If everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other. This may be the chorus from a turn of the millennium dance floor hit by UK electronic duo Groove Armada, but it’s also a phrase that rings true.
Diversity, as they say, is the spice of life, but it can also give a business a competitive edge.
We’re more connected today than we have ever been, which means we are more knowledgeable about other ways of living. More of us know someone with a different cultural background, gender identity or even just a different aesthetic to us.
The world is diverse, and we understand that now, more than ever before in history, but how does that affect the workplace? What is workplace diversity? Why is it important? How do you maintain it to get the most out of your staff? Read on to find out all this and more.
What is Workforce Diversity?
Workplace diversity is about embracing the difference between individuals. It’s about recognising that your workplace has a variety of people within it and making sure that diverse individual characteristics are valued.
A successfully diverse workforce hires a range of employees and enables them to participate in all facets of their employment equally.
There are different kinds of diversity in the workplace, but the three most prominent examples are Cognitive Diversity, Lifestyle Diversity and Brand and Reputation Diversity.
This is where a workplace has employees that are different in the way that they tend to think and solve problems.
In the past, we would have focused on splitting these people into two groups; left brain and right brain thinkers. However, we now know that there are many different strengths when it comes to ideas and problem-solving.
For example, some people are excellent with communication; others have incredible empathy. Some people have impeccable critical thinking skills; others are great at visualising potential problems.
This is probably what most people think of when they hear the term ‘Workforce Diversity.’ This is about the individual factors of employees’ lives outside of the workplace. Lifestyle diversity refers to cultural background, religious beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, and many other factors.
The focus of lifestyle diversity in a workplace is to understand that every employee is unique and has a different life that led them to now, and a different life outside of the workplace.
Brand and Reputation Diversity
Brand and reputation diversity is where a workplace actively aims to be more inclusive when hiring staff. They will strive to make sure their teams are diverse, and usually, this can have the side effect of attracting even more diverse employees and clientele.
A Brief History of Diversity in Workforce
The journey of diversity in the workplace has been long and, at times, a bit embarrassing when you look back on it with your modern eyes.
Since the industrial revolution, there have been several times when workplaces became more inclusive.
After the second world war in countries like America, there was still segregation. Non-white people were generally forbidden from working in industries or businesses that were deemed as ‘white.’
During this time, even the US Army was segregated by ethnicity. This was until executive order 9981 removed this segregation in 1948.
By the 1960s, the civil rights movement was in full swing. Eventually, it led to ethnically diverse people joining the workforce in the same capacity as their white countrymen.
Over in Europe during this time, segregation might not have been identical, but there was still a lack of diverse backgrounds at the forefront of business.
Women were also underrepresented in the workforce throughout most of the developed world well into the early 2000s.
In the UK, America, Australia and most of the English speaking world, the 70s and 80s were a time when people were beginning to experience some small freedoms in regards to sexual orientation, but in most cases, had to remain in the closet if they wanted to keep their jobs.
In the 2020s, diversity has become a hot topic.
To put it simply, the world as a whole seems to be a lot more ‘woke’ now. Smart businesses are embracing that and doing everything they can to become more inclusive, more diverse and more sensitive to the issues of their employees.
This is not to say that we are done.
There is still a long way to go, but the fact that diversity is a ‘hot topic’ is a good sign that every day we are getting closer to more inclusive workplaces.
What is the Difference Between Equality and Diversity?
Although they are often linked, equality and diversity are, in fact, different. So it’s essential if you are looking at diversity in the workplace not to confuse it with equality.
Workplace equality is about making sure that all people in the workplace are treated equally. It means that all employees have the same career trajectories available to them, irrespective of their gender, background, religion or other defining factors.
Diversity is more about the specific differences between individuals and how that makes them unique.
Why is it Important to Have Diversity in the Workplace?
If you have diversity in your workplace, you foster an environment that respects and understands different perspectives. This, in turn, helps to create an open-minded attitude for all.
Diversity means that you will have staff from a variety of backgrounds, each one with their own specific knowledge, interests and perspectives. The lived experience of each staff member is invaluable to a workplace, and more so when these lived experiences are across a wider section of society.
Diverse workplaces encourage your employees’ unique talents to develop and provide companies with new, innovative ideas and solutions that will help a business thrive.
What Are the Main Workforce Diversity Benefits?
Apart from the obvious benefit of making the work environment more interesting, there are many benefits that businesses can take advantage of when they diversify their workforces.
Generally speaking, employees who understand each other are less likely to have conflicts.
Diversity within the workplace encourages all workers to gain a better understanding of their differences.
Diversity often leads to greater unity within a workspace. A profound understanding of each other helps staff focus on their common goals rather than be divided by their differences.
Boosting Employee Engagement
Humans have an innate need to both belong and to feel like they matter.
When we have both of these things, we are more likely to engage in situations, activities or work. Having a diverse team can help to make all feel included.
The entire point of inclusion is about making sure it reaches everyone. Diverse workplaces establish confidence in all staff members’ abilities, which helps give ownership and boost overall morale.
Wider Range of Ideas Introduced
Different skills, life experiences, and ways of thinking can all increase creativity in any team or business.
This will lead to a broader range of ideas, innovation and perspectives that can all be exploited in a positive way.
There are a thousand ways to skin a cat, and if you only have staff from one particular walk of life, you’re only ever going to know about 20 of them.
Improves Company Reputation & Supports Recruitment
In a post COVID world, most companies are now wanting to maintain a good reputation, not just with their customers but also with their employees. The simple fact is that a year living and working from home has made people begin to question the time they spend in an office.
