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Diversity Goes Deeper Than Hiring

Diversity in the workplace is important, but in different ways than you might think.

There’s the obvious moral reason: people of diverse backgrounds should all be given equal opportunities for employment.

But there’s a business reason as well: According to a wide field of research, businesses that focus on diversity actually improve their bottom lines.

This MIT study, for example, demonstrated that switching from all-male or all-female offices to ones that evenly split genders could lead to a 41-percent increase in revenue.

Then there’s diversity of thought among employees, which has shown to increase overall production significantly. This is the idea that different perspectives fight against harmful elements like groupthink and overconfidence. Instead, they lead to new insights that can improve business practices.

Ethnic diversity can bring about a broader range of services as workers may be able to speak different languages or have a clearer understanding of certain cultures. This can allow a business to expand its clientbase, or even enter the global market for the first time.

This Forbes study surveyed 321 executives at global enterprises, companies with at least $500 million annual revenue. It found that 85 percent agreed that diversity is a key driver in innovation and being successful on a global scale.

The move toward more diversity, especially in United States workplaces, is inevitable as the population shifts.

According to a study that analyzed U.S. census data to make long-term projections about the workforce, by 2060 the white population will decline by 10 percent in the United States, making it no longer the majority population. Other ethnicities will make up for the percentage differences, and as the United States grows more diverse, so will its workforce.

Some workplaces are not quite there yet, and minority employees may struggle with feeling included. This is not just bad for the employee, but bad for the company.

Exclusivity marginalizes employees who, according to the above studies, add a ton of value to their companies. Included workers are happy workers, and happy workers have shown to be 12 percent more productive than those who are not.

Differences in the workplace do not end with cultural backgrounds. Workers differ in religion, sexual orientation, and age as well. Some may have disabilities, speech difficulties, or mental health illness.

This is why it’s important to build a work environment that is inclusive for everyone.

Here are some ways to get started.

Begin with Leadership

Lead with an open mind. Employees need to know that no element of who they are — ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or anything else — will affect how they are treated at work. If workers feel like they have to hide who they are, they will likely be less personally engaged in their work. This can result in low morale, unhappiness, and decreased productivity.

Leaders need to make sure employees understand that their differences are accepted, and even celebrated. This can be accomplished by always keeping lines of communication open and making them easy to access.

Employees should know where to turn if something in the workplace makes them feel uncomfortable and should feel comfortable being able to turn there.

This can be done by communicating a clear no-discrimination policy to all employees and having procedures in place to make sure to make sure the policies are upheld. Diversity training can also be a part of the hiring process, and should be incorporated into the employee training regimen regularly.

Educate Each Other

Diversity should not be the third rail of workplace discussion, nor should it be up to human resources to create an inclusive atmosphere. It should just be part of the fabric of a company.

Employers can create ways for people of different backgrounds to interact in both work and non-work settings. They can organize meals, or in-office potlucks, where cuisines from different cultures are shared.

They can find ways to recognize cultural holidays like displaying a multicultural calendar somewhere in the workplace. That way, there will never be can’t-miss meetings or events scheduled on days when some workers may not be able to attend. Employers could allow flexible scheduling during these times so employees can properly observe the important days in their cultures.

To the same end, when planning events or office parties every employee should have the opportunity to give input on date, location, activities, and food choices.

This doesn’t have to be a sit-down discussion, but sending along a note asking whether employees have input or suggestions goes a long way in making people feel included.

Even if not everyone participates, the business would be doing its part by giving everyone the opportunity to be involved, and encouraging them to do so.

Commit to It

Diversity and acceptance can be part of your brand.

This begins by hiring diverse workers and making sure your openings are posted in a wide variety of places where people of different backgrounds will have access to them.

You can take it further by including workers in decisions like what charities or causes the company would support.

For certain businesses, diversity can be incorporated in marketing campaigns or social media efforts. That messaging will reach employees as well, and if communicated properly, may have a top-down effect on workers already on staff.

These messages of acceptance can also be included in regular communications with workers. If the company has a newsletter, for example, it can reference important days in different cultures when applicable.

These messages should not be limited to ethnicity. There is an opportunity to reach out to any employee group vulnerable to marginalization.

Never Assume

There may be heteronormative patterns built into some people’s speech, like asking about someone’s husband or wife. There are also easy ways to adjust these patterns. When inviting employees or co-workers to social events, for example, use gender-neutral terms like “partner.”

Assumptions can hurt acceptance elsewhere, too.

Some workers may not be capable of certain activities. If someone has a physical disability, he or she probably isn’t going to be joining the company softball team.

Similarly, if someone is in recovery from substance abuse, he or she might not want to go to happy hour.

This shouldn’t hinder what you can and can’t do socially, but it’s important to be conscious of these issues. There can be a softball team, and there can be happy hours, as long as there’s no expectation or assumption that everybody join.

It doesn’t hurt to have alternative activities ready to go either.

The Sooner, the Better

According to a 2015 survey, 85 percent of CEOs who have a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy say it has improved their bottom line. Meanwhile, three in ten said they still don’t have a strategy in place, and only 13 percent of those said there are plans to adopt one.

If your company does not have a strategy, it’s not like you’re way behind, but it’s time to get one.

Diverse companies are better at making decisions. They can serve a wider client base. They make more money.

Embracing diversity is no longer just moral responsible — it’s fiscally responsible.

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