The Importance of Diversity in the Workplace
Diversity and inclusion have become more important in the workplace since globalization and mobility of workers have allowed for more employment opportunities for all.
This means that for a business to excel, to attract the best employees, and to succeed, there needs to be more focus on improving the workplace to include and celebrate differences.
For most organizations, equality is already the focus of recruitment, retention and promotion, ensuring that everyone has the same access to opportunity.
Diversity and inclusion are about more than equal opportunity, however, and can be instrumental in creating a profitable, successful, engaged and capable workforce.
The definition of diversity is:
‘Being composed of different elements’
Every person is different. Whether they are from a different culture, practice a different religion, are neurodivergent or part of the LGBTQ+ community, these differences are recognized and celebrated in a diverse business culture.
Diversity allows experiences, knowledge and culture from varied backgrounds to become a part of the workplace, along with the value that those characteristics bring.
Diversity is about more than just tolerance of differences. It is about embracing and combining them to make a stronger, more inclusive, and therefore more successful business.
A workplace that embraces diversity encourages every employee to not only achieve despite their differences, but because of them.
Although sex and ethnicity are at the forefront of the drive for diversity and inclusivity, especially with the emergence of the #metoo and #blacklivesmatter movements, there are many other aspects to consider, including:
- Educational background
- Political leaning
A diverse range of team members creates a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts.
Inclusion is a term that often goes hand in hand with diversity, but it has a slightly different meaning.
Inclusion refers to the processes a company uses to recruit and retain staff with the aim of building a diverse team. Inclusion leads to diversity.
Once a company has made a diverse team, ensuring that all individuals within that team are respected and have equal opportunities to contribute means that they reach real inclusion.
Inclusion practices allow employees to feel respected and valued. They also feel supported to participate and to access services, promotions and development so that everyone feels like they belong without having to conform.
Having a workplace that values diversity and inclusion is important for the success of the business – from recruiting the best talent to promoting the most suitable workers – creating a safe place for innovation and improvements.
To be successful in drives to achieve diversity in the workplace, all employees must feel equally valued and supported across all aspects of their role within the organization.
As companies develop, one of the major factors that ensure success is the employees themselves. Happy, engaged employees are beneficial to any business as they are invested in success and are working towards shared goals.
Businesses that invest in their workforce attract the best talent – and diversity and inclusion practices are a key factor in this.
Talent management and creating a culture that celebrates diversity not only improves employee experience. It also provides a wider pool for potential recruitment, removing barriers to work for diverse employees.
As public consciousness around matters of diversity and inclusion rises, there is a general understanding of the responsibility everyone has in creating a level playing field for all members of society.
The moral and social responsibility of employers is one of the driving forces in the number of companies committing to increasing diversity.
An excellent inclusion and diversity policy can also boost business, as more and more consumers search for companies that meet their ethical standards.
Employees and customers expect companies and organizations to focus on equality, diversity and inclusion. Not having a clear strategy could therefore be damaging to corporate reputation.
Not only will employees not be interested in coming to a workplace that does not celebrate differences or make them feel welcome, but customers and stakeholders may also form a negative image of the company too.
From a business perspective, it is increasingly becoming recognized that an inclusive and diverse team gives a company a competitive edge in the marketplace. Embracing differences can create a stronger, more agile team.
Embracing differences can create a stronger, more agile team
However, merely hiring those from minority groups is not quite enough.
Beyond this, employers must respect the experience and expertise of employees from all backgrounds and support every member of staff to reach their full potential within the company.
By doing this, collective output and productivity increases, and the positive effects spread throughout the company.
For employees, working within a diverse team brings certain advantages and benefits to the table.
Input from a wide range of people can bring many different opinions and ideas into the mix, and the output of the team improves as a result.
The talents and skills that individuals contribute bring up the standard of work for all and that directly benefits you as part of a successful team.
A diverse group of people can also create a well-rounded team that approaches problems from different angles.
The life experiences of each member gives them a unique perspective on the world, which is reflected in their work.
It has been shown that a diverse team makes decisions and solves problems faster than a homogenous group.
Diversity at the management and leadership level in particular can influence decision-making, with benefits that will filter down through the whole company.
Your employer selected you and your colleagues for your skills and attributes. You have been brought together with a common purpose – to do the work you love and are good at, regardless of your background, identity or lifestyle.
