Diversity in the workplace is when your workforce is a dynamic bunch of people. They’re folks that come from different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, skills, genders, races, religions, sexual orientations and more.
And of course, there are many benefits to having a diverse workforce. Such as:
- Usually, the more diversity in the workplace is, the higher the likelihood that you’ll generate creative solutions to problems. A recent study found that there’s a direct correlation between diversity and innovation. This is because a plethora of opinions and perspectives when fused together generate interesting, unique outcomes.
- Diversity leads to increased profits. Another study by McKinsey found that companies with diverse executive boards show a 95% higher return on equity than those with homogenous boards.
- Diverse companies attract the best talent. A study by Glassdoor found that 76% of new job seekers say that a diverse workforce is a highly important consideration when evaluating companies and job offers. This shows that the current generation of employees is looking for a diverse and progressive place to work.
So how do you leverage diversity in the workplace to find solid solutions to real business problems?
Here are a few strategies:
Find out how your diverse employees would solve a problem
While you may be accustomed to relying on your ‘usual go-to’ employees, it’s time you started giving your diverse employees a chance to solve business problems.
Your diverse employees have been exposed to different cultures and work environments, and may come up with a different solution to your problem, which might even make more commercial sense.
For instance, if you’re looking for a new way to motivate employees, your Australian employees may only be able to suggest a barbeque party, or an outing to a footy match. While your diverse teammates may have other ideas like going to a movie or musical night, or other non-monetary incentives which might be more inclusive in nature for all employees.
An inclusive leader gets curious about how their team would solve problems differently to the status quo.
Tap into the networks of your diverse workforce
Your diverse employees have diverse networks. For instance, an American you’ve hired may have networks in the US, while a Chinese employee will have different networks around the globe.
In the globally connected and interdependent world we live in, it’s important you’re acting locally, but thinking globally. That’s why it may pay to tap into the networks of your employees to leverage diversity in your workplace for generating tangible business outcomes.
An American employee may be able to find you technologically advanced professionals to connect with, while a Chinese employee may be able to find you cheap manufacturers for your product in China.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to the number of possibilities that can emerge if you leverage your employee networks in all parts of the world.
Channelise diverse employees according to their strengths and interests
As a leader, you must capitalise on the strengths and interests of your employees and their types of diversity. This creates a win-win situation since your employees do what they’re good at, and your business benefits from high-quality work.
When we generalise and, as an example, only hire men for technological roles and women for design roles, we miss out on a whole host of skill and talent that comes when we broaden our biases.
A person who has an analytical brain, probably has a keen eye for detail and they could support an organisation in a range of business areas, not just be pigeonholed based on their gender.
Similarly, a person who has a disability may have a very different view of the world and of getting the job done in a way that is accessible for them – this means they don’t necessarily have to work a 9-5 role, nor do they necessarily need to be physically present in an office to produce their best work.
Fuse the ideas of your diverse workforce
The best insights come from combining two or more ideas. As a leader, you need to be the one who facilitates your diverse workforce into sharing their ideas. Once you have a pipeline full of ideas, you can strategically combine them to come up with something unique.
When organisations support and encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work and to connect with others who are like them, then they feel empowered to be innovative, collaborative, and engaged with the organisation.
Many organisations are embracing the development of formalised ERG programs to support their diverse employees in a way that works for them.
Change the way you think about diversity in the workplace
Diversity isn’t just about coming from a different race or having a different sexual orientation – there are many different dimensions of diversity. From a work perspective, it’s also about having a difference of opinion or a different approach to problem solving.
Just because you have a few women, a few men, a few Latinos, a few Africans, a few Europeans, and a few Asians at your workplace doesn’t mean you have a diverse workforce. Consider the different ways of working, the different ways of problem solving, and the different styles of learning that each one of us brings to the workplace.
Expand your view of what diversity means. Minimising racial issues is only the start of what it means to be diverse and inclusive.
True diversity comes when you can allow completely different perspectives to co-exist, while trying to combine them to generate creative and inclusive solutions. It’s about being comfortable with confrontation, and disagreement, and yet striving to find the best solution, inclusively.
Wrapping up diversity in the workplace
Malcolm Forbes said “Diversity is the art of thinking independently, together.” And that couldn’t be truer in an organisational context.
Support independent thinking and become a great inclusive leader who can bring out diverse perspectives from employees, while knowing when to combine them to produce great solutions.
Start by finding out more when you preview the first two chapters of my newest book – The 6 Habits of Being an Inclusive Leader.