Diversity… what does that mean to your business and why is it important?

The definition of diversity is ‘the state of being diverse; variety’.

If you work in HR, you don’t need a business case to tell you why workforce diversity is a good thing. We know it intuitively.

But when a business is in business to make money, how can HR influence the movers and shakers to drive the diversity agenda up the list of strategic priorities, rather than see it fall to the bottom as something of a tick box exercise?

As true partners to the business, the answer lies in joining up the dots to show how workforce diversity can deliver people and performance improvements that reduce risk and increase margins. There’s enough evidence out there now to show the value diversity brings: The business case for diversity is now overwhelming. Here’s why | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

It’s one thing to get the board listening, but it needs everyone round the table to buy into and commit to embedding and nurturing the conditions for EDI so that it goes from being an aim to becoming the norm.

EDI is not a pet project, it’s not a one-off initiative, and having an EDI policy that says good stuff, but pays lip service to the issue is not enough. Employees and consumers aren’t stupid. They know actions speak louder than words.

Similarly, any organisation that ‘pinches’ someone else’s EDI Policy and adopts it as their own is unlikely to realise any real benefits. They need to do their own thinking when defining their diversity aims and ambitions and aligning them with their culture and values.

So with a vision in mind, there needs to be a plan; a trajectory of travel from the ‘as is’ to the desired state.

‘As Is’ Questions

  •  How diverse is your organisation now?
  • How does under-representation impact your business?

‘To Be’ Questions

  • What can be achieved by having a more diverse workforce?
  • What do we need to prioritise?
  • What are the challenges we’re likely to face along the way and how can they be overcome?

Once you’ve defined your goals you’ll need to identify the resource(s) required to drive progress.

Your answer to the question ‘what can be achieved by having a more diverse workforce’, will inform your EDI policy, the conditions and all of the practices that underpin it.

For some businesses, their EDI policies limit diversity to the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act.

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation.

Others may look beyond this to include different social backgrounds (education, income etc.), demographic differences (Gen X, baby boomers, geography etc.), but diversity extends further than this to differences in attitudes and beliefs, as well as differences in knowledge, skills and personality, and how people think and process information; neurodiversity.

But what can having a diverse workforce mean for your business?

A workforce representative of every walk of life, encouraged and empowered to contribute their different perspectives and inputs, can mean the difference between:

As Is                                                                                  

  • Difficulty attracting top talent
  • Lack of innovation in products and services
  • Poor reputation
  • Hive mind
  • Not empowered to make decisions/take risks
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Stagnant productivity
  • Poor performance
  • Tension and conflict
  • Poor job satisfaction
  • Poor morale, employee engagement and loyalty
  • Poor customer relations and service delivery
  • Poor attendance
  • Claims of bias and discrimination
  • High turnover
  • Fixed mindsets
  • Poor consumer/brand loyalty
  • Stagnant workplace
  • Silos
  • Slow to react
  • Demotivated individuals and teams

To Be

  • Access to more talent
  • Innovative products and services
  • Enhanced reputation as an employer of choice
  • Improved creativity, problem-solving and innovation
  • Better decision making
  • Greater flexibility
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved organisational performance and efficiency
  • Enhanced trust
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Enhanced morale, employee engagement and loyalty
  • Improved customer relations and service delivery
  • Improved attendance
  • Reduction in claims of bias and discrimination
  • Reduced turnover
  • Growth mindsets
  • Enhanced consumer/brand loyalty
  •  Vibrant workplace
  • Collaboration
  • Responsive to changing environments
  • Motivated individuals and teams

And that’s just a few benefits!

As many of us have learned through unconscious bias training, we’re hard wired to categorise and sort people into groups. We also tend to gravitate towards people who are just like us. If we’re not actively challenging our unconscious biases and fostering diversity within our organisations, we may be inadvertently repelling prospective and existing talent and customers.

So if we want to encourage greater diversity, we need to look at the same problems with a different lens, challenging established ideas about what our organisations need, inviting fresh thinking and creating the conditions that foster greater EDI.

That may mean loosening the reigns and unpicking some of the uniform systems we created to protect the status quo, but why not? After all, aren’t we all unique in our own different ways?