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Learn why you need to encourage diversity and inclusion in your workplace

Make equality and diversity your strength

Politicians can often be heard repeating that 'diversity is our strength' but rarely take the time to address an apparent lack of diversity in some of their own parties. Similarly, the business world also recognises the value of diversity, but for some organisations, to coin a phrase used by a Forbes article a while ago, corporate leadership, like governments, can often be "male, pale and stale.”  

Using “diversity”, “inclusiveness” and “equality” as buzzwords to signal that your organisation is on the right side of social justice isn't going to cut it anymore. It might in terms of recruitment... for a while. But if an organisation is not 'walking the walk' internally, it’ll soon become apparent to today's clued-in workforce, that they're only there to tick all the right boxes and boost the corporate brand as a talent-attraction tool.

It seems that sometimes – although not always - employers see diversity and equality as quotas to be filled rather than an embodiment of who they are. Increasingly however, businesses will have no choice but to take that on board. Globalisation and technology combined with the new generations who view themselves as citizens of the world, are seeing to that. 

Also, diversity is not just about race or ethnicity. It encompasses gender, sexual orientation, age, education, life experience, religions and different physical abilities of prospective employees.

Combine that with the changing attitudes and expectations of today's workforce, the tendency of flatter rather than traditionally hierarchical organisational structures, and you have the perfect storm that without flexible and forward-thinking leadership, can cause an organisation to flounder or be tossed around by the waves of change.

 The value of workplace diversity

There are many who see the multicultural workforce as a natural progression of globalisation, which makes it inevitable. Thinking ahead is what will give some organisations that competitive advantage over those who have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Globalisation means having new markets and new customers at your disposal. To succeed, you need to know who those customers are and what they want, and find a way to communicate with them across diverse cultural and other norms. This means adopting new ideas and new ways of doing things.

When it comes to ideas, a homogenous workforce and leadership is unconsciously going to deviate towards what they see as needed within their own social group, and perhaps second-guess what another group might like, want or need in terms of products and services, or indeed solutions. Women for instance have often joked that if men were the ones giving birth, they would have found a painless way to do that by now. Some of the most successful products launched globally have come from ethnically diverse cuisine. Innovative mobility ideas can only come from those who are in a position to identify unique problems facing the disabled. The list goes on.

Time and again it's been proven that a diverse workforce adds incalculable value to an organisation in terms of innovation, adaptability, flexibility and problem solving, but unless it's top-down, employers will have trouble, maybe not with recruiting but with retention, unless it embodies rather than pays lip-service to the notion.

An employee from a minority group is not going to feel he or she has much of a chance to progress if those at the top remain stuck in the ways of the past; from the homogeneity of the board to middle management to the hierarchical structure, which may unconsciously be 'rigged' in favour of 'those like us' when it comes to promotions for instance. Therefore unless your diversity policy is matched across the board by cultural values, it will not help meet business goals no matter what quotas might appear to have been fulfilled. A policy on paper that lacks authenticity in practice, will not stand up to scrutiny.

 Equality, diversity and inclusion tips

- Rethink how you do business. Think globally, act globally, and be known for not only diversity hiring but for a having a culture of diversity.

- Communication is critical. Diverse individuals need to know they and their differences are respected and valued.

- Training and education. Management must ensure that all employees understand where the other is coming from in their interactions in order to avoid conflict due to cultural misunderstandings or unconscious bias.

- Implement an equal opportunity policy. Make sure all employees understand how it works and know everyone has the same chance to progress.

- Ensure transparency in hiring. This will let current staff know diversity hiring is not about quotas but added value.

- Work on your retention. If a minority employee decides to leave, find out why and correct any misstep.

- Be flexible. Multiculturalism means just that. Diversity employees have different needs and expectations.

- Have an open-door policy. This will swiftly head off any issues that might arise by making your hierarchy less rigid. Listen to new ideas.

- Collaborate. Offer plenty of collaborative-type opportunities and give autonomy wherever possible to teams or individuals.

- Have a diverse Board. Role models at the top encourage those just starting out. If this is not possible, then existing leaders must change their mentalities and make sure their workforce knows they are a leader for all employees.

A successful diversity management strategy is the ultimate balancing act because it involves creating a single corporate identity and objective from a wide variety of human resources.

This challenge could probably best be described as akin to baking a cake. If you don’t properly weigh up your ingredients, and mix correctly it will simply flop when the heat is on, especially if it's corporate hot air.

Equality, diversity and inclusion resources