There is an adage in feminism: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It implies that it takes women in positions of success to represent aspirational rode models to other women. This adage has equal merit in the context of diverse and inclusive work settings; culturally diverse individuals in the workplace as a norm indicate a climate of acceptance.
The art of embracing cultural diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies in the workplace tends to be considered “too hard” for more organizations than it should. Not addressing diversity is simply bad for business. How and why we differ needs to be called out, discussed and taken on board. Concrete action toward a culturally diverse workplace doesn’t need to be based on confrontation, but rather, on decisive inclusion. Reaching this point, however, often means disrupting comfort zones and “the way things have always been done around here.”
The notion of providing an environment in which employees can bring their whole selves to work is gaining traction in an increasingly woke climate, in which employees’ ability to express their diverse identities are a facet of overall well-being. For example, I can’t check three facets of my identity at the door and only bring the rest of me to work. I am a person of color, female and Muslim, and I don a head covering. In a globalized community and a progressive workforce, I need to comfortably bring my whole self to work; otherwise, I will not perform optimally. I should not be required to assist others in negotiating any stereotypes or discomfort they may have about parts of my identity because of their world view.
The difference between diversity and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion are not interchangeable terms. The former is often regarded as the more visible representation of various social, linguistic and cultural groups in a workforce, whereas inclusion refers to the conscious integration, acknowledgement and respect of those variables. Without active inclusion, in which employees feel genuinely a part of their workplace, diversity is a mere exercise in ticking boxes, failing to meaningfully shift internal culture while inhibiting optimal contribution.
Felicity Menzies of Include-Empower.com highlights four factors in particular that embody inclusive work settings.
- First, all employees feel respected enough to bring their whole selves to work.
- Second, employees experience a sense of belonging to their organization, in a safe and supported space.
- Third, employees are empowered to contribute to organizational processes, keeping in mind employees’ individual capacity to contribute.
- Finally, employees have fair opportunities to progress within their organization, outside of the traditionally selected candidates for internal promotion.
When those factors are present, workers in inclusive settings experience higher levels of well-being, engagement and productivity; they thrive. Their willingness to share their diverse ideas, perspectives and experiences stands to benefit their organizations both morally and financially.
The financial case for diversity and inclusion
The case for cultural diversity improving financial performance is evidenced by research from McKinsey & Co. in the U.S., who showed that more diverse organizations achieve perform better financially than homogeneous organizations in a study of 366 companies from the U.K., Canada, Latin America and the U.S. McKinsey found companies in the top quartile of cultural diversity were almost 30 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.
Hear more on diversity and communication from Tasneem Chopra in this podcast interview from IABC’s EMENA region.
Further, an additional study found that a group drawn from a diverse pool of people was superior to a group drawn from talented individual thinkers in solving difficult problems. The reason is that a particular way of learning occurs when people from varied backgrounds collaborate, one that does not happen within homogeneous groups. Experiences with cultural diversity have therefore been associated with improved cognitive skills, intellectual self-confidence and robust problem-solving ability.
In fact, organizations that unleash the potential of diverse talent through D&I strategies see benefits like these:
- 39 percent higher customer satisfaction for diverse, inclusive companies
- 48 percent higher operating margins generated by diverse management teams
- 35 percent higher return on equity for companies with women on the board
- Enhanced company performance (For example, Diversity Inc.’s top 50 companies outperformed the S&P 500 by an average of 29 percent over one year.)
- Positive effects on employee engagement and retention.
Another significant benefit of effective D&I strategies relates to multinational firms involving staff from geopolitical regions that may be in conflict. Research highlighted by Include-empower.com reveals that as technology and migration increase contact between different cultural groups, we need to transform how we engage with others, moving from judgment and fear toward intercultural dialogue and understanding. Without cultural intelligence, writes Include-empower.com’s Felicity Menzies, “the global village faces a fragile, conflict-laden, and violent future.” Organizations can play an important role in dissipating these tensions by strengthening workplace camaraderie. The benefits that flow from well-managed D&I initiatives that incorporate cultural sensitivity and support human prosperity are goals that transcend corporate success.
One of the most compelling examples of actualizing D&I strategies into practice is Procter & Gamble. A multinational organization, Procter & Gamble’s official D&I commitment sets the standard in progressive, inclusive and pioneering work. They embed D&I principles in their operational remit, which champions, among other strategies:
- Global diversity and inclusion awards
- Diversity recruiting
- Corporate Women’s Leadership Team
- African Ancestry Leadership Network
- Gay, Ally, Bisexual, Lesbian, and Transgender Employees
- People with Disabilities
- Asian Pacific American Leadership Team
- Hispanic Leadership Team
- Native American Indian Leadership Team
- Veterans and Reservists Affinity Network
When your industry reflects who you are as a community, this matters. Inclusivity is a real sign of listening and implementing social change in a globalized world. An individual’s identity should not preclude them from overall success and leadership within an organization, but rather present opportunities for embracing diversity in all its forms.
In supporting diversity, we cannot minimize the importance of the tiers of leadership that govern organizations, which should represent the communities they preside over. When middle and senior management don’t reflect the diverse talent that makes up an institution, where is the organizational will to commit to meaningful progress? Commitment to change exceeds the scope of any policy, if that policy is not administered in tandem with institutional will and vision.
So, to attract diversity, you need to model it. If we are not consciously inclusive, we become deliberately exclusive. Ask yourself, how reflective is your organization of the demographics you represent? What could you still be doing better? What best practice models can be replicated or initiated and what is the cost of doing nothing in the long term? This is not just about ticking boxes or representing minorities for a tokenistic PR campaign. Beyond the fiscal gains, increasing diversity represents a moral imperative, because it’s the decent thing to do.
This article is excerpted from Tasneem Chopra’s presentation at IABC EMENAComm conference in Bahrain in February 2019.