Workplace diversity has been somewhat of a buzzword since the 1980s.
It is often a vague way to describe differences between employees and, far too often, represented by a stock image of people from different backgrounds, smiling and working together as a team.
Fortunately, social progress and globalisation have moved diversity from an abstract idea into reality – with evidence suggesting that there are tangible benefits to a diverse workforce – both within the organisation and as a competitive advantage.
We can define diversity as the differences among people due to age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, education, experience, physical appearance, capabilities/disabilities, and any other characteristic that is used to distinguish between people.
As a result, a diverse workforce is one that represents the broad spectrum of these characteristics and managing this diversity has become a global concern.
Forbes releases a list of the ten most diverse companies each year, using their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) index. Accenture topped its most recently released list due to the gender and cultural diversity of the company’s board, the number of women in their global workforce and the number of females the company hires.
It is clear that diversity and inclusion is perceived as a key factor to organisational success – but what are the actual benefits of diversity within a team?
Empathy & Engagement
Diversity helps emphasise the appreciation of differences – where we are exposed to others’ realities and experiences and become aware of unconscious biases that we might have held.
It is good to consider the emotional transformation that occurs when individuals participate in diversity initiatives, take part in awareness exercises and fully embrace diversity and inclusion in their workplace.
Becoming aware of what you don’t know can be emotionally liberating – and have effects that extend into our family and personal relationships.
In terms of employee engagement, our surveys suggest that when an organisation embraces diversity and inclusion, employees feel a greater sense of belonging, feel more valued and respected by the team, and can perform their job functions better – resulting in better outcomes for both employees and the business itself.
One little-discussed benefit of a diverse workforce is that, in reflecting societal differences in the real world, diversity is helping to bring them closer to their customers. Having team members from different backgrounds allow a variety of different perspectives and business ideas that might not otherwise emerge.
Creativity and innovation are likely to emerge from a workplace that encourages diversity, with the connection demonstrated in companies such as Rockwell Automation, which was able to increase women in leadership roles substantially and involve male employees in playing a key role in defining the culture.
Their business leader Grant M. Yoshihara explained ‘Diversity is not just based on what someone looks or sounds like, but by what someone has experienced. These elements manifest themselves as diversity of thought.’
Clarity on Values
Having a diverse workforce allows leadership to be intentional in its values and goals, with ongoing conversations about how to promote inclusion and diversity within the company and also within the community.
Our research consistently reinforces millennials are interested in their workplace’s corporate social responsibility, and the promotion and celebration of diversity is likely to attract strong talent.
Being able to showcase diversity as one of the organisation’s strengths has seen companies such as Facebook and Google publishing annual D&I reports that are circulated outside the company.
The next step for many organisations, including those behind on their D&I efforts and even those leading the way, is to consider how they can continually make their workplaces more diverse and inclusive.
Accenture’s Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer Ellyn Shook provides the following advice: “It’s important to start with leaders so they understand the business opportunity that’s possible when you have a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment that fosters a true sense of belonging.”. Employees who witness inclusive behaviours are more likely to engage in them themselves, especially if they are demonstrated consistently by their leaders.
What benefits have you seen from a diverse workforce? How has your company approached building a more diverse and inclusive team? Please feel free to leave comments below.