Hiring the best people available boosts the confidence of every individual as they are supported and inspired by their team members.
A diverse and capable team is a very exciting dynamic for an employee to be involved in.
When employers open the talent pool to include people from all walks of life, they increase their chances of hiring the most highly skilled and appropriate people for the job.
When employees are happy and have a fulfilling work life, morale is higher, improving output as a result.
Being part of a diverse team with an employer who supports inclusion and fairness also gives employees a boost.
The ‘thinking outside the box’ approach is much more likely when a range of people are contributing. Often, when the experts struggle to move forward with something, a fresh member of the team with a different perspective can offer an alternative solution.
There is a world of people who have the ability to create and innovate, and opening up the net allows a company to find the best talent for the job.
When individuals are encouraged to be themselves, creativity can flow. From creativity comes innovation and from innovation comes business momentum.
As an employee, you are more likely to be engaged with your team and your organization if you know your employer has an inclusive culture and welcomes diversity.
Millennials, in particular, value diversity when looking for employment.
As an employee, when you know you are valued for your skills and capabilities, you are more likely to speak up, making suggestions and expressing ideas more confidently.
When you are listened to and included, and when your ideas are received and considered in line with everyone else’s, you will be more willing to engage.
It has been shown that companies that encourage ethnic diversity generate significantly higher revenue than their competitors with a less diverse approach.
As an employee, working for a financially stable company improves job security.
Your chances of receiving pay bonuses, additional benefits and salary raises is also higher in a successful and thriving company.
If you decide to move on to a new employer, having a reputable and well-regarded company on your resume will help you in your future career.
If you work for a company that encourages diversity, you are likely to be working alongside the most suitable people for the job. As a result, you and your colleagues are likely to be happier and experience more job satisfaction than someone employed by a company that hires based on prejudiced assumptions.
In turn, this keeps staff turnover low, and teams can grow stronger and closer over time without the upheaval of people leaving and being replaced frequently.
Often, the reason someone is attracted to working for a particular company is due to the diversity they offer. If this is the case for you, you are more likely to be happier in the long term working for an organization and with colleagues that reflect your values.
Feeling valued and accepted helps an employee settle into their role and strive to do the best work they can.
When your team is made up of diverse individuals, you are more likely to be able to relate to a wide range of customers.
Customers appreciate being able to work with a company that reflects their situation and will often support organizations that have a robust diversity and inclusion approach.
It has been shown that appealing to a wide range of customers is one of the main driving forces for companies improving their workplace diversity.
Diverse teams are generally more productive than homogenous groups, with increased output and better results.
As an employee, when you are surrounded by people who want to do well, the motivation and drive for success can be infectious, motivating you and your colleagues to do better.
Faster decision-making, more creativity and a balance of perspectives all contribute to the increased productivity of diverse teams.
If you are bilingual or multilingual, you may find that your language skills are highly valued in a company that strives for diversity.
As well as being useful for translating text for work projects, your additional languages will help you find common ground with others who may be from a similar background to you.
A company that values diversity may also be active in other countries where your language skills will be vital, so the opportunity to travel may arise.
You are much less likely to find bilingual or multilingual employees in a company that doesn’t value diversity and inclusion.
Creating a diverse workforce starts with recruitment.
An inclusive approach to the recruitment process requires advertising roles in places that will reach minority groups in a format that is accessible to people with disabilities.
During the application process, the HR team can manage personal information such as age, race or religion, to either keep the recruiters ‘blind’ or to ensure that the applications put forward are representative of the range of applicants.
These steps can prevent prejudice or unintentional bias from influencing the hiring process.
Employers can follow government suggestions to ensure inclusivity throughout the hiring process. Organizations must also recognize that individuals’ backgrounds significantly affect their opportunities, and this must be accounted for when hiring.
For example, a candidate who achieves an ‘A’ from a failing school in a crime-ridden neighborhood may, arguably, have more drive and ambition than their peer who received their ‘A’ from a private education at a highly reputable school.
As an employee, don’t be afraid to demonstrate how you have overcome struggles to get to where you are today. Grit and tenacity are excellent qualities that are highly valued by employers.
Workplaces must be adapted to be accessible and welcoming to all employees, including adequate wheelchair access, disabled bathroom facilities, nursing or prayer rooms and allowing service dogs if possible.
