All Together Now: 5 Strategies for Supporting Diversity in the Workplace – and Why It Matters

Take a look around your workplace. In the faces of your colleagues, what do you see?

The answer we’re looking for goes beyond “a clear need for coffee” (however accurate that assessment may be). Hopefully, what you’ll see amongst your workmates is a remarkable diversity across age, culture, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and more. And as our workplaces become increasingly diverse, establishing policies of inclusion and equality has grown into one of the most important current workplace trends.

How important? Well, American management consulting firm McKinsey & Company recently completed a comprehensive study of diversity in the workplace, Delivering Through Diversity, which they claim “confirms that gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity, particularly within executive teams, continue to be correlated to financial performance across multiple countries worldwide.” And the results of their research are indeed pretty compelling. Here’s a couple of examples:

Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

Companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams – not only with respect to absolute representation but also of variety or mix of ethnicities – are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.

It’s pretty clear, then, that diversity within the workplace delivers demonstrable improvements to business performance. And it makes perfect sense: after all, the more diverse a group, the more opportunities there are for fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. It’s no wonder the most forward-thinking companies have been quick to catch on.

However, promoting and managing diversity is not without its challenges. Diversity depends on a company fostering a corresponding culture of inclusion and equality, and that requires education, effort and exemplary leadership. The same McKinsey study noted that “Companies report that materially improving the representation of diverse talent within their ranks, as well as effectively utilizing inclusion and diversity as an enabler of business impact, are particularly challenging goals.”

So. Are you up for this challenge? Of course you are. And in anticipation of this, we’ve collated some pro tips to help you ensure your workplace is always a welcoming one:

1. Prioritise...

... ideas which support and promote diversity and inclusion. A common complaint from people developing these sorts of initiatives is that leaders tend to sideline them as low-priority. They shouldn’t be. Ensure you’re doing everything possible to enable those who champion these causes to achieve their aims. What’s more, seeing the company’s leadership support such initiatives sends a powerful message to the rest of the organisation.

2. Encourage...

...your employees to share what’s important to them. For example, as part of its core value of “Equality for All”, managers at cloud-based software company Salesforce invite all their people to share details of any events or occasions that are culturally or personally significant for them. This not only builds awareness of other cultures and interests but also ensures that every employee feels supported in their beliefs by the wider Salesforce community. (And at a more superficial level, it makes for a great excuse for a morale-boosting party.)

3. Foster...

...a culture of “psychological safety” so that employees feel comfortable discussing anything which has caused them distress. Listen carefully to their concerns and respect their courage in speaking out. Clear, honest communication is essential to the performance of any team, and it’s particularly important in this context.

4. Educate...

...yourself along with your employees. Make sure everyone is aware of the pitfalls of unconscious biases and ensure that everyone understands the best ways to make a new team member feel welcome. Both sides will appreciate any heads-up that’s designed to assist easy assimilation.

3. Ask...

...for help if you need it – and sooner rather than later. Tricky situations will inevitably arise; don’t hesitate to call in the experts if you feel out of your depth. The key is to be proactive – and that includes following the previous four points to minimise any potential conflict in the first place.

Above all, remember that while “materially improving the representation of diverse talent” may be a challenging goal, showing a little kindness and consideration for others’ feelings is not. And the payoff is more significant than you might think. Recent Salesforce research found that not only are employees “more productive when they feel they belong, are heard, and are able to be their authentic self at work”, but also that “When they feel like they belong, 73% of employees say they can do their best work”. In other words, if diversity dovetails with a culture of inclusion and equality, the result is higher employee engagement, increased productivity and improved business performance.

What company isn’t chasing that?