The power of inclusion: why workplace diversity is more than just numbers
Diversity in the workplace - differences in people based on their ethnicity, gender, age, sexual and gender identities, religion, nationality, disabilities and other characteristics - is a hot topic. And for good reason. Evidence shows diverse and inclusive teams and workplaces are better at problem-solving, more creative, and have higher productivity, employee engagement and retention. But having a diverse workforce doesn't automatically produce these benefits. In order to reap the true benefits of diversity, everyone must be included and given a voice. Diversity without inclusion is just numbers.
A primary benefit of diversity in the workplace is the capacity to bring individuals with different perspectives and backgrounds together to solve problems. When a team comprises individuals who all think and approach problems in the same way, it leads to groupthink. But when teams are diverse, with a variety of experiences, ideas, and perspectives, this leads to better decision-making and problem-solving. Diverse teams are more likely to offer and consider a wider range of viewpoints and options. This results in more innovative solutions.
Diversity in the workplace also fosters creativity. When individuals with different perspectives and backgrounds come together, they are more likely to challenge each other's assumptions and come up with new and creative ideas. This creates a more dynamic and innovative workplace culture.
Workplace diversity also increases organisational productivity and competitiveness through enhanced employee engagement and retention. When people feel valued and included at work, they are more likely to be engaged, committed and productive. Higher job satisfaction raises productivity and lowers employee turnover. In contrast, when staff are excluded or marginalised, they are more likely to feel disengaged and may leave the organisation. I know that's happened to me in my career.
But! Simply having a diverse workforce is not enough. In order to truly reap the benefits of diversity, everyone needs to be included and genuinely listened to. This requires cultural competency and safety. It means creating a workplace where everyone feels valued, respected and willing to speak up, regardless of their background or identity. It means actively seeking out and listening to diverse perspectives, and incorporating these into decision-making processes. It means providing opportunities for everyone to grow and develop within the organisation, regardless of their background or identity.
Creating an inclusive workplace culture can be challenging, but there are many evidence-based steps that organisations can take. Diversity and inclusion need to be embedded into all organisational aspects and levels. From my experience, leadership from the top on this also makes a significant difference. One important step is to educate everyone on the importance of diversity and inclusion and to reward modelling of inclusion by staff and their leaders. Training on topics like unconscious bias and cultural competency are useful. Another step is the active recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce - for example through diversity recruitment initiatives and establishing employee support networks.
Diversity without inclusion is just a numbers game and doesn't lead to real benefits. Actually, it can have the inverse effect by setting people up for failure and disappointment. Productive workplaces are ones where everyone feels valued, respected and has a voice. That's why assisting organisations on diversity and inclusion is one of the most rewarding things I do. If you think your organisation might benefit, please reach out. I may be able to help directly or steer you in the right direction for more advice and support.