Diversity in the workplace is more than just a concept – it’s an essential element of your business model, capable of contributing to your success in a measurable way. Studies show that diverse teams outperform those that lack diversity. From a purely business standpoint, diversity should be an integral part of your HR strategy. But what does a diverse team look like, and how do you put one together?
What does workplace diversity mean?
To define workplace diversity, we must first look at diversity as a standalone. According to Merriam Webster, diversity is "the condition of having or being composed of different elements."
With that in mind, diversity in the workplace can be defined as the inclusion of people with varying characteristics, life views and experiences. Some differentiating factors that can make a team diverse include:
- Political views
- Life experience
While it's ill-advised to make hiring decisions solely based on equally representing these differentiators, the most crucial consideration in cultivating workplace diversity is an organization-wide commitment to thinking outside the box when hiring. In other words, achieving true workplace diversity requires a concerted effort to hiring people from all walks of life.
That said, it's important to note that diversity means more than gender balance and equal ethnic representation. It’s also important to remember that hiring diverse employees doesn’t always correlate to profits and productivity. A wise hiring manager should also weigh work experience, strengths, weaknesses, aptitudes and many other factors in staffing a team.
The Value of Diversity
The value that diverse teams can bring to the organizations that employ them extends well beyond profitability. Whether you’re innovating, improving processes, finding new ways to win over customers or targeting clientele in other parts of the globe, having a variety of viewpoints is essential to effective, creative problem solving and competitive strategic planning.
For instance, if your company is working on a new product for women, you would likely benefit from having women involved in the process. Digging deeper, women of different ethnicities and varying backgrounds could potentially bring a vast spectrum of perspectives to the table, helping the team think outside the box. It’s not difficult to see how this approach could net a product with a broader reach and appeal.
A diverse team invites engagement, as colleagues, peers and end-users know that their needs are being represented and heard. Similarly, a disabled person may bring viewpoints to the table that non-disabled people may not have considered. Including these considerations in product development and strategy will let disabled people know that they’re important and that your brand supports them.
What’s more, the advantages of prioritizing diversity in the workplace extend to improving employee performance. Recent studies indicate that a diverse workforce is a key contributor to leadership development as well. Exposing company leaders to people from all walks of life helps broaden their horizons, develop soft skills, grow self-awareness and improve their understanding of the market. This is often a byproduct of the challenges a diverse workforce creates for leaders.
With this in mind, it's essential to make sure company leaders are up for coping with a wide range of employee backgrounds, cultural views, trust orientations and communication styles. Navigating the ambiguity created by these factors can be tough for a leader with a rigid life view. Consequentially, a commitment to diversity needs to channel to the top.
Your company's leadership is the place from which your culture evolves. To have a high-performing and diverse team, you need to focus on talent, and you can't attract top talent without top leadership. Rather than limit your diversity initiative to the front line, it's often much more beneficial to take a top-down approach, prioritizing diversity in leadership with the same dedication you approach diversity in teams.
Why prioritize workplace diversity?
Ultimately, every company wants more meaningful connections with its customers. Leveraging a diverse range of viewpoints opens your brand to a broader audience, inviting them to connect with your ideals and principles. The more inclusive and intuitive these ideals are, the more significant that connection will be.
When it comes to accountability, an effective team will always question the status quo. With this considered, the importance of workplace diversity starts to come into focus. A modern organization should have more than one person making decisions in a room full of unquestioning followers. No matter how capable an individual you have at the helm, the sum of the parts approach is always more effective. Not only does inclusive decision-making tend to improve overall organizational effectiveness, but it also can improve retention by helping ensure your employees feel valued and heard. Diversity helps your team gain objectivity in each process, shaping it into a high-functioning and capable unit that focuses on the process as much as the results.
How to Assemble a Diverse Team
Though there is no universal formula for how to assemble a diverse team, it’s safe to assume a diverse team should include:
- Gender balance
- Range of age groups
- Variety of racial ethnicities and cultural backgrounds
- Range of experience, education and points-of-view
When hiring new team members, it's essential to consider the talent you currently have on board and current skill gaps you face. A clear understanding of your current team's strengths and weaknesses is the best way to round-out your talent pool and maximize your long-term effectiveness. In conducting a preliminary situational audit, you should strive to include decision-makers with diverse mindsets and backgrounds in the process. While one executive may think the organization has a particular viewpoint covered, a department manager may beg to differ.
Armed with a clear understanding of your current situation, you should develop a creative staffing strategy that considers non-traditional talent pools and candidates. If your organization traditionally hires using an online job board, try hosting a networking event. If you require applicants to hold a four-year degree to qualify for consideration, consider shifting your focus to prioritizing past-job performance or demonstrable skills. If you typically rely on one member of your organization to handle recruitment, consider involving other people. If your organization is too small to accomplish this effectively, you may want to bring on an outside consultant. Regardless of how you approach mixing things up in your hiring process, diversity should always be a top-of-mind consideration.
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