In recent years, workplace diversity has become a hot topic with a growing number of businesses treating it as part of their cultural values. No wonder, as it’s been proven that it positively affects employee morale and company innovativeness.
But what is diversity in the workplace, really?
In this article, I’ll discuss the benefits of diversity in the workplace and share some tips on how to put it in place in your business.
What are the Types of Diversity
Workplace diversity is an important topic, yet also a complex one. There are many types of diversity. Let’s take a look at them now.
Internal diversity is what makes us unique, it’s something we’re born with – you can say it’s a given. It includes:
sexual orientation, etc.
You get the idea, right?
All of the above are personal factors. But if you think of it, they’re directly linked to the 30 rights described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If we wanted to apply them to the workplace, it would mean that no employee should be subject to any discrimination or unconscious bias related to their characteristics.
One of the companies that is a strong supporter of internal diversity is Accenture. They treat it as a source of innovation, creativity, and competitive advantage, and quite rightly so (we talk about it in more detail further below)! Accenture has been one of the first firms to share data on their workforce demographics and progress toward achieving their internal diversity goals. Some might call it risky, because they disclose internal information and have set the bar high for themselves. After all, they must seek to improve (or at least maintain) these diversity metrics year over year. But, all in all, such an approach certainly pays off!
External diversity unlike the internal one is something we have an impact on. It’s also prone to change depending on our life circumstances, for instance, when we become parents. It includes education, religion, personal traits, family status, etc. A great example of cherishing external diversity is hiring individuals who have a criminal past, served time in prison, or who are military veterans and suffer from PTSD.
As you might have already guessed, organizational diversity is about the differences you can find within a company. It's about all the characteristics that make one person different from others:
their job title,
and how they influence the organization.
You’ve noticed that a lot of companies like to call themselves diverse. But how do you tell if they’re not trying to jump the bandwagon?
The most important sign is when they make sure to fill each department with people from various backgrounds. This means not only hiring but also retaining diverse employees.
Lenovo is a great example of what organizational diversity looks like in the works.
When you visit the company’s website, you’ll see that their “Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging” program is an important part of their overall sustainability efforts. They go bold by stating on their website that “diversity is one of their biggest strengths”. They also say that they care about fostering a common sense of belonging and acceptance.
This has been a mission for the company for a long time. All the way back in 2018, they received the perfect 100 points in their Corporate Equality Index. It rates LGBTQ policies and practices. They also run an entire office for Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), which tracks progress on their diversity metrics. If they spot any issues like a gender gap, they ring alarm bells among the C-suite and discuss how they can tackle them.
As of 2022, the company hires in over 60 countries. There are also 20 nationalities represented in their top 100 executives.
World View Diversity
Finally, there’s world view diversity. It’s no coincidence that I’ve decided to mention it last, as it’s a mix of the three other types above.
It’s also the most ‘tricky’ one to track, because how we see the world is hard to break down into factors. Plus, it’s the type that changes over time, as we live and experience new things in life. Some examples include our moral beliefs (for example, impacted by religion) and our political outlook. When it comes to work, as you can imagine, when you spend 40 hours or so as part of a diverse crowd, you interact with all sorts of perspectives!
So, what are the telltale signs that we’re looking at an organization that cares about world view diversity? Some of them include:
Celebrating various holidays (so, for example, if a company is based in a primarily Christian country, acknowledging holidays like Holi among Hinduists or Eid Al-Fitr among Muslims)
Providing “quiet rooms” for those who’d like to pray or meditate during the workday
Diversity awareness training (J&J’s Diversity University is a great example!)
Making sure that the organization doesn’t discriminate against anyone’s choice of clothing or appearance.
Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace
Now that I’ve discussed “what is diversity in the workplace” and its types, let’s review why it pays off for businesses.
Larger Talent Pool
If you’re open to recruiting candidates from various backgrounds, right away you get access to a larger talent pool. You also boost your chances of finding A-players. There are skilled people all over the world. Limiting yourself to one specific location, ethnicity, or gender can harm your business.
Most importantly, job seekers prefer to work for companies that value diversity in the workplace. Glassdoor discovered that 76% of people treat it as an important factor while choosing their next employer. They see it as a guarantee of acceptance, collaboration, and growth. Businesses are aware of this trend. 65% of companies surveyed by Forbes already have programs in place, which help them recruit a diverse workforce.
