Feeling left out or excluded is something that most people will face at some point in their lives. However, it is not a pleasant experience for anyone and this is one of many reasons diversity and inclusion in the workplace is so important.
In fact, 67% of job seekers say that a diverse workforce is an important factor when considering job opportunities. But how do you go about creating a culture that reflects these values?
We spoke to a variety of industry leaders about the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives, how they build them into different areas of business and practical examples of the incorporation of diversity and inclusion into the workplace.
The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Workplace Culture
Ultimately, diversity in the workplace impacts a business at every level, from the positivity it generates within the workplace culture, to the overall success of the business itself. Studies have shown that businesses with above-average diversity and levels of employee engagement outperform companies with below-average diversity and engagement by 46% to 58%.
Keri Le Page, IBM Inclusion and Diversity Partner A/NZ, describes how D&I initiatives affect the function of a company as a whole.
“Diversity and inclusion are very important to culture”, says Keri. “If everyone looks the same, thinks the same and is the same then they all do things in exactly the same way. This means that you don’t get innovative and agile thinking. Everyone tends to agree with the prevailing view of how it’s done and doesn’t look for alternative solutions.”
“More diverse teams are more difficult to navigate because people think and interact in different ways. But it is this ‘rub’ that is precisely what results in a much better outcome in terms of innovation and risk mitigation.”
“Another aspect is that people who are traditionally overlooked during ‘usual’ recruitment processes are often incredibly loyal and hardworking when they are given a chance to prove themselves.”
But while the world is shifting towards being a more inclusive place, there is still some way to go.
Despite best intentions, Validity’s Customer Success Manager, Chloe Leaker, believes that some companies are struggling to attract diverse workers. She says that this is often because they are not positioning themselves correctly to their market and need to adjust their recruitment and promotion strategies.
As she explains, using gender as an example, “Most workers want to have a company to support them in their role and provide the right training and knowledge to help set workers up for success. With gender, for instance, companies may fall short by not promoting the current women in leadership positions and their talents to potential new hires. Companies that are gender diversified should position themselves to their market accordingly.”
Once a company commits to diversity and inclusion, Deepak Chaudhary, Digital Enterprise Architect at CGI, breaks down the three steps he advises leaders take in order to create the right environment:
Step 1: Any D&I initiatives should start with reviewing the diversity and inclusion within the leadership group of that organisation. This sets the precedent, drives acceptable behaviours and influences how minority groups are understood and treated within the organisation.
Step 2: Leaders should perform regular pulse checks to collect bottom-up feedback. This helps in understanding day-to-day challenges that minority groups have to put up with and identifies roadblocks to an inclusive culture. Inputs from these pulse checks should then be used to shape the organisation’s mandate on D&I, defining acceptable behaviours and training for people within the organisation.
Step 3: Leaders should make it a point to stand up against any inappropriate behaviour. Diversity should be celebrated within the organisation. Leaders need to be championing these initiatives.
The Relationship Between Diversity and Innovation
As previously noted, having a diverse and inclusive workplace isn’t just about culture. It positively affects your business practices as well, with diversity commonly acknowledged as a key driver of innovation in the workplace.
“At the core of innovation is learning and developing better ways to communicate. That comes from our awareness of the issues faced by these different groups”, says Mohammed Barry, Director of Strategic Partners in the Optus Finance team.
“Through driving a culture of inclusivity, we drive more diverse views to help better analyse problems and evaluate solutions.”
“A workplace needs to have a mix of people from different backgrounds, with different perspectives and experiences to generate diversity of thought. People with different experiences, when brought together in a team, will come up with more diverse ideas than a group of people with the same backgrounds and experiences.”
“This leads to better business and customer outcomes.”
“It is important to understand that a diverse and inclusive workforce leads to diversity of thinking”, she says. “It provides a broader skill base, which in turn develops more creative and innovative solutions to enable high performance. This helps businesses to foster an innovative, collaborative and high energy work environment. You also gain a better understanding of clients’ issues and are able to resolve them with different perspectives.”
How Leaders are Fostering a Diverse Workplace Culture
Barry is part of a Diversity & Inclusion working group in the Group Finance division, committed to sending visible signals of the importance of inclusion. He shared some practical tips for introducing a culture of increased openness and acceptance.
“Lead by example. Teach yourself to ensure “airtime” is not taken by the usual extroverts and rather make sure everyone is involved. Give everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion, really listen and stop thinking about what you want to say next.”
“We are fortunate that the Optus culture has traditionally been an inclusive environment. “I have seen it being done at a corporate level and supported by our most senior executives and across the different business units. That being said, we can’t rest on our laurels. We continue to drive a culture of inclusion across Optus and consistently re-iterate promoting a culture of inclusivity.”
“Fostering diversity and inclusion within your teams is a continuous process,” says Chaudhary. “We regularly sensitise our people on the importance of dealing with conscious and unconscious biases in the decision-making process.”
“We also appreciate the diversity of thoughts and facilitate an environment where different ideas are openly debated. Every decision is the team’s decision. This helps us drive ownership and accountability.”
“Validity encourages all their employees to create goals with their managers and work together to achieve development and personal growth goals,” says Leaker. “I’m fortunate to work at a company that provides their employees with a great work-life balance, especially if I need to work from home or take time off due to personal reasons.”
“Companies that encourage their employees to make time for webinars and other networking events during their working hours, show their employees that they care. I often recommend that women in tech join online and Facebook groups to share their stories and support each other.”
“The more visible we can make diversity, the more people who identify in various diverse groups feel welcomed, safe, included and valued. People are starting to feel more confident about revealing their true selves and they want to be involved in the initiatives that we are running.”, says Le Page.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the last 12 months on some work that is absolutely vital in terms of diverse communities (and all IBMers) having a positive employee experience,” says Le Page. “Part of this work has been ensuring that our underlying policies are aligned with our D&I goals rather than inadvertently creating barriers.”
“One example, in practical terms, is specifically calling out our full inclusion of LGBTQ+ IBMers in every policy document. Another is ensuring that people know where our parental rooms and prayer rooms can be found in each location.”
“At IBM, we also have “Gender Affirmation Treatment Leave”. This provides practical support to people in the transgender community who are going through the process of affirming their gender.”
“This means that they are much more productive/focused on the work they are doing as they don’t have to spend time covering up their identity and worrying that someone might find out. This means that we are better placed as a business to focus on solving problems for our clients.”
“At Accenture, we believe that the future workforce is an equal workforce,” says Kruger. “Diversity is part of what makes us successful. No one should be discriminated against because of their differences, such as age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, religion or sexual orientation.”
“We strive to create an environment of inclusion and belonging, where people can feel comfortable and bring their whole selves to work. We believe that’s when they are at their best, personally and professionally.”
“For example, Accenture engages with and actively supports LGBTI employees and the broader LGBTI community. PrideAtAccenture ANZ, the local LGBTI community within Accenture, has continued to expand to over 800 allies through ongoing awareness, communications, and events.”
“Cultural diversity is another key success factor which Accenture values and understands is a competitive advantage in our services to clients. A diverse workforce provides a broader skill base, which in turn develops more creative and innovative solutions to enable high performance. As a result, Accenture sponsors diversity awareness, professional development training courses and cross-cultural awareness training.”
Tell authentic employee stories with your free Aug & Sept calendar:
Create content on CSR, Diversity, Learning and other initiatives - used by the word’s best brands to attract the world's top talent: