Workplace Diversity and Inclusion

For this month’s newsletter, I have reproduced an article that was recently featured on the Procurious website as part of their Women in Procurement campaign. The original article can be found here.

WHY FIT IN WHEN YOU WERE BORN TO STAND OUT?: THE CASE FOR WORKPLACE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

Diversity in our workplaces is important. It’s widely acknowledged that diversity in our leadership teams matters. It’s imperative for any organisation that wants to achieve and remain competitive. Diversity helps to generate new ideas, drive creativity, and meet market needs; it also reflects our own communities. While the benefits are many and varied I want to draw your attention to a recent body of research ‘Diversity Matters’ conducted by McKinsey & Company.

Diversity Matters Study

One of the key findings from this study is that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.

The authors contend, based on other studies and the correlation in this study between diversity and performance, that the more diverse an organisation is the more successful they are at winning top talent, customer orientation, employee satisfaction and effective decision-making.

While this research paper found that no organisation performed well in all areas of diversity (it is a very select few who do) it highlights the ongoing demand for diversity training programs.

Diversity policies and approaches tend to be country specific. However, traditionally the common approach in countries such as the UK, U.S and Australia has been to adopt a single diversity program that covers all areas from gender and age, to race, ethnicity, sex, religion and disability.

I contend that one of the problems with this approach is that some more visible areas of diversity such as gender, have received more focus than others, namely race and ethnicity.

A new approach to diversity is needed

A new mindset and approach to diversity needs to occur. The overall current characterisation and management of diversity is too broad, it commands greater depth.  In other words, a more individualised, tailored approach is required, it needs to be ‘unbundled’.

At the same time, I would go one step further and posit that diversity in any organisation or workplace cannot be fully realised without an equal and complementary focus on inclusion.

The challenge of inclusion is not in producing a diverse workplace; diversity is rather the natural outcome of inclusion. If we define diversity as all the ways we are different – that which is the human condition, then inclusion is our ability to value, recognise and appreciate these differences.

It is possible for organisations to hire a diverse workforce, however, without the necessary corresponding inclusion policies.

We see ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups start to form and those in the ‘out’ groups (typically those people who find themselves in a demographic minority) less likely to stay in their roles.

Attraction and retention are equally important partners in any organisation’s D&I journey; they must therefore be given equal effort and intent. If we focus back on our gender example, inclusion on a basic level means making women feel welcome and valued in the workplace. This can be reflected in policies such as: flexible work arrangements for men and women, allowance for career breaks, available role models, mentoring opportunities, and affinity groups.

It is worth noting that these types of policies will differ across different societies or cultures. Organisations that work across borders must consequently be aware and knowledgeable of these implications.

Managing a diverse organisation

Diversity and Inclusion is not an easy undertaking. Managing a diverse organisation is far more difficult than managing a homogenous one, and it requires a completely different skillset.

Leaders must step up to the challenge and in many cases push past the latent philosophy of maintaining status quo – the ‘why change something if it is not broken’ attitude we all too often still see represented in the homogenous recruitment policies of organisations.

Specific programmes that develop, monitor and promote ongoing continuous improvement need to be implemented.

Some examples are unconscious bias training, cultural intelligence training, mentoring, or executive coaching. These programs provide greater rigour, understanding and appreciation that make real headway into changing attitudes, behaviours and outcomes.

Why, What and How?

In conclusion, I would like to put forward three questions organisations can ask in order to pursue an integrated approach to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I):

  • WHY – Organisations must establish the reasons why D&I is important for them
  • WHAT – Organisations must educate their leaders on D&I, bias and its impact on decision-making
  • HOW – Organisations must examine the policies, procedures and processes that systematically re-enforce the current state

Further to improving diversity and inclusion, organisations and their leaders must visibly demonstrate that they believe in the value of D&I and assert why it is a priority in a manner that influences, promotes and inspires others to also commit.

As the authors of ‘Diversity Matters’ point out we “must do more to take full advantage of the opportunity that diverse leadership teams represent… we live in a global world that has become deeply interconnected.” This research serves as an ongoing reminder of the headway that we have made to date in countries such as the U.S and U.K in diversity. But it also highlights the benefits to be gained and that there is still much work to be done.

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