Building a diverse and inclusive workforce should be a priority for all employers, regardless of the size of your business or the industry you operate in.

From a commercial perspective, there are all sorts of benefits to be gained from focusing on diversity, such as a more representative and productive workforce, improved financial performance (as we'll see later in this article) and a stronger employer brand.

But most importantly of all, the concepts of diversity and inclusion are about people. Truly inclusive companies respect and value every member of the workforce as an individual, whatever their age, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation might be.

Committing to these principles will lead to positive outcomes for both your business and your employees in the long term.

the value of diversity and inclusion

By putting diversity and inclusion at the heart of your recruitment and workforce management activities, you're helping to ensure that all applicants and employees get equal opportunities to make a contribution and fulfill their potential in the workplace. As well as being important purely from a moral and ethical perspective, building diverse teams is important for staff wellbeing, productivity and business performance.

the people perspective

It's becoming increasingly common for employees - particularly younger generations who represent the future of business and the workplace - to want to work for organizations that value difference, diversity and an open-minded, progressive outlook. More than four out of five Gen Z jobseekers (83%) view commitment to diversity and inclusion as an important factor when choosing an employer, according to the 2020 State of the Candidate Survey by Monster.

Workers are also more likely to feel happy, engaged and productive at work if they feel fully supported and respected by their employer. Embracing a diverse and inclusive approach to hiring and managing your staff shows that you view every worker as a unique individual, and that you're willing to give all qualified candidates a chance to show what they can do, irrespective of factors like their gender or ethnicity.

the business case

As the World Economic Forum has noted, the business case for workplace diversity is now 'overwhelming'. Mr Eswaran pointed out that bringing together people from a wide range of backgrounds and areas of experience helps to fuel innovation. This is evident on a large scale in prosperous, successful urban centers like New York, Dubai, London and Singapore - all international 'melting pots' with eclectic local populations.

Dedicated research by companies like McKinsey has provided clear evidence of the commercial advantages companies can achieve by building diverse teams, particularly at senior level. The company has now published three studies in a global series exploring this subject: Why Diversity Matters (2015), Delivering through Diversity (2018) and Diversity Wins (2020). The latest findings show that the relationship between diversity on executive teams and financial success has strengthened over time.

Key results from the most recent study include: 

  • Organizations with the most diverse executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than those with the lowest levels of diversity
  • This is up from 21% in 2017 and 15% in 2014
  • Firms in the top quartile for ethnic diversity were 36% more likely to financially outperform those in the bottom quartile

These conclusions are backed up by separate research from Boston Consulting Group, which showed that companies with above-average diversity on leadership teams report better outcomes from innovation and higher earnings margins.

Given the clear benefits your business can achieve through diversity and inclusion, it's important to look into what positive steps you could be taking to put these principles at the heart of your HR strategy.

employee conversation
employee conversation

make it part of your culture

To be an effective and lasting pillar of your organization, workforce diversity and inclusion needs to be ingrained into your culture. It's not enough to take a siloed approach that brings about change only at a departmental or team level. The entire business needs to be fully committed to the mission and aware of just how important it is.

A crucial part of this is making sure the company's leadership are fully on board with your diversity and inclusion drive, and ready to provide the support you need to get the best results from it. Boardroom backing is likely to rely on you making a strong business case for the value of diversity and inclusion. It will also be crucial to ensure that the various initiatives and activities involved in your diversity push are directly linked to your organization's wider goals.

If your firm is currently looking to expand into new markets, for example, you might want to focus on how making your workforce more eclectic and representative will help you understand a broader range of customer needs and expectations.

Making sure senior stakeholders and decision-makers are fully behind the drive towards greater diversity is a crucial step on the way to making this a fundamental part of your company culture.

rethink your recruitment 

There's no doubt that optimizing recruitment strategies and practices needs to be a top priority for any organization that is genuinely committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to make sure each stage of your hiring process is specially designed to eliminate bias and encourage applications from the widest possible range of candidates.

To start with, it's important to make sure job descriptions are written carefully to be as inclusive as possible. That could involve avoiding unnecessary jargon and not using gender-coded words or other language that will make roles feel exclusive or unwelcoming to particular groups.

It can also be beneficial to only list essential skills when discussing job requirements and omit 'nice-to-have' qualifications. LinkedIn highlighted this as an effective way to make job posts more inclusive in its Gender Insights Report, which revealed that women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men and are 16% less likely than men to apply for a role after viewing it.

There should be an emphasis on diversity and inclusion in every phase of the hiring process, particularly at crucial stages like the interview. If possible, put together an eclectic interview panel to minimize the risk of bias (conscious or otherwise) and to show all interviewees that they will be welcomed and given every opportunity to move forward in their careers with your company.

Another important step is to make sure interviews are standardized and structured in the same way for all applicants. That might mean: 

  • Asking the same core questions in the same order
  • Giving every interviewee the same opportunity to ask their own questions
  • Evaluating all responses in the same way

provide training

If your company is serious about introducing genuine and lasting change on the diversity and inclusion front, it's worth considering the benefits of offering dedicated training on the subject.

This can be a good approach if you feel there is a need in your organization for more discussion and understanding of key issues such as: 

  • Why diversity and inclusion matters
  • The differences between diversity and inclusion
  • Conscious and unconscious bias
  • Discrimination laws

There could be people in your workforce who are keen to learn more about subjects like these, or have questions they would like to ask, but don't know when or how to bring them up. Focused training sessions will provide a good opportunity to have honest conversations, share useful information and raise awareness of topics that fall under the banner of diversity and inclusion.

Going forward, it's important to make it clear that this is an ongoing mission, not something that can be encapsulated in a one-off training session and then forgotten about. Sabrina Clark, associate principal at SYPartners, a consultancy specializing in organizational transformation, said one way to bring about lasting change in how people think and behave is to entrust the task to dedicated cohorts who aren't at executive or management level. These groups can be armed with the skills and information needed to drive change in their team or department by leading through example.

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