Do you know what happens when you bring together people from various backgrounds, with different perspectives? They start to exchange ideas and experiences, which leads to more innovation. It’s proven by research. Josh Bersin says that brands, which rank as more inclusive tend to be 1.7 times more likely to be innovative leaders, and 1.8 times more likely to be ready for change. BCG agrees – when you look at the graph below, you’ll be able to see that more diverse leadership teams generate higher revenue from innovation than those with a lower diversity score.
One of the benefits of diversity in the workplace is improved performance. McKinsey & Company has been keeping a close eye on the relationship between workplace diversity and performance for quite a while now. They have been putting out a report on it every couple of years since 2014. In 2020, they published a piece that proved that ethnic and gender diversity in upper management does make a difference year over year.
I’d hate to overwhelm you with numbers, so here are just a few to give you a sense of how workplace diversity pays off:
When it comes to gender… Companies in the top 25% of gender-diverse companies were 25% as likely to bring in above-average profits than workplace diversity laggards. This went up from 21% in 2017 and just 15% in 2014.
When it comes to ethnic and cultural diversity… In 2019, the top-quartile companies (i.e., those that were the most culturally and ethnically diverse) outperformed the least diverse organizations by 36% (!) in generating profit. This went up from 33% in 2017 and 35% in 2014.
We’re yet to see the numbers for 2020-22, but they sure look promising.
Source: McKinsey & Company
Higher Customer Satisfaction
It makes sense that there’s a connection between workplace diversity and customer satisfaction, doesn’t it? If your employees come from various backgrounds, they’re likely to have a more compassionate view of the world. This means that they’ll approach opinions or requests from clients with an open mind and contribute to a great customer experience.
For example, let’s assume you sell smartwatches and that a third of your support team are 50 years old or up. If there’s a Baby Boomer calling you for help with setting up their device, then one of your older representatives can step in, as they will better understand the struggles of their elderly users.
And if you have a diverse product design team, they will build more accessible and inclusive products. They’ll simply come up with more diverse ideas as early as in the brainstorming/ideation stage.
Finally, people simply want to work for more diverse businesses, period. A Deloitte study has revealed that as many as 83% of Millennials feel more engaged in their work if they feel that their company is inclusive. And as many as 60% will stand up for diversity if you don’t offer it!
You already know that workplace diversity attracts more talent, leads to more innovation, and improves performance and productivity. If you add it all up, you won’t be surprised to learn that it also has a positive impact on revenue generation. Credit Suisse did a study, which included 27,000 senior managers from over 3,000 companies. Guess what they discovered? Businesses where half of the decision-making roles were held by females, had 10% higher cash flow returns on investment.
While each company is different, I’ve listed some of the most common issues with introducing diversity in the workplace.
Implementing Diversity Programs
If you want to promote and nourish diversity in the workplace, it’s worth introducing a diversity program. Katerina Bezrukova, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo’s School of Management, says that such initiatives are a great way to reduce bias and prejudice within organizations. How so? They encourage employees to work more collaboratively and positively impact interpersonal skills. Thanks to diversity programs employees who are underrepresented feel more valued and empowered. Unfortunately, introducing D&I programs can be challenging due to people’s resistance, lack of leadership buy-in, no consistency, and wrong implementation. This leads to the next point.
Creating a diversity program is just half of success. The remaining part? You need to make sure your staff actually lives by the book. This brings me to one specific element of your program – practical training like workshops.
Penn State nicely sums this up by mentioning the three pillars of successful team training:
Balancing out theory and “active understanding” of the topics covered in the training
Focusing your workshops on shifting perspectives, i.e., showcasing to employees how others on the team might be feeling
Scheduling a special reflection session after the practical training to discuss what they’ve learned and how it has shifted their perspectives.
You will also need to measure the long-term effects. I highly recommend collecting training feedback right after it ends so that you can learn about how to improve future sessions. But it doesn’t end there. You must also run diversity audits continuously across each trained team to check if the training was effective and spot any diversity issues that should be addressed in the next workshop. All this is certainly time-consuming, but it’s also essential.
When it comes to workplace diversity, bias is your number one enemy. Its worst kind is unconscious prejudice, as it’s not ‘just’ hard to win against it. It’s also difficult to spot in the first place.
