Why are diversity and inclusion important?

By Dan Boesly

In the 21st century, we are presented with a landscape that is interconnected and global. Any organisation now has the ability to be available any time, any place, to anyone. The advent of this interconnected, global marketplace provides an incredible opportunity to those companies willing to move with the times, and part of this is the ability to appreciate the importance of diversity as well as inclusion in the workplace.

What is Diversity?

Diversity is simultaneously the greatest asset and challenge for any 21st-century company. Fostering diversity in the workplace not only encourages new and fresh perspectives, but it also keeps the company current and moving forward in the rapidly expanding and changing world. Companies can no longer afford static or fixed mindsets and need to actively seek and employ people with a range of skills, cultures and backgrounds if they hope to remain innovative, relevant and relatable. Census data indicates that between 2000 and 2050 new immigrants and their children will account for 83 percent of the growth in the working-age population. What this means is economies will grow and
benefit from these changing demographics if businesses commit to meeting the needs of diverse communities as consumers and workers.

Only employing people that conform to the company culture, be that academic, ethnic or otherwise, is a trap that many businesses fall into, as Eduard Jubany Tur writes “Traditional businesses, financial firms and consulting firms have traditionally been not diverse and thus creating a dangerous monoculture of thought that has lead us to multiple shocks and crises. Acceptance of divergence is key.” Doing otherwise ensures that different ways of thinking are stifled, subsequently preventing creative problem solving from occurring – if everyone thinks and acts in similar ways, how are organisations supposed to develop or implement new ideas, strategies or products? In a Forbes study of 321 large global enterprises in 2011, 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.

What is Inclusion?

The Society for Human Resource Management defines inclusion as “the achievement of a work environment” in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.

Being a part of an inclusive environment means being aware of and valuing people’s different and varied outlooks on life, their goals, their intrinsic values, and their interpersonal relationships and skills. People are much happier at work when they feel that they are able to be themselves without worrying about judgment, and that means people they work with value what they bring to the workplace. Also, a workplace that understands the needs of their employees, making them feel valued and respected has a significant and positive impact on employee retention. A truly inclusive workplace is a seamless blend where everyone has a sense of belonging.

What do they need to go hand in hand?

Studies indicate that not only are diverse companies 35% more likely to outperform their peers, but inclusive teams also outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments. A clear trend between diversity and inclusion and more efficient and successful teams is clear. A Harvard Business School study in 2013 focused on 24 companies that had earned reputations for making diversity a priority. One of their findings was summed up perfectly by Paul Block, the CEO of Mersant who told them “People with different lifestyles and different backgrounds challenge each other more. Diversity creates dissent, and you need that. Without it, you’re not going to get any deep inquiry or breakthroughs.” 

This is supported by research which suggests companies that openly articulate values of inclusion and have a diverse workforce tend to appeal to a wider customer and supplier base. People from all backgrounds and experience can provide value to a company or project. It is important to be open to new possibilities, avoiding a monocultural approach to the workplace, encouraging growth, creativity, and inclusivity.

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