Advances in technology have brought issues of diversity back into the spotlight. Whether it be understanding the unconscious gender bias in new technologies such as AI, reporting evident gender pay gaps in organisations or highlighting the lack of female and ethnically diverse management leaders, all have clearly highlighted the uneven playing field when it comes to equality in the workplace and society.
There have been many steps taken by both national governments and organisations to improve this equality, including introducing quotas for female management positions, implementing diverse mentorship schemes and also the creating of professional networks focused on inclusion. Though many of these have had a positive impact on diversity in organisations, they have not completely closed the equality gap, so what more should businesses be doing?
Well, despite implementing a number of methods, many of these have not had as much of an effect on promoting diversity and its benefits as expected. One of the reasons this could be the case is that these initiatives only focus on diversity, and not inclusion too, according to Katleen De Stobbeleir, Professor of Leadership at Vlerick Business School, “Focusing on just boosting the amount of diverse staff in an organisation does not necessarily allow an organisation to benefit from diversity. Instead initiatives should focus on creating and fostering an inclusive environment as well as increasing diversity – then the organisation is likely to see benefits”.
One of the ways in which organisations should be looking to promote this inclusive environment could be through diversity training, according to Laura Guillén, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour at ESMT Berlin. “As organisations need to educate people on the importance of diversity and the potential biases they might have when evaluating individuals that are different to themselves”. In doing so, people will act with less bias, not stereotype staff in their working practices and begin to listen to an array of diverse perspectives.
Creating and fostering diverse professional networks are also other great methods for businesses to improve diversity, says Sara Wright, Head of Quality Assurance at Sopra Steria Recruitment. “By creating diverse networks, employees can share best practices and take inspiration from the successes of others”, which is likely to only encourage and motivate diverse workers in their professional fields. “These networks also allow diverse professionals to discuss current and potential initiatives that aim to improve inclusion”, says Prof. De Stobbeleir, allowing employees to feedback what they feel are positive initiatives in an organisation.
Another method to create a more inclusive environment could be through encouraging management sponsorship activities as opposed to mentoring, says Prof. De Stobbeleir. “By sponsoring diverse professionals at their organisation, managers are encouraged to be responsible for the career path of those who they sponsor, looking to create opportunities for them to develop and pushing them forward in the company – this is much more effective than just mentoring”.
But, why should organisations continue to revise their approaches to promoting this diversity and inclusion?
Well, firstly, it is simply the right and moral thing to do for business, according to Sara Wright, who says, “We have a responsibility to assist jobseekers from underrepresented groups into the workforce, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it makes commercial sense to draw skills from the widest available pool of talent”.
And having a diverse set of employees who actively contribute to team discussions allows an organisation to gain a wide range of perspectives, according to Prof. De Stobbeleir, “The different perspectives and skills that a diverse workforce can bring can lead to increased creativity and also productivity for a firm, and allow organisations to be as innovative as possible and challenge the status quo of the industry for the better”.
Ensuring you have an inclusive and diverse team can also have a huge impact on the organisation’s hiring and recruitment processes. “As diversity has proven to increase work engagement and positive attitudes at work and this is an important factor for candidates to accept job offers", according to Prof. Guillen. "In fact, according to a recent survey, two-thirds of the people polled said that diversity was important to them when evaluating companies and job offers”. So, ensuring the organisation has a diverse workforce is evidently a positive in terms of attracting the best possible talent, and also retaining it.
In fact, studies suggest if a company is encouraging diversity as effectively as possible it can be a huge positive for companies, says Sara Wright. “It is widely accepted that companies with diverse teams outperform their competitors”.
And by focusing on getting diversity and inclusion right in the company, organisations can become a better reflection of society, contribute towards the workplace becoming more equal and benefit their business from doing so too – so why wouldn’t they want to get it right?
About Peter Remon
My interests are centred around diversity, leadership, management and HR issues (including new technologies). I have a keen focus on the teaching of HR and leadership/management too, specifically at top business schools.