Workplace diversity refers to the composition of the workforce. A diverse workplace is made up of people with a range of different characteristics. These include sex, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, race, and ethnicity. Workplace diversity also means employing individuals with different backgrounds, lifestyles, and experiences.
It’s important that organizations purposefully work towards improving their workplace diversity. It’s key to demonstrating that your business is an advocate for fairness and inclusivity. Moreover, there are several commercial benefits to having a diverse workforce. Some of these benefits include increased productivity and profits.
Types of Diversity in the Workplace
These can be broken down into internal and external types of diversity. Internal diversity refers to characteristics we’re born with or that are within us. External diversity refers to experiences and how individuals view the world. These may change over time.
Here are some examples of both internal and external diversity.
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Race, color, national origin
- Physical disability
- Personality types
- Family and upbringing
- Socioeconomic status
- Political affiliations
- Veteran status
- Personal beliefs
What Is Meant by DEI?
DEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. These concepts are often interconnected.
For instance, to be able to foster diversity in the workplace, we have to create an environment where difference is accepted and valued. People from underrepresented groups need to feel a sense of belonging. This is where inclusion comes in.
Consider also that not everyone starts at the same point. Equity looks to restore the balance and give everyone fair and equal opportunities. For example, it’s important to recognize that those with chronic illnesses might need more time off than others. This should be built into your absence management policy.
Promoting equity and inclusion is therefore a vital part of fostering the kind of culture where diversity can flourish.
Why Is Workplace Diversity Important?
Recent movements such as #MeToo, LGBTQ rights, and Black Lives Matter have made a big social impact. Businesses are also realizing the need to make diversity an organizational priority. Here are some of the reasons why having a diverse workforce is essential:
It is important that employees believe that their organization’s values demonstrate integrity. When a workplace is diverse and inclusive, employees from all backgrounds can feel aligned with the company’s values. They will feel part of something bigger and, as a result, more engaged.
Recruitment and retention
Recent research by EY shows that 67% of job seekers see workplace diversity as highly significant when considering whether to apply to an organization. If you don’t prioritize diversity, you might face challenges in attracting new employees. You might even experience problems retaining the ones you have if competing organization has a better focus on diversity.
When an organization has a diverse workforce, it suggests that everyone within the business is accepted for who they are. This sense of inclusion creates psychological safety for all employees. Employees will feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work. This nurtures a culture of belonging, which supports employees’ well-being in the workplace.
Research by Deloitte found that promoting diversity led to an uplift of 83% in employees’ ability to innovate. Diversity encourages individuals with different backgrounds to share their unique perspectives. It can lead others to question their own points of view and to see things differently. This process gives space to create and grow new ideas through healthy workplace debates.
Diversity exposes employees to the challenges faced by different groups of people. It will also enable employees to better understand their clients’ and customers’ needs. Overall, this will lead to better customer service and improved customer satisfaction.
Diversity in the workforce can also have a direct impact on an organization’s turnover and profit. A 2018 study found that companies with diverse management teams generated an average of 19% more revenue than those without.
Research by McKinsey also shows that diversity can be the catalyst for increased productivity in the workplace. This ultimately leads to financial success.
It’s the right thing to do
Integrity for a business is important. It guides decision-making and ensures processes are ethical. It will also ultimately enhance the external perception of your organization.
While this is a valuable byproduct, it shouldn’t be the driver for wanting diversity in the workplace, however. You should strive for an authentic approach to improving diversity, rather than paying lip service to it. As a result, you’ll generate stronger engagement from your employees.
The Risks of Not Having Workplace Diversity
You should also be mindful of the risks you could expose yourself to if you don’t promote diversity in your organization.
The obvious one is the risk of being sued. If your organization isn’t compliant with legislation such as the Equality Act, you risk being on the receiving end of litigation. Being in the press for being sued would also have a direct impact on your company’s reputation.
As well as this, failure to demonstrate a proactive approach to diversity will also affect your employer brand. This will result in difficulties attracting top talent to your organization. Employee turnover may also be impacted. Employees may decide they would prefer to work for an organization with more inclusive values.
This will result in the additional costs of recruiting and training new employees. You’ll also face the impact of lower productivity whilst new starters settle into their roles. The overall financial losses to your organization could therefore be significant.
How To Implement a Workplace Diversity Strategy
To implement diversity in your workplace, you need a clear strategy that aligns with your company’s mission. Here are some ways to approach it.
Identify who is accountable for the diversity strategy
Everyone is accountable for diversity in the workplace. However, it’s crucial that diversity really embeds. By putting somebody in charge of a strategy, there will be a sense of ownership and motivation to make it a success.
The best way to do this is by a top-down approach, with senior leadership spearheading the overall strategy. This means that any initiatives will be modeled by those at the top. Those at other levels in the organization will see what “good” looks like.
Review your organization’s structure
Your organization should structurally align with your diversity strategy. Consider, for example, the fact that women make up only around 27.9% of people in “C-suite” positions. If you claim to have a diverse hiring process, but your own leadership isn’t diverse, potential hires may look elsewhere.
For a diversity strategy to get meaningful traction, it’s important to be open about where these structural biases and imbalances exist. You can then work to address them.
Develop clear targets
You’ll need to decide what you want the strategy to achieve. For example, do you want to increase the number of women in senior leadership? Or to increase the overall number of employees from ethnic minorities?
Leaders should then look at what kinds of initiatives can change the makeup of the workforce. For example, consider how you approach development initiatives such as succession planning. This could be targeted at those who wouldn’t usually be given these opportunities. You might also invite working-class employees to join a mentoring scheme.
Any diversity goals identified should be broken down into KPIs or “SMART” targets to make it easier to measure progress in this area. It’s important that these goals are shared transparently, both inside and outside the organization.
