Blogs Default Image

The Business Case for Workplace Diversity & Inclusion

The Business Case for Workplace Diversity & Inclusion

over 1 year ago By Emily Harris
Diversity 01

Happy Mardi Gras! The annual celebrations for Sydney’s LGBTQ+ festival (the largest Pride event in Oceania) kick off in Sydney tomorrow and in conjunction with the event, Design & Build wanted to highlight the importance diversity and inclusion play within the workplace- both for the wellbeing of each key stakeholder and the organisation overall. We delve into why organisations should attract diverse talent- in terms of age, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation etc. But more importantly, we delve into why the ‘inclusion’ portion of diversity & inclusion plays such an important part in retention and how workplaces can ‘include’ employees form all backgrounds and experiences and make them feel safe and comfortable within their workplace.

Why Diversity Is Important for Business

The Global Diversity Practice defines diversity and inclusion within the workplace as ‘empowering people through respecting and appreciating what makes themselves and their colleagues different, in terms of age, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education and national origin. It allows for understanding for one another by surpassing simple tolerance to ensure people truly value their differences and feel safe to express them.’ Not only is promoting diversity and inclusion within the workplace morally important, but research has consistently indicated its value from a business perspective. As organisation’s discover the importance diversity and inclusion plays in staff engagement and satisfaction (which has a flow on effect to the businesses’ overall performance and retention rate) developing thorough practices to achieve and maintain a diverse and inclusive workplace has become a higher priority.

Recent research by the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that an employee’s work related stress increases when they experience ‘onlyness’, or being the only one on a team or meeting with their given gender identity, sexual orientation, or race. Those that feel onlyness within their organisation through being a minority in the business can develop a heightened sense of isolation and feel an added pressure to ‘perform’ in an attempt to blend in. McKinsey & Company’s research also revealed that for LGBTQ+ women, who are workplace minorities in both gender and sexual orientation, the ‘only’ experience is a common one, and can be challenging in corporate environments. According to their research LGBTQ+ women are twice as likely as women overall to report being an “only”. Interestingly, ‘onlyness’ can also be influenced by industry. For example, within industries with a traditionally masculine culture like construction or engineering, there has been a higher incidence of LGBTQ+ men feeling isolated and not comfortable in revealing their true selves.

Obviously, the stress and anxiety associated with ‘onlyness’ is not conducive to the individual employee’s engagement levels, nor the performance within the organisation, which highlights why a focus on diversity & inclusion is so important. In addition to employee engagement, diversity & inclusion has also been credited to attracting new talent, especially millennials. Recent research has shown that millennials (who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2030) consider workplace diversity as a significant factor when choosing an employer. According to a Linkedin Workplace Culture report, nearly nine out of ten, or 86% of millennials would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own- values which include having a sense of belonging and feeling they can be their ‘true selves’ at work.

Furthermore, research has also demonstrated the significant role workplace diversity and inclusion plays in a business’s innovation. Working alongside people of different backgrounds, experiences and working styles allow for a greater range of creativity and feedback than what might be produced when a group of people – all with the same experience and perspectives -come together. Furthermore, whereas one person may be great at generating exciting, out of the box ideas, another person might have the necessary experience to execute it and thus having a team with such a diverse range of skills and experience makes collaboration and the execution of projects more effective. This expanded number of outlooks which leads to increased likelihood of innovation, will in turn help a business grow and achieve subsequent financial success.

The Inclusion Part of ‘Diversity & Inclusion’

Diversity & inclusion usually go hand-in-hand when organisations discuss improving their workplace culture, with many using the terms interchangeably. However, the terms are not one and the same, and neither happens through osmosis. Just because an organisation decides to focus on diversifying its workforce, doesn’t mean that it will then automatically have a workplace where everyone feels included.To make all employees from all backgrounds and experiences feel appreciated and safe within their workplace, inclusive initiatives must be targeted, to achieve specific results.It’s one thing for a business to focus their efforts on company branding and transparent recruiting practices in order to attract more diverse talent into the business, but if they don’t have the policies, practices and social structures in place to make employees feel welcome, they’ll never be able to retain this talent; which is money and effort wasted.

This is why global consulting firm Deloitte has identified a basic formula for companies on the subject; Diversity + Inclusion = Better Business Outcomes. The challenge however, is to determine a shared understanding of what inclusion means, as it can be interpreted differently by different organisations, or even amongst marginalised groups. Without a shared understanding of inclusion, people are prone to miscommunication, progress cannot be reliably evaluated, leaders can’t be held accountable and organisations default to counting diversity numbers.Consequently, from their own extensive research, Deloitte identified four key elements that make up a holistic definition of inclusion:

  1. People feel included when they are treated ‘equitably and with respect’. Participation without favouritism is the starting point for inclusion, and this requires attention to non-discrimination and basic courtesy.

