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Everyone wants productive and happy employees, right? Did you know that one of the keys to achieving that is your level of diversity in the workplace? A commitment to diversity shows you care about your employees and who they are as people, which has real and lasting benefits for your company.

But, what does it mean to be diverse? Price water house Cooper’s definition is “people of all backgrounds, life experiences, preferences and beliefs are recognized and respected as individuals and valued for their different perspectives they bring.”

Diversity seems all good and fine in theory but putting it into practice is more difficult. Hopefully you’ll have a better understanding of what diversity looks like at work and how to realize true benefits for your employees and your organization.

“Strength lies in differences, not similarities.” – Stephen Covey

The upsides to having a diverse workforce are clear

The benefits are numerous and significant when you have a truly diverse workforce. Most importantly, you have happier, more well-rounded employees, which naturally leads to a stronger and more profitable business. We delve a little deeper into how that works and why it matters below.

Diversity impacts business performance

A study by McKinsey examined diversity on executive boards and those with more diverse boards, showed higher earnings. They are quick to mention that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but the connection is undeniable. We’d wager to say that increased diversity positively affects performance (and therefore your bottom line) and it should be among your organization’s top priorities.

Similarly, a comprehensive study by Deloitte analyzed that employees who believe their organizations are committed to supporting diversity and inclusion report better business performance. They are more able to innovate, are more responsive to customer needs, and are more collaborative. Deloitte says their research leans heavily on employee perception of diversity and inclusion in their respective organizations, but perception is critical because perception is reality. In addition to supporting diversity initiatives, you should evaluate how your employees feel and view your efforts. If you find that they are unaware of or not receptive to diversity strategies, then you need to figure out what’s missing.

Inclusion is less talked about, but just as important

The same Deloitte study expounds on why inclusion matters. They define inclusion as a feeling or perception of fairness and respect and value and belonging. They emphasize it’s “an active process of change or integration” (aka adapting practices or behaviors to respond to people) as well as an outcome (actions engendering feelings of belonging). So, inclusion is not just a noun or the end goal, it is a verb and requires action and consistency.

Incorporating diversity and inclusion is so logical. But you can’t just hire more women and check a box. You have to recognize your employees’ value and show that they belong on your team. When you combine participation (just showing up) and appreciation (meaning) for performance and skill, true inclusion can be realized. When your employees feel valued, they feel like they have a voice. When you combine those elements, Deloitte says something very important happens - they feel confident and empowered. As a result, they are naturally more engaged, productive, innovative, and loyal. That’s the winning combination: Respect + Value & Belonging = Confidence.

Does image matter? Yes!

If nothing else motivates you to improve diversity and inclusion, the perception of your company to potential employees should. A lack of diversity and inclusion represents a reputational risk, which will eventually impact your business performance. How? Your potential new hires are judging your commitment to diversity and inclusion. 80% of participants in a survey said that an employer’s policy on diversity, equality and workforce inclusion is an important factor when deciding whether to work for them or not.

In the same study, 60% of female participants looked at the diversity of the leadership team when deciding to accept a position with their most recent employer. However, when employers were asked about the extent to which they’ve incorporated diversity and inclusion within their employer brand, less than 30% share information about the diversity of their workforce and leadership team. There’s a break in the chain somewhere, and it’s astounding. If you’re not focused on this, you’re already behind. You run the risk of encountering these issues as well:

  • Inability to attract new talent
  • Leave current employees susceptible to disillusionment
  • Limit potential of current employees
  • If you’re a public company, you must answer to shareholders, and they care about diversity and inclusion.
  • Eroding trust because of a lack of transparency, improvement, or commitment in this area
  • Your customer base is diverse. Having an employee population that reflects that means your employees are better equipped/prepared to serve your customers, deliver better service and greater innovation.

Are you building a clone army?

Not all diversity is apparent or has a visible marker like ethnicity or gender. A study by Harvard Business Review (HBR) throws “cognitive diversity” into the mix. Defined as “differences in perspective or information processing styles,” this kind of diversity doesn’t generally correlate to differences in age, ethnicity or gender. HBR analyzed how individuals think about and engage with new, uncertain and complex situations – and how diversity in thought processes can help teams solve problems faster.

It’s only natural to gravitate towards people that are like-minded (aka unconscious bias), but all this homogeneity makes for teams with low cognitive diversity. In the HBR study, those teams with higher cognitive diversity completed challenges faster than those with less cognitive diversity (who were slower or did not complete the challenge).

Like we mentioned, this is generally an unconscious bias. Sometimes with company culture, an organization can be so set on creating a corporate culture with specific values, that it becomes unintentionally exclusive. People can get so caught up in hiring or promoting a certain type of person that they don’t realize they are just hiring the same person over and over again. Try aiming for a nonuniform company culture.

How to build a culture of diversity and inclusion

The goal of diversity and inclusion is not to prioritize or single out hiring a specific type of person. You’re trying to remedy power inequalities in hiring, culture or other processes in the office that intentionally (or otherwise) limit people’s potential. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to reflect on and begin to improve your organization’s practices.

  • Is the selection process transparent?
  • Do you only hire or promote people that are like you?
  • Are members of leadership held accountable for diversity and inclusion goals and outcomes?
  • Have you defined and communicated a strategy? Are your goals realistic and measurable?
  • Does your organization openly acknowledge its shortcomings?
  • Is your entire organization committed to diversity and inclusion? (It’s not just an HR function, but most come from the very tip-top of your organization and be implemented and encouraged on every level.)

The same Deloitte study we referenced earlier had some excellent and easy-to-implement ideas. They pinpointed four “vulnerable moments” that can unknowingly undermine your diversity and inclusion efforts.

  • Referring to people as “not a good fit” in the hiring process is vague and could indicate an unconscious bias. Deloitte’s remedy is to “establish strict and transparent criteria for assessing a good fit based on the organization’s values” so you can keep yourself and others in check when making important staffing decisions.
  • Don’t be distracted by the squeaky wheel. Just because someone is loud, talks a lot or takes up a lot of space, does not mean they are the ones who have the best ideas. Make sure all team members can voice their opinions, ideas and successes with the team.
  • Letting the same person start a meeting can prime the discussion to follow a specific viewpoint or path, making meetings lopsided. Deloitte recommends sending key talking points and meeting agendas to participants ahead of time so they can be prepared for discussion. Some people need time to think and others are better on the fly. Giving a little heads up allows for both to be heard. We would add that not all people like to share their ideas in a traditional meeting format. Do you have a variety of forums or platforms for employees’ voices to be heard?
  • Do employees who work from home or on different schedules have strings attached to their work arrangements? Are they given less work or menial jobs compared to those in the office every day? Review the quality and scope of work given to employees with differing schedules or work situations.

There is not just one right way to do this. Our main goal is to underscore the importance of diversity and inclusion at work, and to show you that they are within your reach. Aside from hiring people from different backgrounds, your objective should be enabling people to be themselves at work. Keep that in mind as you set policies, procedures and interact with employees.