In 2010, the UK introduced the Equality Act: a piece of legislation designed to ensure that nobody was denied a job opportunity on the basis of their age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or physical ability.
Since then, the push for diversity in the workplace has felt to some as quite forced. It’s often thrown around as a buzzword – another point on the long list of qualities that supposedly make up a healthy business. But diversity is so much more than that. It’s not a box to be checked or a chore to complete.
Diversity is monumentally important to all workers – regardless of their backgrounds – and extremely beneficial to the companies hiring them, too.
How to do diversity the right way
In 2014, a study conducted by the University of Michigan found that diverse hires were sometimes perceived as being less qualified than their non-diverse peers. “They’re seen as having an unfair, unearned advantage in the competition for scarce resources like raises and promotions,” David Mayer, one of the study’s authors, said.
As a result, employees with minority backgrounds can be made to feel like they haven’t earned their place, and may face a hostile reception from coworkers. In the long run, this usually means that diverse team members don’t stick around in their jobs for as long, subsequently missing out on promotions, raises, and opportunities for progression.
Needless to say, this is the opposite of what diverse hiring initiatives set out to achieve.
In order to shift work cultures to ones that truly embrace and accept diversity (not just tolerate it), some extra steps have to be taken.
“An email memo from a fairly senior manager welcoming the new person and describing his or her education, experience, and special knowledge can really make a big difference,” Mayer says. “If someone was hired partly because she has a lot of experience in a particular market the company wants to get into, for example, say that. Don’t assume people will discover it on their own, or that the new employee is even aware that that’s why he or she was hired.”
And that’s just one small solution. On a larger scale, non-diverse individuals need to be made aware of the implications of navigating work life (and, indeed, the wider world) as someone who is a person of colour, or whose gender identity or sexual orientation is not considered to be the ‘norm’.
Training seminars and education programmes can help with this, as can having a work environment that champions diversity and inclusion. But what really hammers home the importance of acceptance is the proof that having a diverse workforce is actually incredibly beneficial to office culture.
The benefits of a diverse workplace
Indeed, far from being a mere buzzword or corporate culture fad, diversity is a good thing – and there are a plethora of reasons why.
For starters, having a varied workforce means that a company can understand and engage with a broader spectrum of perspectives. This is invaluable in both B2B and B2C environments, as it means that businesses can better relate to a whole range of their clients’ needs – not just what the men want, or what white customers want, etc.
To give an extreme example of how a lack of diversity has affected industries in the past: a lot of medical research has been exclusively conducted by and on white men. For this reason, we still don’t understand the nuances of how common medical conditions affect women or people of colour – and this has led to unnecessary deaths as a result.
Because as well as a more diverse range of perspectives, having a diverse workforce means having different innovative approaches. Statistics show that companies with strong gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors, while ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same.
In the long run, this eventually means higher employee engagement, lower turnover rates, and better profits.
“Diversity is about recognising that we all succeed in different ways and as long as we are contributing, we don’t all have to contribute in the same way,” explains Investors in People. “A devoted father may stop work strictly at 5:30 to spend time with his son. An ambitious graduate may work into the evening. Neither takes a ‘better’ approach: they are just different, and both can be as efficient as the other.”
A strong workforce isn’t one that simply puts up with diversity, but rather one that embraces it. No two employees are the same – and that’s something to celebrate. Why wouldn’t a company want different ideas? Innovative solutions? Better inclusivity?
Diversity is not a weakness, and it never has been. At last, we’re starting to see that.