Invisible disabilities are often overlooked but must be accounted for in any accessibility considerations.
An employer can make ongoing efforts to integrate employees from different social groups and backgrounds together. Encouraging social events and team-building experiences can help gel a team together and prevent groups from forming.
A hotdesk style of working means that employees don’t always sit at the same desk, helping to prevent small groups or cliques. Frequent moving around allows people the opportunity to build relationships with colleagues they may not naturally gravitate towards.
As an employee, a diverse team makes it easier to find someone with whom you can relate and share common interests.
Asking for feedback from employees can also help an employer monitor whether their efforts are effective and what they can do to improve the working environment for minority groups.
If you are job seeking and you value an inclusive approach, look at how diverse the workforce is at every level of an organization. When the top-level management is on board with encouraging diversity, this positive attitude filters down and creates an ethos of tolerance and acceptance.
If diversity is present at board level, it reflects well on the overall culture of the company.
Of course, companies should be working hard to address the gender pay gap, as well as ensuring fair salaries and equal opportunities for all employees.
Now let's look at 10 specific ways to improve diversity and inclusion within the workplace.
The first step is to collect data to understand your present diversity so you know the areas you need to improve.
Like any major new strategy, to understand what works in the process, you need to understand where you are starting from. This means collating data, both quantitative and qualitative, to highlight what the current diversity and inclusion is like in your workplace.
You might be able to use existing data from employee information to understand the cultural, religious and ethnic background of staff. This might have been collected during the onboarding process.
There are bespoke surveys that can be created to assess the current situation, both in terms of demographics and feelings. Surveying staff can give an in-depth snapshot of what the culture is like now and show where improvements can and need to be made.
With this data collection, make sure that staff know what you are looking to find out and how the information will be used.
Giving all employees the chance to voice their opinions, offer suggestions, and even make complaints is important in any workplace. Reassuring them that every voice counts and that positive action will be taken from feedback is important, as is letting them know there will be no negative repercussions to providing that feedback.
If a complaint is made, it is important that management do not see it as something threatening. It should be viewed as an opportunity to improve.
In terms of communication channels themselves, ensuring that all staff have access – no matter their educational background, age or even native language – gives everyone an equal opportunity.
This means that not only can they make their voices heard, but they can also receive important information and updates in a way that suits them best.
For example, a group chat might be appropriate for some employees, whereas others would prefer an intranet message board, email or even a letter.
Although it might not be straightforward, the upper management team should reflect the values of the diversity and inclusion strategy you want to employ for staff.
Diversity and inclusion should be a strategy that positively affects employees at every level of the business, from the C-suite to the janitorial staff.
It might not always be feasible to staff the executive team to fully reflect the diverse workforce, but they must be completely on board with not only the diversity and inclusion strategy but also the reasons why it is so important.
This is something that many organizations already focus on – making changes to the recruitment process so as not to negatively impact someone who may fall under the ‘diverse’ umbrella.
Whether that is supporting people with a physical disability to attend an interview or making allowances for parents, this equal opportunity employment practice has a positive impact.
As part of the diversity and inclusion strategy, recruitment needs to be about much more than just equal opportunity. It needs to positively celebrate diversity, understanding the beneficial impact that comes from a workforce with different backgrounds, cultures, religions and experiences.
To make sure this happens, ensure that job descriptions are geared towards a person specification that is not discriminatory and have an application process that decreases any unconscious bias.
Any strategy that is likely to influence staff and their line managers on a day-to-day basis needs to have the full support of the leaders.
This means listening to them and understanding how inclusionary measures might impact their day-to-day job role, and how they might have to change or adapt to be able to support diverse staff needs.
As part of this, and as part of the recruitment process, leaders must be trained in recognizing and removing bias.
Bias can be conscious or unconscious, and neither help create a diverse and inclusive working environment.
This refers to the open feelings and actions that are known and understood – and in the most extreme cases, can cause bullying, harassment and other undesirable behavior.
Having a conscious bias against someone might include being overtly racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory.
This is the subtle stereotyping that might happen when faced with someone who is ‘not like you’ – where there is no overt discrimination or exclusion but it still exists, usually without you even being aware of it.
It often goes completely unnoticed, but it can influence decisions and behavior implicitly.
