Diversity. While recruiting for multinational clients, I hear this word a lot. It is by no means the topmost priority for clients, but it hangs there somewhere in the middle, a box of some weight that would help tip the scales perhaps if there were many qualified candidates in the final rounds. The weightage of the box has led me to explore it, to understand if it is just a tick, or if it helps the client organization achieve their goals in some way.
In the simplest words, Diversity in the Workplace means that a company hires a wide range of ‘diverse’ individuals. It is important to understand that diversity does not only mean that you hire more women. This includes diversity of gender, age, ethnicity, language, education, professional background and so on. But does it really impact productivity of the workforce at large? And if so, how does it achieve that?
A sense of belonging: The most immediate benefit of seeing people from different backgrounds at the workplace is to engender a sense of belonging and comfort. People like to see others who they can relate to. Imagine that you are the only man in an office that only employs women. Wouldn’t the presence of another man immediately make you more comfortable? I do not use the example of a man lightly. Most sceptics of diversity are in fact men. Not understanding their own privilege, I hear men question the need of gender diversity repeatedly. Another example would be if you were the only Gen X-er in an office full of millennials. The horror!
A different perspective: People coming from different backgrounds will contribute ideas from their unique realities. A woman will have a totally different approach to a situation from a man. A young person will have their own perspective, quite removed from someone with more experience. A person who has grown up in the countryside will quite often see things differently from someone who has grown up in a city. Overall, a difference in perspective will go a long way in improving the robustness of a service or an offering. Multiple perspectives will always create depth that will appeal to a broader reach.
Increased engagement: When they join a new workplace and feel included because of the presence of people with a similar background, new employees tend to relax and become productive and engaged sooner. This engagement ensures that differences in perspectives do not result in big differences in opinion. People get along better if they have others to empathize with.
Larger recruitment pool: I can say firsthand that a diverse workplace invites more candidates to apply for jobs. Companies that have senior management from a single ethnicity daunts potential employees because they immediately feel that they will not fit into the culture. The perception of company culture, which is often fueled by the image of people whom candidates speak to is especially important. A client that I was recruiting for lost out on an incredibly talented young candidate because he felt that the senior management that he interacted with were all significantly older, and perhaps would not be open to the ideas that he would put forward. A wider choice of people is an immediate benefit of having a diverse leadership team.
Better customer understanding: Company culture and brand are intimately connected. Your brand perception is ultimately the employees that make up your brand. The products and services that your company offers to customers reflect company culture, your values, and your biases. As soon as your employee base is congruent with your customer base, you have a winning formula in your hands because your company gains a broader understanding of what your customers want and what they look for.
Diversity is often treated solely as an HR initiative. But, for real change to happen and for it’s true benefits to reveal themselves, the entire C-suite of an organization needs to buy into in and step-up in ownership. The path to diversity is not comfortable. It makes the more privileged populations of any organization uncomfortable. But the process requires people to tune into empathy, for each person to remember a time when they felt excluded or interrupted by a lack of understanding of their unique realities and perspectives. This leads us to an exploration of Inclusivity. But that is a story for another day.