted.”
A diversity recruitment toolkit
– Train interviewers in recognising “affinity bias” – the tendency to be drawn to people like ourselves.
– Obscure names on CVs or use software such as Talent Sonar that hides candidates’ personal details to avoid unconscious preconceptions.
– Use the connections of minority employees you already have to widen your recruitment pool. Ask them to post the job on social media or make a referral.
– Once you have a diverse workforce, build on this by profiling diverse employees in recruitment materials, job interviews and on the company website.
Diversity in action
Diversification comes with challenges and friction, but proactive recruitment is necessary as well as diversity training for leaders. The pros outweigh the cons. Organisations should view it as an opportunity rather than a limitation. Strong stakeholder leaders are leveraging cultural differences to gain fresh perspectives, recognise the value of diverse opinions, help others appreciate the value of diversity in building a cohesive, successful global business. By encouraging cross-cultural communication and employing diversity training within a company, workplace diversity will inevitably lead to mutual respect among all employees.
Change is inevitable, so enlightened stakeholder leaders should embrace it and encourage their teams to engage and contribute to building a strong foundation for cultural change at work.
Driving engagement to a diversity vision
Winning the hearts and minds of employees in a company’s diversity and inclusion programme is the first step to its success. A supportive and inclusive work environment will reinforce the company vision and improve employee retention and productivity. Research[iv] shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to do better than their contemporaries, and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to achieve the same. Other tips to success are to:
– Bolster the role diversity and inclusion plays in company performance and purpose
– Do this with inclusion and diversity training and internal communications. Reinforce with video content, employee profiles and guest speakers.
– Illustrate how diversity of thought within the company can lead to innovation and, if appropriate, a better understanding of the consumer.
[i] Diversity UK
[ii] RfO Race to the Top research
[iii] Office of National Statistics
[iv] McKinsey&Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters