In this era of globalization where workplace demographic shifts and global markets merge, diversity has become critical to the growth and prosperity of any organization. At the recent annual roundtable discussion organized by Standard Chartered Bank as part of celebrating Black History Month, leaders from public and private sectors gathered to discuss the topic of tackling diversity in the workplace. It was clear that inclusive workplaces win, and here are some of the reasons why:
Diverse businesses make better decisions
For some time now, it has been evident that diversity is a crucial issue that individuals from organizations all over the world are genuinely passionate about addressing, from the World Economic Forum to the Academy Awards.
The business case for diversity is a well-established one. There have been many studies from the major consultancies (including McKinsey, PwC and BCG) that explore the correlation between increased diversity and stronger business performance. In our fast-paced world, companies need to be reassured that the businesses they choose to work with can be flexible, quick to act, and are able to consider different points of view. The evidence supports the link between a diverse workforce (and notably, diverse leadership teams) and improved risk management, better problem solving, and higher levels of innovation. And crucially, these studies also underline the correlation between a lack of diversity and underperformance as well.
An obvious place to start, but it bears repeating: diversity is a business issue, not an HR one, and one increasingly being recognized and advocated for at the highest levels.
Constructive challenge is key
Simply having a diverse team in the room is not enough on its own. Organizations need to foster a culture of constructive challenge where every participant feels able to share their ideas, where disagreement is healthy, and different angles are genuinely considered, and in fact, encouraged. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs and admired leaders will tell you the same thing. I’m very aware that the best idea in the room might not come from the most senior person or whoever speaks the loudest. Innovation – an essential ingredient to compete in the global marketplace – is so often a result of constructive, yet disruptive, discussions.
To embed a challenge culture is easier said than done, especially in a global business. There are many parts of the world where openly disagreeing with your manager or another more senior figure is considered disrespectful, and we have to be sensitive to this. However, it is a strength to be able to openly discuss and celebrate difference, and it can be powerful when done by a team with a deep understanding of other markets, cultures, and business practices. Senior leaders, in particular, have a role to play in making sure employees of all backgrounds feel able to bring their point of view to the table, enabling us to create better products and solutions for our clients.
Inclusion and engagement go hand in hand
Truly embedding inclusivity requires a commitment that can permeate an entire organization. As highlighted in a compelling 2016 Harvard Business Review piece, companies cannot simply depend on diversity training or hiring performance ratings. Instead, managers and those on the front-line must be engaged to practice what they preach in terms of fostering diversity and inclusion across the whole business.
Unsurprisingly, organizations that succeed in being more inclusive – where colleagues can be their authentic selves and feel confident that they will be treated fairly – create a culture of strong engagement. If colleagues know that they are respected and valued on a level playing field, they are likely to go the extra mile with colleagues and clients alike. This promotes collaboration, better decision making and problem solving. It also encourages loyalty, which in turn enhances institutional knowledge and the ability to serve clients over the longer term.
Looking to the future
Ultimately, to continue to adapt to meet ever-changing client needs, we need to innovate. To do this, we need the best possible talent. This means balancing the views and working practices of different generations. According to the Brookings Institution, it is estimated that millennials will make up around 75 percent of America’s workforce by 2025. With companies having teams from different generations, an inter-generational approach which fosters mentorship and knowledge sharing while accommodating different ways of working will be vital to hiring and retaining talent.
The modern workforce expects diversity and inclusion to be a priority. A opens in a new window2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that millennials are more likely to consider how inclusive a business is when weighing up whether to join a company and more likely to speak out if they see discriminatory behavior.
Striving for inclusivity is not just a business need, it is a way of life. Solving for a lack of diversity in business is not something that can be done quickly or passively, and there are definite challenges to be considered. I am heartened by the numerous stories I hear on tackling diversity at the workplace, and am excited to not just see what the future of work will look like but to play an active role in facilitating a diverse workplace for all.