It is most often a result of your employee’s upbringing (so, subconscious beliefs) as well as their experiences as an adult. A good example of gender-related bias is someone expressing their surprise with the fact that their car mechanic is, in fact, a woman. In essence, it’s assuming that some jobs are reserved for men or women only. Another example is a work colleague twice your age assuming that you’re about to apologize for a situation when in reality you’re about to defend your stance and back it up with evidence. I’m sure you get the idea here.
The inconvenient truth? Unconscious bias can be found not only in your employees’ behavior but also in your processes and/or software. Particularly, if you’re using legacy systems that might have been created by biased staff. For example, your recruitment templates might mention that a candidate needs to be a certain age, or convey such a message between the lines by using a tone of voice that scares off elder applicants.
Combating Internal Resistance
Believe it or not, but even companies that win diversity awards sometimes face problems with resistance and disengagement, which limit their efforts to create workplace diversity. It’s impossible to please everyone, and leaders must be aware of that. Still, it’s their responsibility to build organizations where all employees, irrespective of their background, feel safe and welcome.
There will always be situations where some people will feel excluded or discriminated against. For example, when white men complain about being unable to progress in their careers due to favoring individuals who are part of underrepresented groups. All employees should have access to equal opportunities, and be promoted based on their achievements and skillset, not on their background. So if a group of employees feels like they are there simply to fill a quota, the promise of inclusion becomes an illusion.
Managing Workplace Diversity
The important question remains – how to achieve workplace diversity? I will tackle this issue now.
Foster Open Communication
Without teaching your team how to communicate respectfully, your diversity & inclusion values will be just that – words on a screen or company pinboard.
Some resources forget to mention this, so I’ll say it – ‘effective communication’ isn’t just about being a clear speaker. It’s also about being an active, open-minded listener.
So, for starters, instruct your staff to use jargon-free words and keep their communication concise. Let’s say someone on your tech team wants to explain to a customer support agent why their client is experiencing a technical issue. They should do so without using terms or abbreviations clear to subject matter experts only.
It’s also about respecting others’ body language and considering how it can be affected by their world view, personality, and culture. Creating an environment where people don’t feel judged – particularly if they belong to a minority – is key.
Maintain Set Standards
We all hate double standards, don’t we? So, make sure that your entire organization follows the very same ones, across all departments. There should be no special treatment, for example, turning a blind eye to someone’s misogynistic behavior just because they bring in a lot of money to the company.
When you think of what your standards should be like, you can consider the approach by ISO, the world’s most renowned international organization for standardization. They are currently working on a sustainability program known as ISO Gender Action Plan (set to launch in 2025). While it’s still in the works, you can already take a peek into some of the standards that will be part of the program – for instance, ISO 30415, Human resource management – Diversity and inclusion.
Encourage Staff to Work in Diverse Groups
When I worked in the UK, what I liked the most about it was being surrounded by people from different countries and of various ethnicities. There was so much we could learn from each other! If you strive for diversity in the workplace, then try to set up your teams and projects in a way to bring together employees from various backgrounds. They’ll be able to exchange ideas and share perspectives, which will lead to more innovation and better business results. They will also be able to learn more about themselves and their experiences both professional and personal. Hopefully, this will result in more openness and tolerance for one another.
Get Creative When Hiring
If you want a diverse workplace, then you need to put more effort into recruiting. Get creative, and don’t limit yourself to the same sources over and over again. If you’d like to have more females on board, then you can look into online and offline groups focused on women in technology. You can also consider using:
Blind resumes – you black out any personal information from CVs, including names, date of birth, education, etc. This will help you remove bias, and focus on candidates’ skills rather than their background.
Blind interviews – similar to blind resumes. Instead of interviewing your candidates in person, you can send out text-based questions and ask them to answer anonymously without providing personal information.
The more creative you get in your hiring process, the higher your chances of finding diverse candidates.
After giving this piece a read, I’m sure you can tell that workplace diversity is a way forward. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the key here is to ensure your diversity & inclusion principles are actually put into practice, and this means:
Running an audit of your current hiring and team management processes and scanning them for bias (both conscious and unconscious)
Including diversity workshops as part of your training
Encouraging open, respectful communication
Ensuring that your hiring process is as free from bias as possible. This can be done by finding new sources for recruiting candidates and introducing blind resumes and interviews.
To make sure that you’re building a diverse team, it’s worth looking into a platform like MVP Match, which brings some of the world’s top tech & design talent. Not only does our community feature talent of various skillsets, but also numerous backgrounds.
Take a look to see if we’re a good fit!