Managing diversity and inclusiveness has typically been a human resources function—though that tendency is beginning to change in many organizations. What is still up in the air, however, is the “why?” of organizational diversity.
For many recruiters and HR staff, organizational diversity means avoiding discriminatory practices (especially in hiring, recruiting, and promoting), posting relevant employment laws, and other sorts of legal compliance. In other words, it is about avoiding negative consequences—risk management. To the extent that organizations are trying more positive diversity programs, they are beginning to suffer from “diversity fatigue.”
So does greater diversity really benefit organizations? Or is it just something that makes us “feel better” because we think we’re being more inclusive?
The research seems to say that diversity really does provide benefits—when initiatives are done right. The challenges for HR is not so much maintaining diversity “on paper,” but in helping to steer and encourage organizations to include a diverse range of talents, views, and life experiences.
- For global companies, workplace diversity is becoming the context in which innovation happens… Or so finds a Forbes study from 2011. Thus diversity is turning into competitive advantage in the marketplace.
- Expanding on this finding, a study reported in the Harvard Business Review found that the best problem solving came from groups exhibiting “2D” diversity. That is, groups with the most inherent diversity (think gender and race) and acquired diversity (think working in different countries or performing different functions) were much more likely to better understand target markets and drive innovation.
- A rather technical study by researchers from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Loyola University proved that, given a large enough pool of talent, a diverse group outperforms a group selected for best-performance when it comes to solving certain kinds of problems. Given an intelligent enough workforce, problem-solving diversity is more important than raw problem-solving ability.
- Finally, companies that actively recruit so as to have a diverse workplace have a larger pool of talent to recruit from… and that talent is explicitly interested in diversity. Fostering an atmosphere of inclusion thus helps to attract and retain the best talent.
So how can a person, or an HR department, successfully advocate for diversity?
Before any program can be put into place there needs to be a change in attitude. Have the hearts and minds of decision makers been won over to the ideas of diversity and inclusion? If not, you need to start there. Here are some small steps that are easily “win-able”:
1) Share the benefits of diversity. As seen above, there is a lot of research on the benefits of diversity. Find the best and share it. Summarize the results so you can build a case.
2) Suggest “blind” recruitment tools and procedures. Formal assessments, for example, are much more objective than interviews and effectively filter out many of our biases. If interviews must happen, make sure there are multiple interviews from different people who themselves come from different backgrounds and have different talents and experiences.
3) Communicate the successes of diverse teams. Nothing convinces people like a good success story. When diverse teams catch a mistake, solve a problem, or bring a new perspective to a situation, call out their fine performance. Use these as “case studies” when convincing decision makers to include diversity and inclusion initiatives.
4) Suggest training for dealing with a diverse workforce. Really, this is killing two birds with one stone. On the one hand, a diverse workforce will need more training to ensure that there is a culture that values diversity, and that inclusion is “in the air.” On the other hand, training itself can create diversity. As the HBR article mentioned above argues, some diversity is acquired during one’s career. Better, more diverse training thus leads to a better, more diverse workforce. That’s a true driver of profitability if there ever was one.