The term diversity is not always well understood. Especially not in the context of the workplace. So, what does it mean? And maybe even more important, how do we increase diversity in the workplace?
‘Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.’
Stephen R. Covey
There’s probably no need for me to introduce you to Stephen Covey. This is one of the quotes he’s well-known for.
But have you ever asked yourself how you understand it? To me, it refers to the power of diversity.
What it says is that a group of people who are widely different have a much better chance of solving a problem than a group of like-minded people with similar background.
Most of us would agree with the statement when we see it in a generic, non-committal context.
But how do we respond to diversity in the workplace?
What is diversity?
Let’s be honest…there’s a lot to do about diversity.
But the term is not always that well understood.
Diversity in plain English means what makes us different from each other, and also appreciating those differences. Considering none of us is identical to anybody else, our diversity is truly unlimited, and it goes well beyond sex and race.
We differ from each other in gender identity, country of origin, personality, cultural background, (dis)ability, language, religion, accent, ethnicity, status of citizenship, education, family and upbringing, thoughts and believes, sexual orientation, income, talent, socioeconomic status, life experiences,…
You get it. It’s a very broad concept.
Diversity makes the world a rich and fascinating place. It’s the spice of life.
(For good measure: diversity is not the same as equality. Equality means treating everybody equally, no matter how different they are. )
But what does that mean when you apply it to the workplace?
For a while, diversity in the workplace was seen as hiring a diverse range of people, outside of what we would consider the ‘white boys club’.
But if that’s where it stops, it’s nothing but a ‘symbolic tick in the box’. It makes it the hiring fad it was taken for. And it’s without a doubt the root-cause of why some studies found that people hired because they were diverse were seen as ‘less qualified’ in some workplaces.
To TRULY embrace diversity, you need inclusion. These days, employers are expected to make sure the people they hire are treated equally, get equal opportunities, receive equal compensation.
And to be absolutely clear, diversity DOES NOT mean that under-represented groups receive ‘special treatment’. That misses the whole point of diversity and equality. It means that EVERYBODY is equally valued and included, no exceptions.
Why is diversity in the workplace important?
Because it’s good for business. (Also, it’s the right thing to do.)
We mentioned earlier that the fact that we’re all so different is what makes the world a rich and interesting place.
Interestingly enough, when we ONLY allow ourselves to come in to contact with people who are very similar to us, ‘different’ becomes a ‘scary/intimidating/weird/undesired’ thing. On the other hand, when we expose ourselves to people from a diverse background, we gain perspective, insight, and understanding.
And that not only improves well-being. It also benefits the workplace itself.
See, increased understanding goes well beyond reduced guardedness and clique-culture.
When you work in an environment that genuinely celebrates unique-ness, employees feel valued in their own unique qualities and talents. I don’t need to explain what it would do to employee engagement, employee turnover, company reputation, and the recruitment process. I mean, who wouldn’t like to work for a company that celebrates you for who you are what you bring to the table?
(Side note: Did you know that according to Deloitte, diversity to Millennials and Gen-Z is just as important as their environmental concerns? )
Add to this that a workplace that embraces diversity becomes exposed to a whole range of new ideas and viewpoints. Imagine what it can do to creativity and innovation!? And we haven’t even started talking about the boost in skills, talents, experiences.
All of this trickles down to increased productivity and, ultimately, profit.
And in case you’re in doubt, there are plenty of studies to back it up too.
Tips to encourage diversity in the workplace
So, if that is the case, what can we do to increase diversity in the workplace?
Look at the hiring process (but don’t stop there!)
Hiring a diverse workforce requires open-mindedness. Your own experience, education or background is unlikely to be the only valuable one. So ditch the ‘right fit’ approach and put together a diverse recruitment panel to help overcome bias.
It All Starts From The Top
New Zealand companies that use merit-based processes for performance, pay and promotion are considered more inclusive than those without. Also, organisations where leaders hold others to account when the lines of inclusivity are crossed perform better.
Introduce Diverse Referrals
If increasing diversity is on the company wish list, your current (diverse) employees are probably a great place to start the search. They may know somebody? And if they don’t, they’ll likely be able to tell you where is a good place to advertise.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Everything starts and ends with the quality of communication. If you want to overcome diversity challenges, ask yourself if you need to translate important information like company emails, policies, and safety charts in other languages.
But beyond that, are these communications culturally appropriate?
Work In Diverse Groups
The best way to deal with preconceived ideas and bias is to create diverse workgroups. As we mentioned earlier, the more you expose people to ‘different’ the less likely you’ll have to deal with bias and misunderstanding.
Diverse Company Policies
Unless you walk the talk, diversity in your organisation is nothing more than lip-service. And as we mention earlier, that has the potential to cause more damage than do good. So, if you’re serious about diversity, company policies will need a thorough review. It’s unavoidable.
We’re human. And we’re definitely not meant to know it all, but unless we educate ourself, we won’t overcome diversity challenges. It applies not only to us either. It applies to the entire organisation.
Keen to improve diversity in the workplace, but not sure where to start? Look into the Diversity Training programs that are available in Aotearoa.
Back to our question:
What’s the status of diversity in the workplace?
Let’s say it’s a work in progress. But if we keep talking about raising awareness, working on it, reminding each other, slowly getting better… we will get somewhere, eventually.