Diverse workforce : Why does it matter?
It was Stephen R. Covey who said, 'Strength lies in differences, not similarities'. How right he was. We increasingly recognize the value of a diverse workforce; studies prove the competitive advantage held by various companies, but why should this be so? What is it about an inclusive workplace that has such a substantial impact on financial performance?
Indeed’s survey shows that most employees within organizations and companies see workforce diversity as the key to success, while 77% say that it positively impacts their role in the business. A more diverse workforce can help an organization tap into consumer markets that it would otherwise be missing out on.
Diversity is also about ensuring that multiple perspectives are brought to the table. With this comes increased innovation, creativity, and flexibility. By moving away from an insular workforce, employers ensure that they are better equipped to deal with challenging situations.
What is a diverse workforce?
It is about ensuring that your workplace does not only consist of white men under the age of 40 years old. As diversity consultant Daune Barnes points out, "employers need to recognize that diverse employees are not a deviation from the norm but rather represent what is really happening in society."
It is about ensuring representation for various groups of people; it is about engaging with perspectives and experiences other than your own.
A diverse workforce is composed of a wide range of diverse individuals. This might include:
Racial and ethnic diversity
Ethnic diversity ensures that different groups of people are represented within the workforce. This includes staff members from, for example, African, American and Hispanic backgrounds as well as those from traditional cultures.
The goals of gender diversity are to ensure that both women and men are represented in the workforce and promote equality between genders in numbers and in terms of pay, leadership opportunities, etc.
Some companies are making the headlines for having a predominantly male workforce. Others are achieving gender balance at 50/50, while some organizations have brought their figures even further with 30% female representation and 70% male.
A diverse workforce ensures that people of all ages are represented. This means focusing on young professionals and ensuring that mature workers feel comfortable in your company culture and recognize themselves as part of the workforce.
Diversity of thought
Bringing together people with various backgrounds, education levels, skillsets, experiences, etc., allows companies to benefit from different points of view and alternative ways of thinking.
This ultimately improves the decision-making process and results in more creative solutions to business challenges.
There is no reason why religious beliefs should be a barrier to employment. Indeed, with so many countries worldwide boasting people of various faiths and denominations, it is only right that employers ensure their workforce reflects this diversity.
A diverse workforce means that employers are open to hiring people with disabilities. This ensures that everyone, regardless of physical ability, has equal access to opportunities and is able to contribute productively at work.
Although sexual orientation has been protected from workplace discrimination by law in most countries, it still needs to be discussed for some time. It is not only about the numbers - representation in terms of visible and invisible disabilities is also essential for this workforce diversity discussion.
Workforce diversity is not just about ensuring that your company includes representatives from various groups. But they are also encouraging employees within these groups to recognize that they matter, promoting an inclusive, professional environment where people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves.
Why is a diverse workforce important?
Workforce diversity ensures that organizations represent their customers, allowing them to understand their needs better.
Different backgrounds allow employers to understand various markets; diversity enables businesses to reach consumers they otherwise may not have. It also helps create an inclusive, productive, and flexible workforce.
Workplace diversity is also more likely to be innovative, creative, and produce better decisions. It gives employers the chance to tap into a wide variety of opinions, leading to enhanced company culture and problem-solving.
Research has shown that in an environment where people are respected for their different backgrounds, they feel less threatened and more willing to share their knowledge and ideas. This also means that employers get the chance to engage with a wider pool of potential recruits, allowing them to choose from people who might not usually be attracted to your organization or industry.
A diverse workplace can help diversify an employer's talent pipeline; it presents organizations with the opportunity to get in touch with a workforce that they might otherwise be missing out on. In turn, this ensures that companies have access to a variety of skills and perspectives, which can ultimately help them develop and grow.
Are workplaces becoming more diverse?
The question ''are workplaces becoming more diverse?'' is a difficult one to answer. That is because diversity itself is not as much of an issue as the factors related to diversity. Leaders need to consider the opportunities available to a diverse range of individuals and the way in which a more diverse workforce is welcomed and encouraged.
For example, an organization could hire a 50/50 split of women and men in their workforce. However, if very few of those women are promoted, and most of them work in low-paid roles, the diversity of the organization counts for very little.
The statistics speak for themselves:
- As of May 2021, only five Fortune 500 companies have a CEO who is black.
- Disabled people in the UK have an employment rate that is 28.8 percentage points lower than those who are not disabled.
- Women remain consistently underpaid. Despite asking for pay rises as often as men, women are less likely to get pay increases.
However, it is not all bad news, and there are some encouraging trends that show a slow shift towards more diverse and inclusive working environments.
- The UK gender pay gap, although still present, is decreasing. As of April 2021, it stood at 7.9% vs. 9.0% in April 2019.
- By 2024, women are expected to make up 47.2% of the US workforce.
- There is an increasing awareness of the need to create workplaces where everyone feels welcomed and able to be their true selves.
