Whether a small business or large corporation, companies are finally learning to appreciate the many benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In addition, potential employees are actively seeking out organizations that have these wonderful attributes deep-rooted in their core values, philosophy, and training initiatives.
- But what does it really mean to have a diverse and inclusive workplace?
- What are the specifics on how it benefits employees, employers, and even shareholders?
- How can business leaders create a diverse and inclusive culture, thus ensuring more productive and happier employees?
The heart workers at ALSO are most honored to answer these common and frequent questions about workplace diversity and inclusion.
Why is Diversity in the Workplace Important?
Although the terms diversity and inclusion are interrelated, they have some important differences. Diversity is concerned with the representation within an entity. In our case, we are discussing the make-up of employees in the workplace.
Most often, we think of members of a diverse environment as having the following differences:
- Racial diversity
- Ethnic diversity
- Religious diversity
- Sexual orientation (see also gender identity below)
- Gender diversity
- Cultural diversity
Over the past several years, thought leaders in the United States and around the world have introduced several other diverse groups into our consciousness. These include and are not limited to the following:
- Cognitive diversity: Differences in perspective and/or information processing style.
- Disability diversity: Intellectual, physical, mental, and/or sensory impairments which may create barriers to full participation in society.
- Gender identity diversity: A personal sense of one’s own gender regardless of what they were assigned at birth.
- Socioeconomic diversity: Differences in economic level.
- Generational diversity: Age differences (e.g., Baby-boomers, Gen Z, Millennials).
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) experts have noted that employers are just now starting to explore other types of diversity, such as values, ability, and personality. This is known as deep-level diversity.
Inclusion, on the other hand, is the company culture of wholeheartedly embracing all employees’ differences and valuing them as an asset to the business. The crux of inclusion is about how well the presence and perspectives of those diverse individuals are appreciated and incorporated into the work culture.
A company can have a diverse environment on paper, in press releases, and in training, but still not be inclusive. An example of this is an organization which boasts a high percentage of women, African Americans, and other minority groups. Yet, unfortunately, the management consists entirely of white men.
Similarly, if executives and management don’t value and respect the unique contributions of their employees’ ethnicities, disabilities, and other characteristics, then that work environment isn’t inclusive.
Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
Human resources professionals and business think tanks have studied the concept of D&I extensively. The benefits are quite numerous.
1. Expanding Innovation
Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review revealed that employees are more innovative and creative when they are allowed to function in diverse environments. This includes the practice of fostering deep-level diversities of personality, values, and ability.
2. Sharing of Knowledge
When work teams have the benefit of greater diversity, the ability to learn from one another improves dramatically. Seemingly disparate ideas transform into innovations when employees of different backgrounds can collaborate on projects and assignments.
3. Improving Problem-Solving
Employees from diverse backgrounds and different perspectives undoubtedly bring a greater variety of experiences to the table when finding solutions to complex problems. This is particularly the case when work teams have cognitive diversity. Some professionals may refer to this as differences in learning styles, personality types, or work styles.
One of the biggest advantages of a cognitively diverse workplace is that it eliminates group think. This is when everyone on a team approaches problems in the same way, with no originality or ingenuity. It results in employees becoming stagnant and poorly equipped at adapting to change. Cognitive diversity also includes intellectual and/or developmental disabilities such as autism, Down’s syndrome, or cerebral palsy.
4. Increasing Employee Engagement
Reports have indicated quite a strong connection between an inclusive workplace and employee engagement. When leadership and management make efforts to meet the unique needs and genuinely value the contributions of all employees, workers naturally want to give back and work harder to achieve goals.
5. Reducing Employee Turnover
When people feel appreciated for their unique perspectives, personal history, and background that they can bring to the organization, they simply want to keep working for that organization and leadership team.
When business leaders embrace D&I initiatives, they are demonstrating to employees that it is indeed possible, no matter what ethnic group, race, religion, or disability a person may have, they can still advance in the organization.
6. More Successful Recruitment Efforts
The recent social change that has been occurring in the United States has created a change in attitude when it comes to work. Particularly beginning in 2020, millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z job seekers are considering the presence of an inclusive environment as one of the most important factors in job choice.
Another trend seems to be emerging among Gen Z job seekers. During interviews, they are now making active inquiries regarding the organization’s D&I efforts.
7. Understanding Customers Better
In this era of global companies, diversity and inclusion initiatives are more important than ever. It will take a truly diverse workforce to successfully cater to the global society. The specialized knowledge that diverse employees can contribute in an effort to serve global customers is truly priceless.
One example of this is in the area of goods and services provided by people with disabilities. According to Caroline Casey of Harvard Business Review, over 1 billion people world-wide are living with a disability. This represents a very large part of the market share with a total income of about $8 trillion. It’s getting progressively more important that business leaders learn how to attract this very large part of the global market.
The Competitive Advantage
The result of these inclusive workplaces is a competitive advantage in overall business performance and the long-term reputation of the organization. Case in point is a report by the global consulting firm McKinsey and Company. They have documented that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform similar companies that have a more homogenous workforce.
Keeping an Eye Out for Unconscious Bias
Unconscious bias is when we unknowingly judge a person based on stereotypes. One example of this might be when people assume that someone may be of a certain culture or race due to the sound of their name.
This is an issue that even the most mindful and conscious of us need to keep in check. It’s very likely that having diverse teams in the workplace tends to break down preconceptions and unconscious bias that we might have about our coworkers and community members. The exposure itself is constantly reminding us that everyone has their own special gifts, and everyone is different…thank goodness!
There are several types of unconscious bias, including and not limited to:
- Similarity Bias: Surrounding ourselves with people who are similar to us.
- Confirmation Bias: When we ask questions or bring up topics that we already believe to be the case (even though we might be wrong).
- Conformity Bias: When we pick up on cues and comments during a group meeting, but withdraw from saying what we are really thinking.
We Value Diverse and Inclusive Workplaces
So now that we know about the many benefits of D&I in the workplace, it’s time to do everything we can to facilitate diversity initiatives. These strategies will lay a strong foundation for equal opportunity regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, gender identity, or any other difference that an employee may have.
There are several things we can do as employers, employees, and community members:
- Begin a dialogue. This is by far the simplest thing that anyone can do, whether they are managers, job seekers, corporations, community members, or advocates.
- Perform an analysis of the present employee make up. Pay particular attention as to whether higher-level positions are reflective of the demographic of the employee population. If not, further analysis may be appropriate. Remember that diverse talent functions best with diverse management teams.
- Adopt best practices for diversity and inclusion. There are several helpful and credible resources and D&I measures available to help you get started on understanding what it means to develop an inclusive company.
- Corporate Equality Index: A benchmarking tool for measuring the quality of policies, practices, and benefits related to LGBTQ+ employees.
- The What Can You Do? Campaign: Includes a series of instructional videos and resources to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
- Human Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities: A United Nations Initiative that promotes equal access and opportunity.
- Teambuilding: Diversity and inclusion ideas for the office.
Diversity and Inclusion at ALSO
We at ALSO value diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We must learn to celebrate the differences in how we look, sound, and the unique ways in which we think. As a community, we can truly learn how to help one another and appreciate our differences. Interested in joining our team? Check out our career opportunities here.
Supported Employment Services
ALSO stands for Advocates for Life-Skills and Opportunity. We provide disability support services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. We’re dedicated to the people that we serve as well as their families, friends, and other loved ones.
Our Supported Employment services supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in finding meaningful employment in their communities. Please contact us if you’re interested in expanding your workplace diversity and inclusion and wish to know how it works.