“If everybody looked the same… we’d get tired looking at each other” – Groove Armada
‘90s dance music aside, there’s no denying that diversity in the workplace (and elsewhere) is what makes humanity and progress interesting – and possible.
What is workplace diversity?
Before we get down to nitty-gritty, let’s go over the basics: What do we mean when we talk about workplace diversity? In a nutshell, workplace diversity refers to differences in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, and ability. But it is so much more than that. It’s about the unique experiences and background that make people who they are – and how this affects their work, especially as part of a team.
Diversity in tech, for example, could be when your coding team is comprised of a self-taught coder, a programmer from a top university, and a boot camp coder who was previously managing their own business.
Or perhaps it’s a team made up of someone who’s lived all their life in Australia, someone who’s spent considerable time abroad, and someone from Korea.
Or maybe it’s when you bring together someone who has switched careers from logistics, someone who has worked for non-profits for the past X years, and someone who has been with the company since they graduated.
In other words, workplace diversity is all about bringing together people from all walks of life – both culturally and professionally.
Why all the fuss about workplace diversity and inclusion?
By strategically developing and fostering an inclusive, diverse workplace, there is proof that a company can become more innovative, creative and productive, build a stronger brand identity, retain more talent, and increase profitability.
The stats speak for themselves: According to a report by McKinsey, the top 25% of companies have 33% greater ethnic diversity compared to the bottom 25%, based on financial performance.
In short, diversity in the workplace boosts business.
Today, we look at some concrete evidence from workplace studies and the help of two experts, Heather Geary, Oceania Diversity & Inclusion Leader at EY, and Johanna Seton, Chief Operating Officer at OpenAgent, to show how diversity fuels better business.
1. Diverse workplaces foster more innovation and creativity
Do we want to lead innovation Australia? Of course we do. When it comes to innovation, Australia can do better. And diversity can help achieve this.
Empirical analysis by BGC and the Technical University of Munich across 98 German, Swiss, and Austrian companies, examining diversity in management and innovation revealed some interesting findings:
- Higher diversity had increased revenue from new products and services
- Higher diversity was particularly effective in complex companies
- Industry background, country of origin, and career path diversity all showed very high positive correlation with innovation
- Gender diversity showed high positive correlation with innovation
- Academic background diversity showed no correlation with innovation
- Age diversity showed high negative correlation with innovation
This study suggest that while diversity is generally great for innovation, at least within management teams, more work needs to be done in the area of intergenerational communication to make gains in this area.
As Geary succinctly puts it, “Increased diversity dramatically increases our opportunities for innovation – diversity of people increases your chances of diversity of thought, which is at the heart of innovation.”
2. Diversity = increased productivity
Want to talk diversity by the numbers?
Harvard Business Review conducted an interesting study from 2012-2017, first focusing on the correlation between team productively based solely on diversity in ethnicity, gender and age. Interestingly, over the course of 100 runs of the test, no correlation was found between increased diversity and increased productivity.
However, when they instead analysed the tests focusing on cognitive diversity in each team, these were the teams that were fastest to finish the challenge.
So, what is cognitive diversity?
Cognitive diversity is differences in perspective, problem-solving styles, and information processing.
You can see how a team of people from all different ethnicities, ages, and genders, if they were similarly schooled, brought up, from the same place, and had similar life experiences would suffer from lack of cognitive diversity.
“Homogeneity does work better when the problems are simple, communication is easy and the environment is unchanging,” says Geary. “But unless you have those three factors in place across everything you do, diversity is going to serve you better in the long run.”
While you would expect that diversity in gender, race, and age would often lead to cognitive diversity, this isn’t always the case. When building a team, it shouldn’t just be a case of putting together a team based on easy-to-spot diversity markers; it’s also important to review team background and problem solving styles to find the best fit.
3. Diversity helps build a reputable brand identity
Let’s take a look at some interesting figures from McKinsey’s Diversity Matters report from 2015.
- 80% of purchasing decisions are made by women (in the UK)
- 60% of all personal wealth is predicted to be owned by women in 2025
- $1.1trillion controlled by African Americans in the US (predicted, 2015)
- 7% greater retail spending by LGBT households over straight households in the US (Nielsen Consumer Report, 2015)
By having strong team diversity, you are better representing your customers – your intended audience. If women were to discover an all-male board was behind a feminine hygiene brand, would it affect brand perception? You can bet that for many women, it would.
It’s also key to note that just because someone fits into one of these broad groups, it doesn’t mean that they are a representative of the group as a whole.
“It is SO important for you to be able to put yourself in a customers shoes, but it’s harder than it sounds, even when you are consciously making the effort,” says Seton.
“It’s easy to go ‘I’m a 30 something woman, our primary customer is a 30 something woman; so therefore if this feature would make me buy product X, so will our customers’. That’s often not the case. As individuals, our opinions and biases are unconsciously shaped by our experiences in the world; so even if I’m the same age and gender as my key customer it doesn’t mean I am them.”
So yes, even when a company’s C-suite, and the marketing department are the product’s target audience, this doesn’t take into account diverse background experiences. If diverse backgrounds aren’t inbuilt into the team, you may easily misstep or miss opportunities on branding and reputation.
4. Inclusion is beneficial for talent retention
When we talk about diversity, it’s all well and good to hire based on diversity factors, but for ongoing benefits, inclusion needs to be part of the day-to-day operations of a business.
Claire from marketing might have a significant cultural holiday it’d be great to celebrate alongside the Easter party that Ted is planning. When your team eats lunch together, do the men dominate the conversation, leaving the women behind to chat to the side about their kids, or is it everyone coming together?
When people feel left out or overlooked they can become disheartened. Over time, this translates to an unhappy employee. And an unhappy employee is more likely to walk out that door, and take their talent elsewhere.
Geary sums up why diversity is so important for talent retention: “You need inclusion to make a safe place for people to express new thoughts, be creative and have an environment which is safe to fail. At EY, we talk about diversity being the mix of people and inclusion being how we make that mix work – diversity requires inclusion to see these results.”
Ongoing inclusion programs that help with talent retention may include:
- Work-swap initiatives
- Travel assignments
- An office suggestions box
- Flexible working hours
You can have a look over this list of 52 D&I initiatives for even more inspiration.
5. Fostering cultural diversity
Fostering cultural diversity should be a part of every workplace. Australia is a multicultural society: only colonised a little over 200 years ago, anyone in Australia who is not of purely Aboriginal heritage is effectively an immigrant by ancestry – even those born here.
As Australia is innately culturally diverse, we need to embrace this diversity, both bringing it into the workplace, as well as then ensuring an inclusive environment for it to flourish.
This can have positive results in a number of ways:
- Breaking down language barriers to doing business internationally
- Mentorship from colleagues with a similar cultural background can help with retention
- Your company can better understand and cater to your brand’s demographics
- Diversity can lead to a more positive brand identity
As Australia becomes more and more culturally diverse, and doing global business becomes the norm, cultural diversity in the workplace is integral to maintaining a competitive advantage.
Whether it’s boosting the number of women in the workforce for diversity in tech or UX design, or looking closer at overseas applicants for hiring, diversity in the workforce initiatives should be front of mind at any organisation.
But diversity initiatives can’t just stop once you have a hire in the door. For diversity to make an impact on company success, ongoing inclusion programs and efforts should be implemented at a granular level to encourage team cohesion and productivity.
It’s no surprise that diversity initiatives are a cornerstone of some of the most successful companies around the globe: greater diversity leads to greater organisational gains, so it’s just good business.