Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse, with employees and leaders from different backgrounds bringing different skill sets to their organizations.
Many leaders know that diversity is now the norm but not all pursue or embrace it. Some leaders even treat diversity as simply a legal requirement and fail to see how diversity can impact their organization positively.
What does diversity mean?
First, let’s clarify what we mean by “diversity.” In essence, diversity describes several characteristics that affect an individual’s values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Experts often divide diversity into “primary” and “secondary” characteristics – primary meaning the person did not choose to be associated with a given trait, and secondary meaning they did. Primary characteristics include, but are not limited to:
- age and generation;
- and sexual orientation.
Secondary characteristics include current geographic location, military experience, work experience, income, religion, second language, organizational role and level, communication style, family status, work style, and education, among many others.
When diverse people come together in a work environment, they bring with them all the knowledge and experience gained from their primary and secondary characteristics – the traits they were born and raised with, and those they intentionally adopted. This is good for employees and the organization as a whole.
Encouraging diversity in the workplace
Research from McKinsey shows that inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. Diverse organizations are also 35% more likely to perform better financially than the industry average. And a recent study from Deloitte Australia has shown that inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team assessments.
So how can a workplace get there? It is up to organizational, departmental, and team leaders to create an inclusive atmosphere in which diverse employees thrive. Picture yourself on a team of people from across the spectrums of primary and secondary characteristics. All employees on this team are empowered to participate and are able to access the same resources. In such situations, studies have shown, employees tend to take greater risks in expressing new and different positions, giving the organization a larger pool of ideas from which to draw.
Now picture yourself as an inclusive leader. With diverse and empowered employees, you can help devise new programs and processes that take advantage of a broader set of options and that reflect greater ownership by those who participated in their formulation. In workplaces that provide full participation in decision making, employees are committed and motivated to achieve the goals they helped create. On your team, promote the right of every person to reach their full potential, which means integrating inclusive values into daily interactions and behaviors.
A commitment to inclusivity can help your company benefit from the richness of a diverse workforce. The key is to maximize the diverse characteristics of your employees, which increases empathy and understanding and creates a more dynamic, engaged, and productive workplace.