Why should we embrace diversity? The answer is simple: innovation. Katherine Philips, professor of leadership and ethics at Columbia Business School, surmised the issue clearly in her influential article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter.
If you want to build teams or organisations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving.
Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think.
It’s obvious really; if you employ a wide range of people from various backgrounds, ages, levels of education, sex, LGBT etc, you’re inviting a wide range of experience, points of view, beliefs and ideas into the mix.
Diversity helps companies become much more dynamic and able to understand their customer base.
For example, if you’re in a planning meeting and there’s a discussion on product development, having a diverse pool of talent to call upon for opinion can give a rounded picture, enabling you to create products and services that meet the needs of today’s diverse society.
However, if you’re employing just one group, you’ll only get feedback on how something affects them, that’s discounting much of your customer base and prospects.
However, don’t be fooled; there’s no point just recruiting a diversity officer and adding a diverse range of people to your workplace unless you’re committed to unleashing their potential.
A recent study proved that diverse organisations are more profitable.
Organisations must embrace diversity for teams to become more innovative. Only environments that allow creative, even outlandish, ideas to be shared will benefit from a more inclusive culture.
Employees need to feel safe when expressing their ideas and not made to feel stupid, otherwise they’ll keep quiet and become disengaged, totally negating the benefits of diversity.
Helping to shift the barometer on diversity means ensuring your leadership team has a strong balance of men and women, as well as employees from diverse backgrounds.
The workplace is currently full of more highly qualified women and people from minority groups than ever before, but the change at senior management level is slow.
Change from the top really helps to bring balance and diversity through the ranks; and a cultural shift that will be embraced by all.
Some people may still be thinking that this still all sounds very PC, but what about the bottom line? A recent study proved that diverse organisations are more profitable. The research looked at 173 companies which were based in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Here they asked just two questions; first, how innovative are you? And second, how diverse are you?
They decided to measure the level of innovativeness on innovation revenue – funds from new products or services introduced in the last three years. Diversity was measured by gender, nationality, career, industry, age and education. The overriding results proved that companies who were more diverse were also more innovative.
So how do we embrace change? The same as we do any other issue that impacts our businesses – we identify the problem, set goals and develop solutions.
We can’t go on thinking that the diversity issue will just change over time. We have to actively develop more diverse workplaces to ensure we can stay ahead of the curve.
Diversity needs to start with a company’s recruitment and development practices. We need to consider who we choose to hire and who we choose to promote, as this has an enormous impact on an organisation’s diversity.
Strategies need to be put in place to be more inclusive and to be more creative with an organisation’s recruitment processes.
Get the support of middle management; many new recruits come through the doors thanks to referrals. Try incentivising staff to expand their network to entice more diverse employees into your organisation.
One easy measure to bring about change is setting up diversity and inclusion advisory boards where management and employees can work together and discuss ways the organisation can move towards more diversity and gender equality throughout the ranks.
Some organisations could also benefit from unconscious bias training to help them see things differently, change their mindset and be more open to embracing new ways of working or engaging with their people.
To discover more about diversity in the workplace, please visit www.surveyinitiative.co.uk.
About the author:
Gary Cattermole is director of The Survey Initiative