Diversity is a term that is often misused and is frequently misunderstood. The word itself means different things to different people, and in recent years, it has even taken on political connotations. The biggest misconception about diversity is that it pertains only to gender and race. But diversity in the workplace is not just about demographic profiles. Instead, it is about the human experience. When a variety of ages, skills, personalities, cultures, and life experiences come together, a truly diverse workforce is established.
Workforce Diversity Drives Growth
Experts have espoused the benefits of diversity for many years, but they have often suffered from a lack of quantifiable evidence to support their beliefs. The Harvard Business Review took on this challenge in 2013, seeking out data to prove whether or not diversity does, in fact, foster innovation and growth. They found that diverse organizations were 45% more likely to report growth in market share year-over-year, and were 70% more likely to report that their organization had been able to capture a new market in the previous year.
In a global, post-recession economy, diversity is about bringing together differing viewpoints, perspectives, and voices as a means of driving innovation. When faced with complex problems, approaching solutions in the “same old manner” doesn’t allow much room for creativity or new solutions. It can only be beneficial to gather input from people with unique perspectives. In a homogenous environment, innovation simply isn’t possible.
Implementing Systems to Ensure Workforce Diversity
Establishing diversity as a priority is just the first step in the process. Implementation is where many organizations stumble. In order to effectively implement diversity, processes must ladder up to organizational goals. Leadership must think of diversity beyond demographics, and instead think of it in terms of experience.
When you align your hiring and talent management with your corporate goals, diversity is much more easily achieved. When the goal itself is diversity, organizations can trip themselves up in the process – creating backwards motion instead of forward motion. Study your company goals and determine how the right mix of diversity can help you reach those goals. For example, if your company’s main goal for the year is to increase revenue, take a look at your customer base. Who are you attracting? If your customers are mainly made up of adults over 50, you will likely want to attract younger customers. By integrating more Millennials and members of Generation X into your team, you can gain new insight into how to attract and retain customers from those generations.
Leaders Must Own the Process
It is important to approach diversity authentically. In today’s increasingly connected and globalized environment it’s easy to spot those companies that simply pay lip service to diversity without actual follow-through. Employees will quickly lose faith in leaders who talk about diversity but don’t commit to it in their everyday practices. And consumers will lose trust in corporations that exhibit a blatant lack of cultural competency. Organizations that do not embrace diversity risk stifling creativity and losing their competitive edge.
Contrary to traditional corporate beliefs, a diverse workforce is not the responsibility of the human resources department. In order to achieve diversity in the workforce, leadership must take ownership of the process. When leaders “walk the talk,” aligning their personal values with corporate diversity goals, it can have a positive influence across the company. Through open communication and understanding of the practical importance of multiple viewpoints, leadership can put philosophies of diversity into practice, cultivating a workplace that engages its employees and drives innovation.