For the past few decades, business scholars have touted the benefits of developing a diverse workforce. They referenced studies that illustrated that hiring more women and people of color can lead to greater profits, innovation, and tremendous business success. Their conclusions were not wrong, but the application of their findings continues to elude business owners around the world. Successfully reaping the benefits of employing a diverse workforce requires a profound understanding of why these advantages spring forth out of diversity and the stumbling blocks that stand in the way of realizing them.
Benefits of Diversity
1. Thinking Outside the Box
When compared with homogenous groups of individuals with similar experiences and backgrounds, non-homogenous groups are more likely to develop unexpected solutions to problems. It is not because they are innately better innovators. Instead, it appears to result from the marriage of a more diverse set of solutions to a common problem.
If you are working with a group of like-minded individuals, the chances are that you will arrive at similar conclusions when faced with a challenge. However, if one person in the group views the problem from a different perspective, their input could influence the whole team to approach the situation differently. This novel way of viewing the problem naturally gives way to innovation. New ideas and processes may develop.
Diversity in perspective and opinion can force every group member to question their preconceived notions and question their assumptions. For this problem-solving to be effective in business, however, diverse individuals must feel comfortable divulging differing opinions. The cohesion of the team must not trump the expression of new ideas.
2. Accurately Productive
Teams able to accomplish more in the same time frame can complete projects and solve problems in less time than their peers. However, doing work quickly is not always the desired result. Groups of diverse individuals benefit from the talents and experiences of each member of the group as they work to solve everyday problems. As team members learn how unique skills and abilities apply to the situation, they may question their own understanding.
Working in a diverse group forces individuals to fall back on the facts of a situation rather than relying on their gut feeling or intuition. Examining problems objectively pulls team members out of their personal ruts of thinking, allowing them to view the issue from all outside perspectives and make rational decisions. While these groups may feel a greater sense of discomfort in applying data, metrics, and facts to solve problems in new ways, their solutions are often brilliant. Basing decisions on the facts and employing a wider variety of skills and experience makes these diverse teams more productive.
3. Decreased Bias
As individuals, we all have our circle of influence, including family, friends, and coworkers. These are the people with whom we associate regularly and feel comfortable around. Because we are human, most of us fall into a circle of associates that are like us. We have something or many things in common – we like the same music, read the same books, enjoy the same food, or have the same taste in movies. How much do we know and understand about those that are not like us?
A diverse workplace presents a unique opportunity to learn about and from different races, genders, cultures, religions, ethnic backgrounds, and social circles. Interacting regularly with diverse individuals allows us to learn more firsthand, dispelling stereotypes, misconceptions, and personal biases. Employees may replace misunderstanding with respect and high esteem for people in minority groups. Once attained, this cultural understanding and respect may permeate the workplace and spread through outside social interactions.
An employee’s ability to understand and respect people of many different cultures spills over into customer service as well. Effectively communicating and serving a culturally diverse customer base lends the organization more global relevance and allows them to break into new markets. Culturally diverse employees’ language expertise may be helpful as well.
4. Decreased Employee Turnover
Employers can only successfully maintain a culturally diverse workforce when culturally diverse employees feel included and valued. Hiring minority applicants is a significant first step, but if these new hires do not feel included in day-to-day operations and decision-making, they are likely to leave. Employee retention depends upon full inclusion. Every employee needs to feel part of the group, but they also need opportunities to influence how project paths and opportunities to advance.
This fact is especially true in c-suite positions. Working with an executive recruiter to hire diverse individuals benefits you little if you are not prepared to learn from the diverse ideas and perspectives that individual has to offer. You are more likely to incur the cost of recruiting another candidate when they vacate the position.
Candidates view companies that maintain supportive and diverse company culture as forward-thinkers. This environment where all are valued and respected is appealing to many different individuals, giving you an advantage in hiring the most skilled candidates. You are likely to attract applicants from a larger pool and have a greater chance of acquiring the best talent.
The benefits of a diverse workforce are abundantly clear. Companies that successfully accomplish diversity and inclusion show increased profits, problem-solving, productivity, employee engagement, and employee retention. Why then do so many companies still struggle to realize these benefits?
Cultural diversity is not a recipe for business success. One cannot simply add diverse employees to the mix and expect outcomes to change. Diversity works when the unique perspectives, experiences, and knowledge of every individual are allowed to permeate through the organization, leaving its mark on cultural norms and practices. It teaches us new ways of thinking about things and novel approaches to solving problems.
Realizing the full benefits of workplace diversity requires taking a few extra steps.
1. Establishing Trust – Maintain a company culture where it is safe to express opposing opinions and ideas. Employees must feel safe and comfortable being different from the group. Leaders are the curators of company culture. Banishing attitudes of conformity and discrimination starts at the top and trickles down through every level. Personal changes by executives can lead to lasting change.
2. Discourage Sameness – Organizational norms often play to the strengths of the majority. Employees who act differently by nature or background should not be encouraged to change who they are to fit in better or do the job the way others expect. A culture that embraces employees that may be brilliant but different will reap the benefits of their ideas and viewpoints.
3. Create a Culture of Learning – Learn to draw lessons from the different views of others. Even if their approach is not the ideal solution to the problem, they may still present valid points worth considering. Developing a culture where all learn from each other freely will be inclusive and beneficial to all.
Successfully establishing a diverse company culture supported by inclusion requires full executive management support. Lead by their example to accept and learn from all types of individuals will bring innovation to the forefront of the company, allowing you to achieve company goals and missions.