Diversity and inclusion in the workplace – how to make it work
With the rapid changes of the last two years, workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) have fast become critical factors in maintaining employee engagement, attracting and retaining talent, and improving business performance and decision-making.
A diverse workplace is made up of employees with different races, genders, career backgrounds and skills. An inclusive workplace makes these employees feel valued, respected and equal.
But when it comes to diversity and inclusion, does one lead to another?
Increasing the numbers of previously underrepresented people in your workforce does not automatically produce benefits for your organisation.
“Taking an ‘add diversity and stir’ approach, will not lead to miraculous advancement in your organisation’s effectiveness or financial performance,” says CCIWA Senior HR Consultant Marcia Lawrence.
“Having individuals from various identity groups 'at the table' is also no guarantee that you will benefit from diversity; in fact, research shows that it can have the opposite effect, as increasing diversity can increase conflict.”
However, under the right conditions, employees can turn differences into assets for increased innovation and team goal achievement.
Diversity as a performance driver
According to 2020 McKinsey & Co. report, Diversity Wins: How inclusion matters, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile — up from 21 per cent in 2017 and 15 per cent in 2014.
The report found the business case was equally compelling for ethnic and cultural diversity: in 2019, top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth one by 36 per cent in profitability, slightly up from 33 percent in 2017 and 35 percent in 2014.
It suggested two critical factors at companies with success in Diversity and Inclusion: a systematic business-led approach to D&I, and bold action on inclusion.
Sending a message through inclusion
Companies that value inclusion send a message that varied perspectives are valued and don’t need to be suppressed for the sake of group cohesion.
“This attitude encourages employees to rethink how work gets done and how best to achieve their goals,” says Lawrence.
She says studies have shown that diverse teams realise performance benefits in certain circumstances such as:
- when team members are openly able to reflect on and discuss team functioning;
- when status and power differences among groups are minimised;
- when people from both high and low-status identity groups believe the team supports learning; and
- when teams orient members to see differences as an advantage rather than marginalise or deny them.
“But without the conditions that foster inquiry, egalitarianism, and learning, diversity either is unrelated to or, even worse, undermines team effectiveness,” Lawrence says.
Genuinely valued and respected
However, being genuinely valued and respected involves more than just feeling included.
It involves having the power to influence what — and how — work is done, having a person's needs and interests taken into account, and having their contributions valued, recognised and rewarded with further opportunities to contribute and advance within the organisation.
“Organisations must take a new approach if they are to reap the benefits of diversity,” says Lawrence.
“Inclusion doesn't automatically happen just because you have a diverse workforce. It also doesn't come if D&I is solely an HR initiative. Support and advocacy need to come from the senior leadership team, as they help build a genuine drive for change and the resources necessary to create that change”.
She says local teams play an equal role in promoting inclusion.
Although it may seem daunting, there are several ways to go about fostering more inclusive workplaces. These include:
- focusing on equity rather than equality;
- acknowledge and affirm differences rather than ignore and deny them; and
- paying attention to how exclusionary practices show up at interpersonal and structural levels.
For more insight on Benefitting from Diversity in the Workplace join Marcia Lawrence, Senior HR Consultant, and Madeleine Pittorino, Employment Relations Officer as they explore the business case for diversity in a free webinar on February 22, 2022.
CCIWA provides training and coaching support as well as advice on policies and practices that help to enable a more supportive working environment. Call (08) 9365 7496 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.