But to move towards a more inclusive workplace that benefits all parties involved, companies must do more than simply tick the box on diversity. More organizations should start embracing diversity and inclusion and truly commit to equal opportunities.
Why should businesses encourage a more diverse workplace?
Having diverse teams is an important element of an organization's company culture. That is because workplace diversity has been shown to benefit both the people who work in that organization as well as the organization itself.
Being presented with different ideas and opinions leads to better decisions. Having diverse teams means that organizations can better reflect their markets, ensuring that they are accessible and relatable. This has the additional benefit of helping an organization draw in talent from a wider range of backgrounds.
When individuals feel like they belong within an organization, it shows in their work and their relationships with colleagues. More diverse and inclusive workplaces lead to higher retention rates, as employees feel like they are valued and supported within their organizations.
A diverse workforce encourages competence through exposure. Employees learn more about the society around them, which allows companies to build a workforce that is better suited to deal with challenges thrown up by modern society.
By hiring from different backgrounds, an organization creates a team with a range of experiences, perspectives, and ideas. And it is this diversity of thought and experience that contributes towards a successful business.
What are the benefits of a more diverse workforce?
There are a range of tangible benefits to creating a diverse workforce. Here are five of the most significant.
Drive innovation and creativity
There is a famous saying; ''if you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got''. It is something that applies to the people we mix with as much as the processes and approaches we take.
By employing more diverse groups of people, an organization stimulates creative thinking and nurtures innovative ideas. Research has shown that the combination of perspectives and results in more new ideas and more creative 'a-ha!' moments.
Better customer engagement
The benefits of a diverse workplace play out with customers too. No matter how niche a business is, it is likely that its customers have a mix of characteristics.
A diverse workforce gives organizations better insight into their customer base thanks to the range of different perspectives involved. This can help improve products and services, giving a company more credibility with their customers.
Improved employee retention
Organizations that focus on diversity and inclusion create environments that are more comfortable and accessible for everyone. As well as improved employee morale, this also contributes towards lower turnover. It is easy to understand why; employees who feel appreciated and comfortable in the companies they work for are more likely to remain in those organizations.
Not only is this good news for employees, and it is great news for those organizations. As well as reducing the costs associated with staff turnover, by keeping talented employees on board, an organization is more likely to benefit from their contribution to the business and see corresponding financial returns.
A wider talent pool
By recruiting a more diverse workforce, an organization can choose from a broader selection of candidates. The right person for a role might not come from the sort of background historically recruited for, giving them a different life experience as well as the skills needed to do the job in question.
It is also worth noting that employees are increasingly seeking companies who prioritize workforce diversity. An incredible 86% of female millennials said that employer policy on inclusion and diversity was important to them. By actively supporting workforce diversity, an organization will soon start to attract a broader spread of employees who have a lot to offer.
Better decision making
Research carried out by Talent Logic shows that businesses with a strong track record of workforce diversity enjoy better decision-making.
To make the best decisions possible, an organization needs to take into account a range of diverse perspectives and opinions. A diverse workforce helps provide a balanced picture of what is going on in an organization and ensures that all angles are covered.
Studies have repeatedly shown that more diverse workforces make better decisions. As well as avoiding Groupthink and benefitting from more creativity, diversity helps reduce risk-taking behaviors and improves conflict resolution.
How to recruit a diverse workforce ?
The recruitment process is where companies make or break their efforts to create an inclusive workforce.
Organizations need to move beyond the idea that diverse candidates are simply people who tick all of the boxes on some sort of diversity checklist. They represent a broad spectrum, with many differences between them, but there are ways for employers to recruit more diverse staff without compromising on quality.
In addition to thinking about workforce diversity in an abstract sense, it is important for businesses to take a step back and consider what that means specifically. What kind of people does your organization need? How do you narrow this down so the pool is not so broad? What methods have worked for you in past recruitment processes?
The idea of recruiting for workforce diversity is an interesting one - as it can be seen as a legitimate way to target minority groups, which has become a more and more pressing issue in modern times. It is crucial that we begin to accept this as part of our culture and stop discriminating against people based on their skin color, gender, etc.
Set diversity hiring goals
As with any intention, the best way to achieve something is to make it a priority and set goals to achieve it. Establishing diversity policies and holding leaders accountable for the level of diversity and inclusion in the workforce is a start. However, more companies are taking aim at the heart of their workforce plans by setting specific diversity hiring goals.
Workplace data can help identify gaps such as in the number of employees from a range of racial backgrounds or from younger generations. This, in turn, can inform the decision to start hiring employees from a range of diverse backgrounds.
Create standardized hiring practices
Unconscious bias means traditional hiring techniques can get in the way of organizations reaching their diversity targets. Reviewing the hiring process to make it more structured and standardized helps improve diversity in hiring practices.
