Empowering difference – the need for a diverse workforce in the 2020s

People standing on world map smallIncreasing diversity in the workplace is a common challenge that every large company who wants to survive in the 2020s needs to tackle.Cegos Asia Pacific recently conducted a survey to establish the 5 key drivers for success as we head to the 2020s workplace. The fourth of these addresses Diversity and Bias (conscious and unconscious), where we found that a significant number of people were aware of the need for greater diversity but weren’t entirely sure how to deal with it.In an increasingly globalised marketplace, diversity (in terms of race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) is a fact of life. By encouraging diversity, as opposed to marginalising people that do not fit the traditional mould, companies stand to benefit more than they probably realise.Indeed, by empowering every employee and giving them opportunities on an equal footing, then companies tend to perform better than those that shy away from the issue.According to a recent study by McKinsey, companies that embrace diversity in the workplace are more likely to be successful than those that don’t. For example, the study finds that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to perform above expectations that gender-biased companies. In addition, 35% of ethnically-diverse companies were more likely to outperform those companies where the ethnic make-up of employees is fairly narrow.It stands to reason that companies whose culture is inclusive have happier employees. Prejudice and bias only lead to unhappiness and frustration amongst those affected, so where this can be reduced or even eliminated, then productivity and morale is bound to increase.Conversely, by consciously or unconsciously excluding certain types of people – because of their ethnicity or sexual orientation for example – then companies narrow the field of available talent and thus do themselves no favours.Whilst the benefits of increased diversity in the workforce are perhaps obvious, implementing a strategy to improve it can be difficult. Prejudice and bias comes from all kinds of sources – cultural, social, religious, etc. – and so dealing with this issue can be difficult, especially in global companies that must embrace a range of cultural viewpoints.Nonetheless, it can be done.The key to successfully increasing diversity seems to lie in open communication and discussion. Fear of the unknown, or unrealistic assumptions, often lie at the root of prejudice and bias.Companies that encourage discussion, as opposed to lecturing their staff on diversity issues, tend to see a more convivial acceptance and better productivity that comes from more harmonious working relationships.Secondly, successful companies often have written policies that encourage diversity in the hiring process, whilst protecting vulnerable members of the workforce against discrimination and unreasonable behavior towards them.Thirdly, by funding and supporting community initiatives within their workforce (e.g. young workers, LGBT, etc.) there is a greater openness and willingness to co-operate amongst workers of diverse backgrounds. Rather than feeling marginalised, those who may have traditionally been excluded from promotion or taking positions of leadership feel empowered to use their talents to the full.It is not easy, by any means, to implement diversity policy. There are always those who themselves feel marginalised when specific genders or ethnicities are favoured.Yet simply doing nothing to address diversity issues is becoming less of an option for international business. Cegos research showed that, particularly amongst respondents in the Asia Pacific region, there was a tendency for management to ignore the issue, perhaps in the hope of not ruffling any feathers.However, the results of the McKinsey report, and other reports that suggest similar trends, should not be dismissed. Not being aware is no longer an excuse.92% of respondents to the Cegos survey believed that the future workplace will be more colourful and diverse than it is at present. This means managers and leaders must be comfortable and confident in dealing with diversity.In an ideal world, there would be no need for diversity policy because it would simply not be an issue. However, we live in times where strong traditions still hold sway, a proactive approach is necessary, and indeed beneficial, for those managers skilled and brave enough to do something about it.