It can be thinking better of someone because they are like you, or less of someone because they are different; whether younger, a different ethnicity or practicing a different religion.
Unconscious bias needs to be recognized and understood to be effectively removed from the organization. Training leaders as well as staff on how to recognize and address unconscious bias is a good practice to include in your diversity and inclusion strategy.
There are several simple ways to do this in the workplace, including:
Respect religious holidays – Allowing days off for holy days where possible is important
Provide a prayer room – Creating a safe space for prayer in the workplace is simple and effective and can be non-denominational so that it is suitable for all religions
Be sensitive regarding seasonal parties – If you have a staff party at set times of the year, ensure that it is seen as a ‘holiday party’ or an end-of-year celebration, rather than just for Christmas, for example.
Making sure that employees feel safe to practice their religion or culture in the workplace, and that they are celebrated for their diversity, leads to secure, happy employees.
As part of any strategy, a leader can provide a single point of contact for stakeholders; a ‘go-to’ person for information, training resources, feedback and complaints.
This diversity and inclusion leader could be the person to receive extra training or to deliver any diversity and inclusion training to teams.
They can keep up with legislation and what other companies are doing. They can also remain focused on diversity issues that might come up on an ongoing basis.
Naming a diversity and inclusion leader gives real importance to the strategy and improves confidence throughout the workforce.
Transparency about pay is important. Making sure there are no pay inequalities between employees should be front of mind when looking at pay rises and promotions.
Openly providing information about pay grades, bonuses and achievements also show commitment to equality.
If there are disparities, for example between male and female employees, make the necessary changes so that every person of equal ability and experience is paid the same rate.
When you have a truly diverse staff, ensuring that every member has equal opportunity, access and control over what happens in the office makes it more inclusive.
Age, gender, disability, religion, background and cultural differences should be provided for every day, in the way that makes the most sense for the groups involved.
For daily office life, a halal-only fridge is a simple change, as is education about fasting days.
There are a few diversity and inclusion themed days, weeks or months of celebration, such as Black History Month, Mental Health Awareness Week, Imbolc, Lent, and many, many more.
Using these days as a celebration can also help with training because learning about other ethnic backgrounds, cultures and religions, as well as understanding physical and mental disabilities, is expected at these times.
Make sure that every area of the workplace is accessible for all staff. Consider canteens and kitchens, so that food storage and prep areas can be reached by all – including those in a wheelchair, for example.
Toilets and washrooms need to be accessible not only for those who may have a disability, hidden or otherwise, but also for those who might be transitioning their gender.
To understand whether your diversity and inclusion strategy is working, regular reports will help you monitor progress.
Data gathered at the beginning can be compared to ongoing data, and this will show where improvements have been made, and what still needs work.
It is worth noting that even with goal-reporting and progress-monitoring, diversity and inclusion is an ongoing process, not a one-shot activity.
Ongoing training for current staff, including diversity and inclusion as part of the onboarding process and regular ‘check-ins’ to ensure that the strategy evolves with the diversity of the staff, will ensure that diversity and inclusion become an everyday part of working life.
Diversity in the workplace is not merely a check-box exercise. When done well, it can improve employee satisfaction, increase output, push up revenue and help create a more fair and equal society.
As an employee, working within a diverse team has numerous advantages. You are more likely to find like-minded people, and you’ll feel confident that you are valued and appreciated for what you bring to the table.
By creating an open, honest and inclusive workforce where employees are happy and motivated, organizations can create communication channels that prevent serious or legal issues like bullying, harassment or discrimination.
This is possible because, as part of the diversity and inclusion strategy, there is a positive commitment from all employees to model and stick to desirable behavior. All employees have a personal responsibility to ensure that inclusion principles are adhered to, and they understand that any undesirable behavior is not tolerated.
Many employees are proud to work for a company that promotes equality and practices inclusion. As an additional benefit, companies that see the value in diversity also tend to generate a higher revenue than other companies, meaning that you can expect better job security, a generous salary and attractive bonuses.
Placing a positive value on diversity and creating an inclusive workplace offers organizations of all sizes the opportunity to attract top talent and be a leader in their industry.
A solid diversity and inclusion strategy makes employees feel safe, valued and empowered – they can bring their true selves to the workplace and are more likely to innovate and succeed.