  2. People feel included when they believe their authentic self is valued by others, while at the same time having a sense of belonging or connectedness to a group.

  3. People feel included when they feel safe to speak up without fear of embarrassment or retaliation.

  4. People feel included when they feel empowered by their group or ‘team’ to grow and do their best work.

If organisation’s can focus on these four elements when forming policies, shaping their leadership team and communicating (both internally and externally), they can start to see and track their results.

What Businesses Can Do To Help Improve Inclusiveness

Deloitte’s research revealed that an increase in individuals’ feelings of inclusion translates into an increase in perceived team performance. So, how can organisations incorporate the above elements into their day-to-day activities and overall diversity and inclusion policy? Below are some actionable workplace inclusion tactics that can be incorporated by businesses in the real world, as recommended by Deloitte:

Assess Your Core Company Values

Take the time to look over your organisation’s core values and ask yourself the following questions. Firstly, do your company values speak to diversity and inclusion within the organisation? If not, this is a sign that values advocating for diverse backgrounds and creating an inclusive environment for everyone, need to be included. Secondly, have these values been clearly communicated and understood by the leadership team? And finally, are these values on inclusion and diversity easily accessible to both your key stakeholders and the wider public? For employees, seeing these values reassures them that their company welcomes and supports them, while for prospective employers, being able to see a company’s values on inclusion and diversity, might make them more inclined to apply for a role with the company, as demonstrated by findings on millennial employees.

Educate Company Leadership

In the same Deloitte study on diversity and inclusion, research revealed that the behaviours of leaders (senior executives or managers) can drive up to 70% of difference between the proportion of employees who feel highly included and the proportion of those who do not. Consequently, ensuring your organisation’s leaders across the company understand the importance of workplace inclusion and educating senior management on what this looks like overall and day-to-day, is imperative. Leaders play a crucial role in shaping company values- they are the key decision makers and most likely to ensure inclusion practices are implemented company wide.

Education can be done internally, through group meetings and think tanks, where all sections of leadership play a part in constructing the organisation’s inclusion policies. This ensures polices become clear and are better communicated to all key decision makers at once. This can then be balanced by external education- diversity and inclusion workshops run by experts. Having experts outside of an organisation provide guidance and consultation on inclusion is important, as it’s often the leadership team that is the least diverse (middle-aged, white males) and thus their knowledge of inclusion will be somewhat limited to their own experiences.

Use Inclusive Language

Organisations can sometimes underestimate how important a role language plays in making people feel included or marginalised. In a recent study conducted by the tech company Buffer, HR staff discovered that when using the word ‘hacker’ within their computer programmer job descriptions, only 2% of applicants were female. When they adjusted their language to be more inclusive – swapping ‘hacker’ for ‘computer specialist’ for example, it encouraged more women to apply.

Furthermore, there are often certain language (phrases, terms) that can be accepted in some cultures but considered offensive in others. Ensuring that all employees receive adequate training on inclusive language and cultural understanding, can therefore be a big help in creating a safe and inclusive space for people across all backgrounds.

Create Cultural Events

Creating and celebrating cultural events and the diverse nature of an organisation’s team can be a great and relatively easy way to acknowledge everyone’s experiences and backgrounds, while demonstrating how much the team values these varied backgrounds. Cultural events can be as simple as organising weekly cook-outs where each member of a team cooks a meal from their own country, or sponsoring and participating in more official cultural events.

For example, many Australian based businesses have become actively involved in Sydney’s Mardi Gras celebrations; professional services network PwC and banking and financial services company ANZ are two of the many organisations that march in the parade, as a sign of solidarity for their LGBTQ+ workers.

Collect Inclusion feedback regularly

All organisations need to listen to their people. Try to start including regular feedback events or town-hall style meetings, to find out from employees and other key stakeholders what they think is working and what isn’t. Organisations can also set up continuous anonymous surveys for employees to provide their thoughts and recommendations in a safe space where they won’t feel judged or that their feedback will have any negative repercussions.

Organisations need to continually look over this feedback, and determine if it aligns with the diversity and inclusion goals they’ve set in place. Whenever there is any disconnect between the two, organisations should re-evaluate, set new goals and alter their processes so that they can ensure continual improvement.

It is important to note that diversity & inclusion isn’t something that happens overnight. The above suggestions are long term strategies, however with the ongoing commitment form an organisation’s key stakeholders, an organisation can make significant leaps in making their employees feel safe and truly engaged within the workplace. Which in turn, will lead to higher retention rates and greater overall performance for the business.