It’s time to take pride in your workforce’s diversity

21st June by Lee Robertson

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One thing the Great Resignation has made clearer is that attracting and retaining top talent goes far beyond offering a competitive salary package. It is about designing work which is meaningful, creating a great employee experience where their contribution is valued and about fostering a workplace culture which is inclusive, empowering and engaging.

Yet when leaders came together last month for the 2022’s World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting, everyday issues such as values, diversity, inclusion and trust were still high on the agenda.

In what is now an era of rolling crises, leaders and their organisations can only be ready for future cycles of disruption if they are prepared to be part of the conversation and act on issues that really matter such as the tokenism of a ‘representative’ workforce.

In short, where diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are concerned, we need large scale culture change to turn the tide on the bias and exclusion that still exists in some organisations.

An important part of economic recovery

When it comes to building resilient organisations that are fit for the future of work, leaders need to be paying more than lip service to DEI statistics.

The financial services market is ahead of the curve in pushing the envelope on big challenges such as the climate, but also on other injustices connected to gender and race. Investors are choosing to put their money where businesses are being shown to do good.

With economies in a more fragile state than when WEF 2020 was held, the economic argument for better diversity and inclusion was frequently heard at WEF 2022. For many, these topics have taken on an extra resonance and the consensus was that business leaders must work harder on inclusivity because it is a vital part of the economic recovery.

Being visible in the diversity and inclusion space

As Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, president of the Open Society Foundations said at WEF 2022, “You have to look like the world you serve.”

So, some food for thought.

Is your organisation truly diverse or does your recruitment policy favour hiring from the same sources time and time again? Do your team members really operate with a high degree of psychological safety or is there a ‘them and us’ culture present? And most importantly, are your people really bringing the ‘real’ them to work?

Corporate leaders have several different levers to engage with true diversity and inclusion.

The first is that the tone needs to come from the top. Leaders need to recognise that that investing in DEI is not simply the right thing to do, but also helps organisation remain innovative and sustainable because of the cognitive diversity available to them.

Secondly, how much do senior leaders really listen to their employees? Do employees have a voice which is being heard? How well do they know the people who work for them? Is that diversity of thought being used to improve standards as well as problem solve, create new knowledge and develop new ideas?

Thirdly, is to acknowledge that not all employees are the same. Are the organisation’s policies, processes and benefits relevant to everyone on the payroll? Are all your employees’ needs being fully met?

Lastly, do the words and actions of leaders match? If your organisation wants to be an employer of choice, is it taking inclusion seriously? How are workers who might be of a different sexuality, ethnicity or sex treated by the organisation when it comes to promotion and more importantly, do they feel like they belong?

Diversity in action

The freedom to incorporate your own authenticity into your professional identity is more than a ‘nice to have’. The bottom line is that it is impossible to have a team-orientated culture unless everyone feels welcome.

Leadership, like the coaching profession, is generally viewed as a white, privileged and middle-class space. These are two examples of how much work there is still to be done on widening the opportunities for those who don’t identify as part of Western mainstream society.

Of course, it’s not just race and gender that contribute to bias. Taking those from the LGBQT community, we also learned from WEF 2022 that around the world, 40 million LGBQT people consider suicide every day. What goes on in our private lives has a major impact here, but so too does what happens in the workplace.

The G Quotient’ written in 2006 by Kirk Snyder tells us “The gays and lesbians closeted in their professional lives were often locked out of the very workplace communication networks so critical to their career success – the reason, for the most part, being that colleagues and supervisors just didn’t know who they were.”

Yet, in the same book we learn that “under the direct leadership of non-closeted gay executives, an environment is created where employees care about their work, demonstrate a deep commitment to professional excellence and feel individually connected to advancing the success of the organisation itself.”

Diversity offers so much richness, that we risk economic and commercial marginalisation if we don’t mirror the people we serve.

Whether it be in the workplace, our community, or in our social networks, it is our collective responsibility to make everyone feel welcome and listened to.

Employers must create corporate cultures that enable their people to bring their whole self to work, to feel part of the organisation’s purpose and fulfil their full potential. Only then will they be truly able to engage the talents and skills a diverse workforce offers and provide their organisations with a sustainable future.