why you shouldn’t forget about workplace diversity

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Right around the year 2000, initiatives encouraging employee diversity were a key growing Human Resources trend. Companies around the United States—and worldwide—strove to be more inclusive in their hiring, promotion, and management structures. Leaders researched best practices, consulted with experts, and crafted programs to encourage diversity throughout every level of their organizations. But fast-forward fifteen years, and workplace diversity seems to be a burned-out topic. In fact, a recent study shows that diversity and inclusion actually rank dead last in a list of urgent HR leadership trends and initiatives worldwide.

But why has the hubbub died down? Is it because lack of diversity in the workplace is no longer an issue? Is our diversity problem already resolved, after just a decade and a half of HR initiatives (which no longer even rank as a priority, according to the survey above)? You probably know what’s coming next. The wage gap that affects both women and minorities (and minority women disproportionately) says—no. The relatively small number of female and minority leaders also reveals that we have much room for improvement. The Society of Human Resource Management reports that, although diversity is a key aspect of American society, “large majorities of employers don’t provide diversity training.” And perhaps most telling is the finding of a recent Harvard Business Review article, which describes that in a review of 700 American companies, “The most commonly used diversity programs do little to increase representation of minorities and women.”

So, not only have we not truly addressed or confronted the lack of diversity throughout organizations, but current diversity programs, where they already exist, are also ineffective in fostering a more inclusive workplace. Why could that be? Perhaps it’s because workplace diversity has fallen off our radar. We don’t talk about blind hiring as much as we do about unlimited leave policies. We don’t discuss the importance of creating opportunities for candidates with disabilities—instead, we study open-floor office plans. But neglecting workplace diversity is a grave mistake.

Let’s review why employee diversity is so crucial. First and foremost, it’s about fairness and equality. A commitment to leveling the playing field for applicants allows employers to find best-fit, well-qualified candidates who will make their teams and products stronger. Furthermore, when diverse hires work together, there’s a distinct advantage for innovation. Unique perspectives and experiences encourage open-mindedness and empower new ideas. And an adaptive workforce and company, the kind that is comprised of employees with diverse mindsets and worldviews, can better respond to market changes or customer requests. “Two heads are better than one” is the old adage. Now, magnify that to the scale of your company, and you’ll see why diversity is so crucial.

And, lest you think it’s all about creativity and brainstorming, the numbers show that diversity delivers a measurable bottom-line impact, too. A McKinsey study finds that companies that are gender-diverse are 15% more likely to outperform non-diverse peers in the market, while ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform non-diverse peers. So it’s in your own best interest to start bringing the diversity topic back up.

The challenges to encouraging diversity are numerous. People struggle with implementing needed changes, hiring practices inherently carry biases, and new HR initiatives may get off to a rocky start. But the benefits of diversity are boundless. As you discuss the future of workforce inclusivity at your company, remember that diversity comes in many shapes and forms. Traditionally, it has meant female and minority workers. But now, you can also think of it in other forms, including generational diversity and traditional versus remote employees. Workplace diversity is here to stay, and you would be better off tackling the challenges it faces now rather than later. It may not be trending this year, but the way you approach diversity will make a huge difference for your company’s future growth and success.

By elena todorova
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