Diversity and inclusion are topics that are very important and have had a lot of focus lately… Lately, until we all started to be locked down. Every country, every company has been trying to fight for themselves and suddenly, we all start to be selfish again…
Even though falling back on hold ‘habits’ might be understandable in some cases, it never is the answer to retreat, stay and work only with people we know, people who are like us…
So, for companies who are (re) thinking about their organization and how to adapt to the new normal, the need for diversity in the workplace is being felt now more than ever. To keep up the pace, companies ought to have adequate clarity on the skills they expect their talent pools to possess, especially in such situations as we face now.
What does it mean to have a ‘diverse’ workforce?
When we talk about diversity, we often think first of women in the workplace. Research has shown that the increase of women in leadership is helping businesses to thrive in unprecedented ways. Women see things differently and have different strengths than men. Women have more prominently exhibited the intuitive abilities of persons who can reach out to others to resolve issues or reduce friction; in comparison to men. How do the traits of being multi-skilled, multi-tasking, problem solver, influencer or bringing people together, keeping energy levels up, maintaining a level-head, rank among the rest of the other professional traits? Can a company see value in these traits, that are more pronounced in women than in men?
Having a diverse workforce does not only mean having more women, especially in more senior roles. It means working with people that are different. Companies not only need people from different genders, but also with different backgrounds, different abilities, different status (married vs. single/divorced, with or without children), different ages, different personalities. If you have a global company, you also need to work with people from different nationalities (and languages), different cultures, different religions….
Having a diverse workforce means accepting differences, including people in discussions, in communications, in projects, etc. It means respecting others and their opinions. Of course, there will be disagreements once in a while, but who hasn’t got one? When two or more people disagree, they actually provide an opportunity to look for a workaround, another idea or solution. Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market (Josh Bersin Research)
Why should you have employees as diverse as possible? What are the benefits?
According to the Boston Consulting Group, – companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue. Advantages are not only seen from the employer’s point of view, but also from the employees’. According to Fast Company, organizations with above-average gender diversity and levels of employee engagement outperform companies with below-average diversity and engagement by 46% to 58%.
Furthermore, we are now in a unique situation. There has never been a time before where 4 generations can work with each other! Boomers, GenX, Millennials and GenZ are currently on the job market. This is an opportunity for many companies to ensure they gather all points of view and meet customers’ needs, no matter their age.
Global companies or companies that work in different countries need to ensure they have employees representing these countries or cultures. Something obvious for a person in one country may not be so obvious for another person in another country. People have different backgrounds, different histories, different habits and therefore a product or a service that is very successful in a country may need to be customized in another to meet the customers’ needs (or daily habits, legal requirements, etc.)
If you intend to serve ‘everybody’, you also need to make sure your product(s) and/or service(s) can also be used by people with different abilities. For instance, if your workforce are all mentally and physically able, how will you know for sure that someone in a wheelchair for instance will be able to use that product or service? When you already have employees in a wheelchair, they will tell you if there is any challenge before you start implementing or even creating your product or service.
Finally, when you have a diverse workforce, it also means you’ll have different personalities, with different opinions and ideas. This will give you an opportunity to create new or complementary things, things you may not have thought of at the beginning. Hiring and working with people from different backgrounds and life experiences give you diverse perspectives and understanding of people’s needs.
What can you do as a company?
Companies will have to adapt to this new world we are stepping into. This evolutionary process has to be inclusive of skillful people from all sorts of backgrounds, genders, races, demographics and physical abilities. Doing so, organizations may face challenges in accepting D&I. Resistance, fear, aversion to change, politics, insecurity etc. will appear here and there. Nonetheless, the inherent fullness and variety will naturally bring out the best possible path for the company to recover out of the crisis.
- Start with recruiting diverse people: if you are looking for a certain profile, keep an open mind. Maybe someone does not have the ‘perfect profile’ or comes from a different industry. However if that person is motivated and willing to learn, he/she will be doing the job you wanted him/her to do and will often exceed expectations.
- Mentor and support men AND women to help them get promoted and climb the corporate ladder. Encourage coaching, reverse mentoring so that people can get additional roles and responsibilities based on the value they can provide and not because they ‘fit the profile’ of the current organization.
- Empower people. Give them tools, training, opportunities so that they can demonstrate their potential.
- Educate people in the workplace about the different cultures. Share the importance in celebrating / observing auspicious cultural festivals, food, dress and meaning behind certain behavior. The more people know about each other, the more open they become. Fear then diminishes. A greater awareness paves the way to healthier socialization in the workplace. It also enhances personal/workplace relationships.
Looking forward, you need to decide how to include and keep the diversity numbers high. Think about the steps you need to take to welcome these individuals, to ensure they are engaged, included and not given a shadow treatment. Diversity and inclusion cannot be a one-time activity and neither can they be on a quota basis. QUOTAS cannot and should not be used to automate D&I. Diversity and inclusion should be the CULTURE. They should be a conscious decision supported by senior management, business relevance and benefit.
Being a leader puts one under a constant scrutiny for the legacy he / she is creating. The actions and decisions of leaders during the difficult times are more prone to criticism and judgement in future. Would they be able to pass the tests of race, class, nationality and marginalized groups? To be or not to be diverse and inclusive, that is the question.(check one of my articles on how to embrace diversity.)
Article co-written with Nagaraj N.
Nagaraj N, as a HR leader, brings 20+ years into – creating and implementing, business specific tailored strategies for linking talent to value.
An architect behind 5 successful Tech. Start-ups, right from conceptualizing the HR blueprint, to scaling them up rapidly across 30+ countries and further leading them to successful mergers.
His strong business experience as a Board Director, as a Delivery Head & his inherent belief in culture & people, helps organizations maximise their returns on the talent.