Workplace diversity has a bad reputation in some circles, with HR professionals complaining about box-ticking and quotas. However, if it's done correctly, fostering diversity doesn't have to involve any of this. It can be used to improve a business and help it grow, as there is far more to diversity than making arbitrary hires.
Deloitte University Press has coined the term "diversity of thought" to describe how companies can benefit from a more varied workplace. Employees of different genders, sexualities and ethnicities will likely have different backgrounds, which helps to prevent groupthink and promote innovation.
Why an equal opportunities workforce is so important
Taking a top-down approach therefore seems like the best way to approach the creation of a diverse workplace. But why is it so important everybody involved in your business has an equal chance to succeed? On the most obvious level, we all know that it’s morally right to ensure nobody is discriminated against. But it’s also a practical option to improve the running of the company.
A diverse team is more creative, which is becoming increasingly crucial to business success; a survey of over a thousand CEOs found creativity to be the most important leadership quality. There’s evidence that suggests equal-opportunity workforces can help on this account, with one study finding people in intercultural relationships performed better on creativity tests.
However, it’s important to note that this diversity only helps your business if you make an effort to integrate your teams. The increased creativity comes from different mindsets all working together; if your supposedly diverse team only interacts with people from the same culture, it can actually harm innovation.
It’s important when you attempt to create an equal opportunities workforce to aim for diversity of thought. This is a key tool that allows for better problem-solving across your business. While cultural diversity doesn’t automatically lead to this, the top-down approach will hopefully ensure different mindsets are available in your firm.
Finally, an equal opportunities workplace is one in which different perspectives are given equal weight. This is crucial to avoid humiliating mistakes - such as security scanners that disproportionately flag African-American hair, or automatic soap dispensers that don’t work for dark skin tones - that come about due to a lack of diverse points of view on design teams.
How to get board-level buy-in
Of course, all this might sound like a fantastic idea to you, but if your board disagrees then you’ll struggle to implement any of it. How can you get buy-in from your directors if they’re initially resistant to the idea of an equal opportunities workplace? Develop diversity from the top down.
If you can make your board more diverse, you should be able to highlight the benefits of an equal opportunities workforce. This is easier said than done, but there are promising statistics that should help you make your case. For example, companies with boards that were 50% female saw a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.3% over a three-year period. During this timeframe, the average CAGR was -1%.
It’s thought that eliminating the gender gap in Europe alone would add an astonishing $2 trillion to the continent’s GDP. Of course, this is just one aspect of diversity, but in every case if you can back up your arguments with data showing how beneficial an equal opportunities workforce can be then your board should be more willing to buy into the idea.
How to achieve diversity
So how can you help your workplace become more diverse, without relying on quotas? One way is to focus on aspects other than hiring, known as a top-down approach. It is easy to hire people from a range of backgrounds, but what you end up is a diverse entry-level workforce that becomes increasingly homogeneous as you move up the corporate ladder.
This makes for a company that produces innovative work but does not make innovative business decisions. Oracle recommends addressing diversity at every level of the business; not just hiring. When looking to fill a management role, for example, think about the advantages of promoting someone with a unique way of thinking. Even if they are not as qualified on paper, you might find they are more valuable than an obvious candidate.
Create fair policies
You also need to make sure everyone in your company, from top to bottom, understands that your diverse hiring is not an exercise in box-ticking. If your policies produce resentment, then not only will your workforce be less happy but it will also create an environment where new hires will struggle to fit in.
Start with the recruitment process
The Wall Street Journal suggests having a more transparent recruitment process, helping employees understand why new hires were the right fit for the job and not just an attempt to fill a quota. You could even give employees management experience by forming a panel to judge potential candidates, and making this as diverse as you would like the workplace to be.
It is also a good idea to provide diversity training to all employees, especially management. The people in charge need to understand all the benefits of a diverse workforce; as the Wall Street Journal points out:
They will be implementing personnel policies so should be fully committed to supporting the practice.
Freedom of expression
One thing you’re likely to get asked by your board is how you go about achieving true diversity, rather than just pushing a lot of people from different backgrounds together and hoping. This is inclusion, and it’s just as important as creating an equal opportunities workplace in the first place.
Achieving this is tricky, but an important step is to make sure everyone feels free to express their diversity. This means making sure everyone has the space and freedom to breastfeed, pray or speak their native language whenever they need to, without feeling insecure due to their colleagues.