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Rethinking workplace diversity

Diversity is difference. Both visible and invisible; subjective and selective; socially constructed yet based on real experience. It has the power to engender both feelings of inclusion and of intimidation.

Yet workplace diversity is far more than just a moral issue. Organisations have the opportunity to harness the difference in people to help them become more successful, more innovative, more skilled and better able to cater to their diverse clients’ needs.

But despite the well-documented advantages of creating a diverse workforce, the reality is less clear cut. As we work, both literally and figuratively, through the changing workplace dynamics in the aftermath of the pandemic, we need to rethink workplace diversity.

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Reiterating the case for diversity

Workplace diversity may seem a frequently discussed topic, and it’s more or less assumed the vast majority would argue in its favour. Any rethink about workplace diversity must start with acknowledging just how far there still is to go.

In 2019 there were just 10 individuals from ethnic minorities in leadership positions across the entire FTSE 100, only four of these with a chief executive title. This is equivalent to 7.4%, despite ethnic minority groups making up 14% of the population (Green Park, 2019).

Furthermore, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in the UK reported that since 2010 the number of individuals from ethnic minority groups aged between 15 and 24 who are unemployed has increased by 49% compared to a 2% decrease for those from ethnic majority groups (EHRC, 2016, Aug 19).

The gains from workplace diversity are not just moral.

Companies with high levels of diversity financially outperform industry medians compared with those with low gender diversity by 16%, ethnic diversity increases the likelihood of financial outperformance by 35% (McKinsey & Company, 2017).

Organisations with female board representation also outperform those without by 26% in share price performance (Credit Suisse, 2012).

Clearly, there are both moral and financial benefits to creating workplace diversity as quickly as possible. The ultimate question is how we do so in a way that is both sustainable and fair.

Looking beyond the status quo

We must start with learning about diversity and inclusion from a range of different individuals and resources.

Education and awareness are critical in learning about the perspectives and experiences of minority groups, and the wider the audience you learn from, the greater the awareness you build.

Yet research has shown that despite 85% of employers saying diversity is important, only 46% have programmes in place to attract diverse talent, and 45% feel their recruitment tools are ineffective at doing so (Robert Walters, 2017).

We must overhaul recruitment practices from end to end, from removing job postings that unintentionally use language stereotypically ascribed to men, to introducing blind CVs and providing unconscious bias training for all involved.

How diversity and inclusion work in an organisation will depend on context, and methods that are successful for one company may not be effective for another.

It is important that HR managers, D&I professionals and business leaders constantly review their practices and either continue where positive outcomes are seen, or implement change where they are not.

The opportunity to harness people’s differences to feed innovation in business is immense. Putting the right tools and processes in place, and looking beyond our own echo chambers to learn from the experiences of minority groups are steps in the right direction.

But successfully rethinking workplace diversity requires everyone, from senior leaders to HR managers and line managers, to be actively engaged in creating tangible change for the better. Only by working together can we create truly diverse workplaces.

By Sabby Gill, CEO at Thomas International

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