Adapt now or risk your competitive edge
This is the first of four articles from our 4-part series on diversity and inclusive cultures (D&I). These articles will offer insights into the benefits of D&I while providing strategies that will guide an organization towards understanding the growing need for D&I, as well as how they can embrace it. Each article aims to create an understanding of how an organization can start working towards the successful implementation of a bespoke diverse and inclusive culture.
To start our first article, we will introduce the topic of D&I, including its benefits and potential pitfalls. In our second article, we dive into the main themes, including diverse and inclusive leadership for both executives and middle managers. Our third article will uncover the structures that can be put in place and some roadblocks to avoid. Finishing our series will be our look at culture within diverse and inclusive organisations.
35% higher financial performance
In an increasingly globalized world, businesses everywhere are working with people from varied backgrounds. Teams can be made up of people representing different genders, ethnicities, ages, religions, disabilities, sexual orientations, professional orientations, education levels and nationalities. Increased diversity means a need to change the approach used to create an inclusive culture for everyone, not just for the majority. Diversity is certainly not mainstream, however, it is increasingly recognized as critical to an organization’s ability to be competitive.
A study of 366 companies from the UK as well as North and South America , representing a variety of industries, found that the companies who lead in terms of ethnic diversity levels were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.
Reaping the benefits of diversity
Never before has it been as common for businesses to have a diverse workforce, let alone engage in discussions and reflections on how to increase it. Higher diversity amongst teams has been empirically proven to provide an increase in financial returns, productivity, collaboration and innovation. The old adage “nothing worth having comes easy”, can accurately relate the need for a considered approach to D&I.
Only when diversity is well managed can the benefits be prepared. Mismanaged attempts can create problems such as fear, anger, frustration, miscommunication, an inability to retain clients or employees and higher sickness rates. It is important to explicitly recognize both the benefits and potential consequences, especially when initially exploring what has become an imperative consideration for organizations everywhere. When just 10% of employees can say that they feel their organisation is committed to D&I, leadership would see an increase in employee attendance by about one day per-year, per-person.
The measurable impact of building an inclusive culture
A carefully managed approach to diversity will bring a variety of benefits to an organisation, positively impacting the people who make up the company, thus benefiting the organisation’s bottom line. As touched on before, there are metrics that demonstrate a clear increase in productivity and innovation, employee and customer satisfaction and retention, which all lead to an increase in financial returns. These metrics have also shown that organizations who create diverse and inclusive cultures and structures increase their ability to tap into an underutilized labor pool.
In 2011, 30% of births in the UK were to households made up of non-european ancestry, yet the workforce in the UK was only 10% non-white. Social and economic factors have created an imbalance which hampers the growth of minority communities, creating a large force of undertrained, yet equally, or sometimes, more able, workforce. The need to engage with this mostly untapped force is another increasingly clear need, especially for companies who have products targeting minorities.
Why a checklist won’t work
Any approach aiming to increase D&I within your company must start with recognizing that you cannot, and must not, take a one-and-done, checklist style approach. Striving to create this style of organization will require a commitment to a flexible work life. Flexibility and metric-based performance reviews are often the guiding factors of employees’ perceptions of their organization’s commitment to D&I. This is further supported by employee descriptions of inclusive organizations. Such descriptions include an individual’s ability to be their authentic selves, knowing they have the respect of their colleagues, that their talents are being leveraged and that they as individuals, as well as their contributions, are valued. Put simply, an inclusive culture is one driven by feelings of fairness and respect, helping to earn trust, and further built upon by feeling valued and that they belong.
Without creating an inclusive culture any attempts at increasing diversity will struggle to be sustained, and the same can be said for the creation of a diverse workplace lacking, at the least, a foundation for an inclusive culture. It is clear that non-homogenous teams offer great benefits to an organisation, though it will only work when the differences of the team are utilized in a way that leverages the strengths of each individual.
The common information effect is a good example of this. It says that when a group comes together, they are more likely to discuss and consider the information that they all have and share, instead of information that may come from a unique perspective or minority in the group. With the right leadership and structure, this limitation can be avoided. Furthermore, without an inclusive culture, the ability to highlight unique perspectives, and thus increase employees’ feelings of belonging and value, would be constrained.
Leading the tough conversations
D&I practices should be fluid and consciously crafted to suit the individual needs of an organisation, taking into account its employees, stakeholders, and potential labor pools. As awareness, followed by employee buy-in is sought, difficult conversations will be had , especially in the beginning. This is where a strong leader is needed, one who understands and full-heartedly supports the idea of a fair-minded diverse and inclusive workplace.
Furthermore, increasing D&I within your company will create dissent, something which everyone involved must become accepting of, as it is essential for deep critical thinking. Appropriate structures can be put in place to ease this transition, while creating guiding principles and tangible actions which will help facilitate the growth of an organisation’s cultural climate in a way that authentically demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to D&I.
The measurable financial benefits are just one of the many rewards that come from successfully implemented D&I practices, employee retention and attendance also top the list. Creating or changing the culture of an organization is no easy task, especially when you consider the vast differences between companies. A bespoke approach based on a variety of factors, allows an organization to put itself in the best position for the successful implementation of D&I.
Keep an eye out for our second article, where we will discuss the nuances of effective D&I leadership from entry-level employees up to the board of directors.