Why diversity matters

urbankova-sidebarWith all the press about diversity, inclusion (do you remember, publicity about lack of diversity at the Oscars not so long ago?), women in leadership, and the need to be open minded about religious and cultural differences, one might ask “is diversity and inclusion becoming one of the hottest topics of today”?

I’d say possibly yes. Why? Because diversity breeds innovation, and innovation breeds business success. In addition, research supports it. For example, the McKinsey’s study (2015) shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same. And the Deloitte Australia research (2013) highlights the fact that inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments.

Bearing that in mind, let me explain what diversity and inclusion looks like in practice and how it can be beneficial to a business.

Diversity and inclusion – what’s in the name?

If you Google the phrase ‘diversity and inclusion’, quite a few of the most prominent results are links to the distinction between the two terms, an indication that organisations might still be struggling with how to define this term, what it means and how to achieve it in a workplace.

I like to think about diversity as diversity of thought which is much more than the traditional approach taking into consideration ethnical background, gender, etc… Diversity of thought actually  represents diversity of opinions, thought processes, style at work, and relationships, to name but a few; basically, it is a result of everything that has had an impact on us individually to date. These differences in the workplace can stimulate innovation, spur insight and increase efficiency, which also contributes to creating a culture open to new ideas and business that prospers.

Inclusiveness is closely linked to diversity and in fact supports it. It needs to be felt within the organisation – everyone must feel they are being heard. Embedding inclusiveness requires a culture change and that can take time, from months to years, depending what ‘baggage’ a particular company carries – it can be its origins, who runs it, and even what type of people work for it. As you can see, there can be quite a few obstacles to overcome before companies achieve inclusiveness should they wish to do so.

How do we build diverse teams?

How do we ensure diversity and inclusion is fully embedded within the organisation? It is not easy – it starts with thorough long-term planning and developing diverse teams. If we hire people who are like ourselves, we are creating very comparable teams where nobody is challenging the status quo and no one is coming up with big ideas. In the current business environment, this is unviable. In addition, for this concept to be truly successful, I believe diversity and inclusion must be strongly supported from the top.

Companies naturally want high-performing teams and people who inspire others, so therefore, they need to embrace diversity and inclusion in full, create a company where people’s different views and opinions matter, are listened to, considered – not simply dismissed. Diversity without inclusion cannot bring full benefits in the area of employee loyalty and engagement.

Some companies have begun taking advantage of diversity and inclusion in a workplace and have been doing a great job. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple who is believed to be most powerful gay CEO, wrote: “Long before I started work as the CEO of Apple I became aware of a fundamental truth: People are much more willing to give of themselves when they feel that their selves are being fully recognised and embraced. At Apple, we try to make sure people understand that they don’t have to check their identity at the door. We’re committed to creating a safe and welcoming workplace for all employees, regardless of race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation.”

And finally…

The demographic changes happening globally require leaders to be more open-minded and flexible in order to attract the next generation of prospective employees from a wider pool and from diverse backgrounds. Therefore, diversity and inclusion is becoming a necessity in a workplace – embracing it should be a way of life for a company and an ingrained part of its very DNA.

The workforce behind every business and organisation operating today continues to be the greatest asset to contribute to its competitive advantage. The potential to improve business performance is locked up in the individual and group potential of diverse employees, and can only be unleashed by creating an inclusive working environment. It’s a win-win situation.

Just as Stephen Covey, an American educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker, once said: “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”. So, how does your company stack up when it comes to diversity and inclusion?