Workplace diversity and why it matters

Diversity in the workplace is at the forefront of creating healthier, more inclusive environments. The office or space in which we work should be leading on equality and providing a work environment where all people are welcome and feel comfortable, regardless of ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, age, sex, or gender. Diversity also includes diversity of thought, education, skill sets, experiences, beliefs, and personalities. 

Unfortunately, it is usually cases of discrimination which bring these issues into sharp focus and motivate organisations to improve their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives. The Black Lives Matter movement has catalysed many organisations to implement unconscious bias training. Structural, institutional change is required, without which diversity training may simply be a box-ticking exercise. Unconscious biases are just one aspect of how discrimination and prejudice can play out; strong policies, strategies and practices should be enforced company-wide to support any diversity training.

Alice Thompson, a working mother, recently won a landmark sex discrimination court case because her employer wouldn’t allow her to work part-time and leave work early to pick up her child from nursery. Working parents expect employers to be flexible and reasonable in consideration of family commitments. Historically, it has been women who must balance these commitments with their work, but no parent should feel discriminated against if they have family commitments or request parental leave. In male-dominated sectors which still lack gender diversity, women can feel particularly isolated when making these decisions, so it is imperative that HR teams are also diverse.

Why is workplace diversity important?

Job seekers are increasingly looking for roles within diverse companies that promote an inclusive culture. Whether or not a company truly has a diverse workforce can be key in the decision-making of potential candidates going through the recruitment process. This is particularly true for Millennials who expect employers to be progressive and proactive in this area. 

Prospective employees look to see a reflection of themselves in diverse teams. Organisations can draw skilled candidates to their talent pool and improve employee engagement by offering a genuinely diverse workplace. Talented candidates may have many job offers but money may not be the deciding factor for them. Seeing a team of people from different backgrounds with different perspectives can help them feel confident that an employer really does champion equal opportunity.

The benefits of diversity in the workplace also extend to profitability as demonstrated in a 2019 McKinsey analysis. 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. A more recent report from McKinsey, Diversity Wins, stated that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 36% more likely to have financial returns above the industry mean. These statistics present a strong business case for diversity, showing that it is in the interests of both the employer and the employee.   

A sense of belonging was at the top of Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey as one of the most important human capital issues alongside well-being. 93% of survey respondents agreed that belonging drives organisational performance. This is one of the highest rates of consensus seen in a decade of Global Human Capital Trends reports, pointing to a societal shift that demands the attention of corporations. 

As we continue to live through a time of challenge and change, individuals must be seen for their skills and talents regardless of race, neurodiversity, physical abilities, sexuality, gender, or age. The ethnic diversity of young British people is also in stark contrast with the demographics of the past. Inclusivity for them is less of a concept and more of a natural way of doing and being.   

Encouraging diversity in the workplace

Just as unconscious bias training needs the support of strong policies, DEI initiatives must be well-considered, dynamic and responsive. Many organisations may communicate their DEI initiative through social media, but this can be perceived as performative and potential new employees will scrutinise the company culture and diversity goals for authenticity. For this reason, how workplace culture is communicated both externally and internally is of key importance.

Diversity is a continuous process so updates should be exactly that, updates on an ongoing path to diversity goals. The hiring process should introduce candidates to the company’s efforts in DEI and be transparent about whether it is an inclusive workplace in practice. A workplace can appear to be diverse, but inclusivity usually shows in how relaxed current employees feel in being their authentic selves.

Diversity also needs to be led from the top so hiring managers and leaders who are fully on-board with the DEI initiative and who are confident communicators is crucial to keeping momentum. How leaders behave and communicate trickles down through the organisation. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree on everything, it means cultivating an environment where people feel safe having open discussions and debates where their viewpoints are accepted even if they aren’t agreed with. Conversely, those who desire confidentiality or minority groups who do not feel safe speaking in an open-plan office, should be offered respect and discretion.

Diverse companies attract diverse talent

A strong diversity and inclusion initiative is becoming a given for leading corporations and organisations worldwide, especially if they want to attract talented and skilled individuals from all backgrounds. DEI is not something that can simply be mentioned in job descriptions to capture the attention of applicants, it is evident in how relaxed employees are in the workplace and how the workplace accommodates the needs of its employees.

Can you be an ambassador for diversity and inclusion in your organisation? Are you keen to learn more about what this means in an international business setting? Find out how you can with the University of York’s MSc International Business Leadership and Management online degree.