Have a diversity statement
As part of this strategy, you should develop a diversity, or EEO, statement. This articulates that your organization is committed to promoting diversity. It also shows you are taking steps to embed this into your company culture.
A typical diversity statement might read as follows:
“All suitably qualified applicants will be considered regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or protected veteran status.”
Some organizations are legally obliged to have this—for example, if your company is a federal contractor. However, even those who aren’t obliged may believe it’s important to outline their company’s position and cultural values.
The EEO statement can be published as part of any job vacancy adverts. In addition to this, companies may choose to include the wording on their website for everyone, both internal and external, to see.
Within this statement, organizations should
- highlight their legal obligations in respect of equal opportunities
- briefly outline the organization’s diversity strategy
- describe what the organization does to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace
- include contact information for any further questions in this area.
Focus on recruitment
Some organizations struggle to diversify their workforce because of something called “affinity bias.” This means the unconscious tendency to recruit people who are like yourself. Organizations also sometimes hire individuals to “fit” the culture, but this should be avoided. To achieve diversity, recruiters need to be open to different perspectives.
As well as including your diversity or EEO statement in your ads, you could also consider where you are promoting your open positions. Could you widen the pool by looking at new platforms that specifically target certain groups of people? Or advertise “offline” using radio stations and newspapers to attract a different generation?
Organizations should ensure best practice is followed with regard to shortlisting. Candidates should be assessed according to a set list of criteria, rather than their name or date of birth.
Something else to consider is the interview process. It’s important to ensure that an interview panel is diverse and representative of different societal groups. Also, applicants should be asked if they require any reasonable adjustments to participate in the interview.
For example, if an individual has a physical disability, the panel should account for the candidate’s journey to the interview room. Are there any steps? If so, are there ramps or a lift available? Is there a clear, unobstructed pathway to the interview table?
Set up employee resource groups
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are designed for employees to collaborate on improving a certain area of the workplace. An ERG should be a forum dedicated purely to ideas and knowledge sharing, allowing individuals to talk openly and regularly. This will help to cultivate psychological safety.
ERGs should include employees from a variety of backgrounds. This will provide the best insight into the needs of underrepresented groups. Managers should also join the group to gain the understanding needed to champion the subject matter.
Furthermore, appointing one person as the “trusted adviser”’ or chair will ensure a coherent approach. The chair can act as a conduit between the ERG and senior leadership to ensure that all discussion points are being fed into the wider strategy. They can also communicate the discussion points to the wider workforce in a well-thought-out and purposeful way.
Review policies and procedures
Finally, ensure that all company policies reflect your diversity strategy. Do policies ensure that people of all backgrounds are supported equally? For example, does any paid time off work include reference to all religious holidays, not just occasions such as Christmas? Do policies acknowledge the requirement for reasonable adjustments for those who might need them?
You should also review your organization’s benefits offering. Do you offer enhanced maternity pay, for example? Your organization could even consider flexible benefits. This would allow your employees to choose the benefits that would support them best.
How Do You Sustain Workplace Diversity?
Your organization has made some great improvements, but you can’t stop there. It’s important that these changes permanently make a difference to your workplace diversity. How do you sustain these?
Measure, monitor, and evaluate
Organizations should use their people data to analyze the impact of their diversity strategy. This can be done by considering the following diversity metrics:
- Candidate demographics. Who is applying for jobs at your organization?
- Advancement rate. Are underrepresented groups being promoted?
- Turnover rates. Are there any groups leaving the organization at a disproportionate rate?
- Diversity throughout the entire organization. What is the composition of the workforce?
Using these metrics could help you identify any areas of concern early on. This will give you the opportunity to review the issue, consider how to address it, and shift your strategy accordingly.
For example, if you’re only receiving applications from white, middle-class males, you need to consider why. Are the job adverts written to be inclusive and accessible to everyone? Are they placed on forums that different groups of people have access to?
If your recruitment strategy doesn’t address these concerns, diversity in the workplace will be unlikely to improve.
Processing diversity metrics
You should also think carefully about how you gather and store these metrics. Business leaders should collect this data in a transparent way, clearly outlining why they are collecting it. This will also aid the perception of workplace diversity and demonstrate that it is a key priority.
Note that the act of processing diversity data should be compliant with data protection regulations. Organizations could consider using a software platform such as an HRIS (HR Information System) to support this process.
Understanding that goals and objectives are continuous
Senior leaders should acknowledge that workplace diversity is not a “quick win” strategy. The targets associated with improving diversity are ongoing. Information in this area is continually changing—for example, terms relating to gender identity. As a result, your organization’s strategy should evolve too.
Ongoing training and regular communication
Development should also run on an ongoing basis. It is important that all employees continue to build awareness and develop an understanding with regard to diversity. This works to address any unconscious bias and also drives home the message that discrimination will not be tolerated.
For example, customizable course creation can aid the sharing of new and evolving information. If the preferred pronoun list is updated, why not circulate that as part of training straight to employees’ phones?
Workplace diversity relates to whether employees come from a range of different social and cultural backgrounds. It also relates to characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
Workplace diversity is becoming a growing area of focus for businesses. Your diversity strategy should ensure the makeup of the workforce reflects the people in the world around us. This can be done through a range of initiatives in the areas of training and recruitment. You might also consider setting up an ERG to champion diversity.
Fostering workplace diversity will positively impact areas of your business. These include engagement, retention, well-being, performance, and profit.
While it’s easy to think that once a strategy is implemented, you’ve ticked that box, this isn’t the case. Diversity is a continually evolving area, so you’ll need to continue to measure and monitor the relevant metrics to make sure it is sustained.