As the world gets smaller, more and more businesses are operating on an international scale. Cultures are meshing and people are travelling or relocating across the globe to secure better jobs – putting workplace diversity at the forefront.
But what exactly is workplace diversity?
‘Workplace diversity’ means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognising our individual differences. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD): “Diversity is actually rooted in merit and in the appreciation of differences. It focuses on finding the right candidate for the right job regardless of (not because of) their ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, certain physical/mental abilities, marital status, education, and socioeconomic status – and then leveraging the various benefits that come with having a diverse workforce.”
Embracing a diverse workforce is key for employers, explains Dr Jill Miller, CIPD Diversity Advisor: “I think the over-arching message to employers is those who don’t really embrace diversity and inclusion, beyond the minimum legal requirements, will become less attractive to employees – both their existing and prospective employees.”
“To be able to attract people to get the skills that you need, and for people to be able to perform their best when they are at work, means having an open and inclusive workplace – where people feel valued and respect each other,” says Miller.
“A lot of research is now showing that if you have lots of people from different backgrounds, with different identities, working together – they’ll bring lots of different perspectives and that will enable innovation and problem solving.”
“On the opposite side, if you feel like you need to hide your identity at work or assume a different identity – that does take a lot of effort which means you’re not bringing the whole self to work. If you’re putting that much energy into that, it’s going to detract from your performance. And the business isn’t benefiting from the diversity of thought that you would bring,” explains Miller.
Research is also looking at how a diverse workforce can enhance the products and services you offer – as well as opening up new markets. “Your employees will have a good understanding of what will work in that market. They may have an understanding of cultural traditions or languages. I think that seriously committing to diversity and inclusion, beyond what is legally required, certainly extends beyond your own organisation, it’ll extend into your supply chain and into your customer base.”
So what’s holding us back? Well, it turns out we often make decisions without even being aware of how we’re making them. Miller explains there are five initial steps employers can take to improve diversity in their workforce.
– Unconscious bias training for managers – which looks at things you may not be aware that you’re doing. “We all carry around some kind of unconscious bias – some helpful and some unhelpful.”
– Start looking at your people policies and practices and make sure they are bias-free so you’re not screening out certain groups.
– Be careful with what you ask for in job ads: “I was doing some work with an organisation around older workers and we were having to look at their recruitment approach. Something as simple as asking for a degree in the job spec, ruled out a whole cohort of women – many of whom didn’t go to university at that time. So it’s considering whether you really need to specify that, on your job description. What if somebody comes with a wealth of experience?”
This is also relevant to the construction industry – which faces a similar issue as the debate rumbles between degree versus experience. “By specifying a degree is essential, people may even screen themselves out when they see the job description – which isn’t what we want to happen,” says Miller.
– Take positive steps to making the environment open and inclusive – and a definite zero tolerance approach to bullying and harassment, to help people from all backgrounds to be able to work together.
– Raise awareness: “I’m finding quite a lot of organisations are doing the ‘lunch and learns’ now, which is to do with awareness raising. It’s trying to go above and beyond the mandatory training and do it in a safe and open environment where people don’t feel like they can’t say anything. Often we avoid these conversations completely, in case we say the wrong thing.”
The benefits of positively embracing a diverse workforce are great. “I think businesses are widening their knowledge of what corporate responsibility actually means, in terms of diversity. Realising that the image of the organisation is going to reflect attraction and retention. For employees, but also customers and clients. That way you can truly make your business part of the community.”
Guyan & Associates pride ourselves on working with clients that embrace diversity in the workplace. See our latest opportunities here.