AI is a powerful ally in the fight for diversity, and organizations can make the most of AI-powered recruitment software to recruit more diverse employees thanks to the way it can be used objectively.
Boost diversity by using new recruitment channels
Continuing to use the same old hiring channels will not do anything to attract more diverse employees. Adding new recruitment channels is a positive step towards a more diverse company because of the way it helps attract employees from different backgrounds, not just in terms of gender and ethnicity, but also in terms of socioeconomic background.
From the schools, colleges, and universities a company approaches the jobs boards and recruitment consultants used, using new recruitment channels can help contribute towards a more diverse team.
Offer more flexibility
Many potential candidates are put off working for organizations because of a lack of flexibility. Parents, older people with caring responsibilities, and those with conditions that affect their physical abilities may need more flexibility.
Creating a culture of flexibility is beneficial to the organization as well as the individual because it supports talent retention. Organizations can offer flexible working opportunities such as remote work and job-sharing, which demonstrates that they value their workforce and attract more diverse employees.
A rigid shift pattern or requirement to travel long distances on fixed days will automatically limit the potential applicants for a role. By offering greater flexibility and stating family-friendly and disability-friendly benefits, an organization can attract employees from a wider range of backgrounds and increase their diversity.
Use neutral language when hiring
The language used in job descriptions can unintentionally put employees off applying for roles. For example, asking for a 'rockstar manager' or 'highly competitive individual' uses male-orientated language, which will put women off from applying.
Likewise, language such as 'supportive' and 'understanding' is more feminine and will put men off from applying for roles. Choosing neutral language and carefully considering pronouns will ensure roles are considered by all genders and will help improve a company's chances of an improved gender balance.
Hire for ability ahead of experience
More senior roles often lack diversity because of a previous lack of opportunity given to minority groups. Ethnic minorities, women, non-binary employees, cognitively diverse individuals, and the disabled often miss out on opportunities to build their experience because of discrimination in education and previous roles.
This perpetuates a situation where minority job seekers are unable to secure new roles because they have failed to prove their abilities. Using a recruitment process that focuses on ability ahead of qualifications and experience provides employers with an opportunity to improve the diversity of their workforce with under-represented but talented individuals.
Place internal candidates in senior roles
Leading on from the previous point, organizations can enhance the professional development of minority groups by creating a strong training and mentoring program.
A mentoring program that matches newly hired, more experienced staff with internal employees who currently lack the skills to progress but demonstrate diverse characteristics can provide an ideal way of improving diversity.
Hiring more diverse staff will not help an organization if it does not create opportunities for them to grow and develop their talent.
This does not just build employee engagement and strengthen a company's reputation; it is also crucial in developing internal talent and improving the representation of minorities in more senior roles.
Making workforce diversity matter for everyone
Diversity matters because it is the right thing to do. As employee and customer expectations change, we are starting to see diversity become a non-negotiable for top talent.
According to Gallup, companies in the top quartile for gender or racial/ethnic diversity are more likely to have above-average customer engagement.
They also suggest that this increased level of engagement reduces employee turnover, increases productivity and profitability, and makes organizations more competitive.
Not only do employees want to feel comfortable working in environments where their co-workers are valued and well-treated, but they recognize the need for organizations to behave responsibly to ensure longer-term success and sustainability.
Encourage employee referrals
Referrals come from existing employees who understand the company culture and their roles within it. This means that they can recommend people with similar skill-sets and personalities to themselves.
Employee referrals can be a quick and easy way to increase diversity, as individuals who already feel comfortable with the environment and tasks they will be performing are more likely to want to join.
Creating an environment where employees feel engaged and able to speak up without fear of reprisal is the first step toward making referrals happen.
Retain diverse employees
Employee turnover is costly for any organization, but it can be particularly challenging for companies that lack diversity. When employees feel there is an opportunity for them to progress, they are more likely to stick around.
Employee development is crucial for turnover prevention and can be enhanced by providing access to education programs, encouraging staff members to join committees or volunteer roles, allowing them time for networking with professional associations, or offering flexible working hours. Employees that feel valued will remain loyal and engaged employees.
Celebrating diversity does not mean using superficial measures or simply choosing one day a year to celebrate differences. It means consistently encouraging employees to be themselves at work so that new groups of people feel welcomed and included.
Leading on from the previous point, a strong commitment to diversity means actively celebrating differences without fear of what colleagues might think or worry that they will appear less professional for doing so.
There are many reasons why businesses should encourage a more diverse workforce. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it helps improve talent acquisition and retention as well as ensure the success of an organization in the long term.
By using different recruitment channels, hiring for ability ahead of experience, and creating a solid internal training and mentoring program, organizations can be more diverse and inclusive.
It all comes down to differences. A diverse workforce, one that understands and respects its employees' different perspectives and skills, can make better decisions. It is not just about having an open mind; it is about understanding how other points of view may affect the outcome of business activity.
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