We’ve talked a lot about diversity in the past. But what we’ve neglected to do is explain why organizations should prioritize D&I in their workforce strategy. In this article, Chloe Mumford explains what it takes to be a progressive employer in the new era of work.

It’s a hot topic that’s got even hotter

The topic of diversity and inclusion has been a hot topic for many years, but now there seems to be more pressure on organizations to prioritize it. One reason for this is the changing demographic: The Millennial and Gen Z generations are the most diverse in history. Of these generations, 56% of the 87 million millennials in the country are white, compared to 72% of the 76 million members of the baby boomer generation. Put bluntly, younger generations are more diverse, giving some organizations cause to reflect on their approach to the topic.

John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future”. The landscape of D&I has changed, and organizations will learn little from looking at their past behaviors.

A second factor is the workforce outlook: This generation of workers has different priorities from previous generations. Their focus is more on work-life balance, mental wellbeing, and also working for ethical companies. Some 76% of employees and job seekers see diversity as an important factor when deciding between job offers. It is especially important for Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+, and other minority group job seekers and employees, to see these kinds of initiatives.

What does it all mean?  Not only is an effective D&I agenda the right —and sometimes the legal thing —to do, but sometimes there are positive outcomes too that come out of diversifying your business.

Is there a difference between diversity and inclusion?

These are two separate terms, often confused. To prevent them from being used interchangeably, some level of clarification is needed. The way I like to think about it is diversity is the ‘what’, whereas inclusion is the ‘how’.

Diversity in the workplace talks about the demographic of a workforce. This includes gender, age, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, disability, and much more.

Inclusion, on the other hand, refers to the culture of the business and the initiatives they implement.

diverse group of plastic people figures in different colours, one standing behind a group of others

The organizational benefits of implementing diversity initiatives

While it might be the right thing to do, sometimes organizations find it difficult to balance the effort made to support D&I initiatives against other pressing business outcomes. After all, this is about people, not just your business. But that’s not to say that there are no business benefits in adopting diversity and inclusion. Quite the opposite. There is a multitude of benefits that could arise from encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The following provides a few that will assist in the communication and overall organizational outcomes of such ethical initiatives.

Profitability

Monetary gain is always a big organizational motivator. A recent McKinsey study found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. This was even higher for those in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity, as they were 36% more likely to have above-average profitability. Yes, every business that moves ahead with a D&I initiative will face challenges, but being 36% more likely to have above-average profitability makes it well worth it.

Performance and Innovation

One of the key constraints any business executive faces is trying NOT to hire people that think like themselves, work like themselves, or look like themselves.  They say birds of a feather flock together, but employing people with similar behaviors and beliefs to our own inevitably results in tunnel vision.

A D&I agenda acts against these often unintended biases.  It improves the performance of the workers. HBR’s 2018 Annual Corporate Directors Survey found that 95% of directors agree that diversity brings unique perspectives to the boardroom, and 84% believe it enhances board performance. These statistics demonstrate that unique viewpoints can create unique ideas which, in turn, can lead to positive business results.

I think of it like this: Imagine a striped beach ball with many different colors, and each worker is a different color. They all need to come together to make the ball, this is similar to work. One person alone can’t make the ball complete, just as one person can’t possibly hold all the answers or best ideas—there always needs to be different perspectives.

Better Quality Decision-making

A study conducted by Cloverpop found that, while all-male teams were shown to make more successful business decisions than an individual 58% of the time, for gender-diverse teams they outperformed individuals by 73%. This is 15% higher than all-male teams. The figure increases for teams with geographically diverse members, members with different genders, and at least one age gap of more than 20 years as they made better business decisions than individuals 87% of the time.

Evidently, the more diverse the business is, the higher the percentage is for better decision making, suggesting teams are more efficient and innovative.

diverse group of businesspeople sitting in waiting room

What does a diverse and inclusive employer look like? 

You might be wondering then—what does a diverse and inclusive employer look like? What are companies doing to promote diversity and inclusion in their company culture and hiring practices?

An organizational transformation from the top-down

Cultural inclusion starts from the top-down, business leaders must lead the change. There must also be a representative balance of diversity in the boardroom; as an all-white middle-class male-dominated boardroom is hardly appropriate to signpost a D&I transformation!  Once the top-level prioritize diversity and enforce an inclusive culture, it becomes a priority for their subordinates. Once all levels must embrace the initiative, making diversity and inclusion a key part of the company culture. Only then can organizations hope to take a form that people see as diverse and inclusive.

Provide the education needed to act against latent norms of understanding and behavior

A successful diverse and inclusive employer provides training to their management and other workers on the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace, how to provide a safe space for the diverse members of staff, and more. Training courses can change minds, broaden cultures, and allow workers and management to keep the topic at the forefront of their minds, and feel included in the conversation around diversity and inclusion.

Implement unbiased hiring

Daniel Kahneman, a well-known psychologist, has demonstrated that the majority of decisions humans make are based on biases, intuition, and beliefs instead of facts or logic. This is evidenced in his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’.

Training of HR staff can prevent the biases that affect the hiring process. Also, organizations can implement unbiased methods of recruiting and use technology that removes bias from the hiring process in order to further drive home these processes and attitudinal transformations.

Provide a safe space

Employers need to provide a safe space for workers and to do this they would have to find out what they can do to make it safe for EVERYONE. For example, unisex toilets will make transgender and gender non-conforming workers feel more comfortable in the workplace. It’s an easy way to be progressive, and make the workers feel more comfortable and happier at work.

Flexible working opportunities

Since the rise in working from home as a direct result of the global pandemic, more and more workers are prioritizing their work-life balance and mental health. Therefore, organizations can provide flexible working opportunities and implement ‘switch off’ policies to better suit the work-life balance of their workers. In turn, staff feels valued and this is most beneficial to those who have children, caregivers—or even those with disabilities—thereby broadening the potential talent pool when seeking new talent.

Diverse people working together, teamwork brainstorming business meeting.

Final thoughts

With the rise of the Millennials and Gen-Zs, companies will only feel further pressure to prioritize their D&I initiatives. Being a progressive employer sometimes means making sacrifices in the name of what is ‘good’, however, this article demonstrates that there are only positive outcomes in implementing inclusive business practices.

Having a diverse workforce offers businesses better worker performance, higher profit, and improved decision-making. However, diversity and inclusion aren’t just about financial gain; it’s about opening up opportunities for a wider talent pool and making every individual feel valued.

The main issues we’ve highlighted by this article include the importance of eradicating biased recruitment and hiring processes, that continue to be prevalent in many organizations; and the problem of company culture (and how this needs to be adapted to prevent diverse workers from leaving their position).   These issues in hiring and company culture that continue to plague even some of the largest organizations, as well as the unforgiving statistics describing the lack of diversity present, demonstrate the work still left to be done in achieving diversity in the workplace. 

The evidence suggests that 75% of senior execs say they’d leave their company for one that values diversity. If this statistic doesn’t show employers how much workers value diversity and inclusion in the workplace then I don’t know what will.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chloe Mumford

Chloe Mumford

Author

Chloe Mumford is a content writer and researcher for Workspend. After completing her BSc in Sociology, Chloe transitioned over into the workforce management industry with an interest in driving value from contingent workforce programs. She writes about contingent workforce management, Total Talent Management, the Future of Work, Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace, as well as the potential of talent technology. She can be reached via LinkedIn.