We spend, on average, a whole third of our lives at work.
If you don’t ever feel like you are included in your workplace, this means you spend a third of your life in a place where you don’t feel like you belong.
Workplace diversity fosters inclusion which leads to better employee retention and also helps businesses to attract the best possible talent.
Understand Your Customers Better
This is a pretty simple point to explain.
If you have a team of people from various cultures and backgrounds, you instantly have a better chance of understanding more customers.
Not every potential customer or client has the same needs. Some could say that they are as unique as, well, humans (you thought I was going to say fingerprints).
Without diversity, your company could be missing out on a huge number of potential clients simply because you don’t have the facility to understand how to connect with them and service their needs. Diversity in the workplace helps solve this issue.
Reduce Employee Turnover
Happy people don’t quit their jobs; it’s that simple.
Many employers might think that the only thing employees are after in a job is money. While remuneration is a significant factor in employee turnover, it’s not the only thing keeping people in a workplace.
It has become more and more apparent that employees are less likely to leave a job if they feel respected, supported and part of a team, even if they are unable to get the raise they desire.
The bottom line is that more people quit their jobs in today’s workforce to focus on themselves and their mental health than they do for more money.
Diverse workplaces cultivate happiness, inclusion and satisfaction. These qualities will promote a good team dynamic and a united front, which most often leads to better staff retention.
How Can Companies Promote Diversity?
So by now, you might be thinking, ‘Great, how do I jump on this diversity train?’
It’s not hard; you just need to follow a few basic principles.
Educate & Train Your Hiring Team
To start working towards better diversity, it’s important to take a bit of a look in the ‘metaphorical’ mirror and ask, ‘How diverse is my workplace at the moment?’
Then you need to make sure your HR and Hiring team know how to reach your goals. One way you could do this is to conduct anonymous surveys with the team you already have. You might be surprised by some of the answers you encounter.
If you discover that your workplace isn’t as diverse as you thought, it’s nothing to stress about. Sometimes you can address needs within your company with sensitivity training.
You also need to be explicit with your hiring policies and make sure they align with your goals to diversify your workforce. A simple start to this could be to include notes about diversity in job descriptions.
Agree and Implement Diversity Policies
Most companies operating today should have some form of policy about diversity.
It’s common sense to protect both your staff and yourself against the problems that arise from workplace discrimination.
These policies should also be viewed as ‘living entities,’ meaning they are revised and updated regularly.
Support and Promote Open Communication
Nobody can completely understand diversity overnight; it’s a process that is constantly changing and evolving. The most important thing is that you need to be willing to change and evolve with it. One of the ways to do that is to make sure that all staff members are aware of your stance on communication.
Language is a keystone to promoting good diversity. Unfortunately, many of us may have learned ways of referring to things or describing something that might be offensive to someone else. If your staff don’t know this, they will never learn to alter their habits and could end up unintentionally offending someone.
Encouraging your staff to use inclusive language at all times will eliminate this. You could also implement an anonymous system like a suggestion box for staff members to feel confident to raise an issue without personally addressing someone.
Help Your Employees to Connect
Let’s be honest, most HR specialists hear the words ‘Team Building’ and immediately want to run away. It’s hard to figure out ways to strengthen the working relationships within your teams, but we all know that this is a crucial ingredient to success.
An often overlooked aspect of employees when it comes to team building and working relationships is that they have lives outside of the workplace.
More and more, employees are working to live instead of living to work.
If you take that into account, you can unlock a hidden treasure trove of information. If you use something like a ‘poll’ to learn more about what makes your staff ‘tick’ in their free time, you might get some insight into improving employee relationships.
Connection is ultimately what we crave. Even introverts need some level of connection, and the more we are connected, the more likely we are to pick up the slack when someone is feeling a bit down.
An often overlooked aspect of employees is the fact that they have lives outside of their work.
Invest in Your Staff
Staff are and will always be an investment. There’s a reason you can claim their salary as a business expense.
If you take the time to invest in mentorship programs and help your staff continue their education, your company will benefit.
If you aim to offer professional development opportunities to your staff regardless of their gender, race, age, cultural background or sexual orientation, you will strengthen both your team and the loyalty your staff have to you.
Provide and Promote Benefits that Attract a Diverse Workforce
This is about offering flexibility when it comes to benefits. If you can do this, you are more likely to attract a more diverse variety of applicants to the positions you have available.
The past year has taught us that remote work does not hinder performance; in many cases, it enhances it. This could create an opportunity for students, parents, or other geographically restrained workers to work within your team.
You could also take the time to familiarise yourself with the concept of floating holidays. This is where an employee can substitute a particular vacation period for another time in the year to suit their situation.
For example, the end of the year, ‘Christmas celebration isn’t a holiday period for everyone. A floating holiday means that someone of another religious denomination can continue working during this time if they wish.
In turn, they can take the same amount of time off at another point in the year.
How Can I Support Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace?
There’s a couple of easy steps you can take to make sure you are inclusive of underrepresented people in your workplace.
The first and easiest step is to take the time to address any issues you already have in relation to cultural biases. You can then take the time to train your staff in inclusion and diversity.
You could mix up your teams or allow a ‘free choice’ seating allocation for staff. Sometimes it can be as simple as listening and reacting to what you hear. Perhaps not everyone in your team is into the football Euros, but they might still join the office pool if you make as much fuss about Eurovision.
Workplace diversity is not an alien concept; it’s not even something we will one day work towards; it’s something you could have now, with minimal effort.
In the modern landscape, diversifying your workplace can only equate to benefits, so businesses should be doing everything they can to get on board with diversification.