We live in an increasingly globalised and multicultural society. Having a diverse workforce that mirrors society has become an important business imperative for many companies. Indeed, most prominent organisations implement diversity considerations in their hiring practices.
While these practices often benefit the company from a reputational standpoint, research shows that an investment in diversity often also pays financial dividends. Companies with diverse workers and leaders have better morale, are more creative, are better at relationship building, and are thus more likely to grow and prosper.
However, having a diverse workforce does not guarantee employee satisfaction or additional financial benefits. For variety in the workforce to be a true source of strength, the organisation must also have an inclusive work culture.
Diversity and inclusion: An important distinction
Diversity is a matter of demographic differences such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, physical disability, and socio-economic status. Having a workforce with different perspectives and experiences better equips the organisation to meet the needs of an equally varied customer base.
To truly harness the full power of its diversity, however, an organisation must also make inclusion a top priority. Simply put, inclusion is a feeling of belonging. If all employees – of all different demographic characteristic – feel accepted, respected, valued, and empowered to fully contribute towards company goals, the organisation can be considered an inclusive one.
As Grant Thornton UK Associate Director CJ Bedford points out, “Diversity is essential, but inclusive cultures are the enabler to bring diversity to bear.”
Respect, appreciation, and leadership
Decency and civility are core to any successful human relationship. In a complex organisation with dozens of employees from multiple backgrounds, these qualities become even more important. If the company ensures that employees respect each other, those employees will be much more likely to take initiative and share their ideas.
In an inclusive work environment, the emphasis is always placed on employees’ strengths rather than their limitations. Everyone has different abilities, and a truly inclusive organisation is one that can pool those talents for maximum benefit. Failure to recognise and respect this variation can lead to employees becoming withdrawn and less likely to contribute their full effort. On the other hand, when employees are allowed to play to their strengths, they will contribute more to the company, have higher job satisfaction, and be more open to professional development opportunities that can turn current limitations into future strengths.
Leaders are responsible for modelling this respectful and appreciative work culture. They must create an environment where all employees – regardless of their individual and group differences – feel comfortable and safe expressing themselves openly.
If any incidents of discrimination occur, leaders must deal with them effectively, transparently, and fairly. This task can, at times, be easier said than done. If employees think leaders are hiring, promoting, and determining salaries unfairly, this perceived bias can quickly erode faith in the company’s commitment to inclusion.
Shared values and culture can go a long way to bolstering employee trust. If a truly inclusive culture becomes an integral part of the organisation’s brand, then confidence and good spirits will be evident at all levels, and everyone will work more smoothly towards shared goals.
If this effort requires a cultural shift within the company, so much the better. Moving forward starts with human decency and common sense. Mutual respect and mutual appreciation can go a very long way.