Workplace Diversity Doesn't Happen By Accident

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Diversity is becoming a top priority for many organizations aiming to recruit the best and brightest. A growing body of research shows that companies with more diverse employee bases accomplish more when it comes to creativity, performance, and productivity.

More Creativity

Creativity is essential for innovation, and diversity is key to creativity. According to a 2013 article in Harvard Business Review, new research "provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth."

The researchers adopted a definition of "two-dimensional diversity" that included both inherent (which involves traits one is born with) and acquired (which involves traits one gains from experience) types of diversity. The results indicated that having "2-D" leaders in place makes a big difference: "By correlating diversity in leadership with market outcomes as reported by respondents, we learned that companies with 2-D diversity out-innovate and outperform others."

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Enhanced Performance and Productivity

Research from McKinsey Company supports the notion that organizations that are racially, ethnically, and gender diverse are more creative, innovative, and faster to market. According to McKinsey Company's research:

Companies that lead in racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform their peers.

Those leading in gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to outperform their peers.

Those lagging in both categories are statistically less likely "to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set."

The authors note that "[m]ore diverse companies, we believe, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns."

Building Diversity in Your Organization

Experts cite a variety of strategies companies can use to help build diversity.

In an article for Entrepreneur, SAP's Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Anka Wittenberg advocates C-suite buy-in as an important first step.

"Organizations need business leaders who accept and champion the idea that embracing diversity and inclusion efforts will create corporate return on investment," Wittenberg writes.

Wittenberg also recommends revisiting the basics of HR: "To combat bias head-on, organizations need to reexamine their processes and redesign how they recruit, interview and hire candidates."

Finally, Wittenberg argues businesses should embrace inclusion instead of focusing on diversity.

In an article for Insurance Business, CSAA Insurance Group Chief Executive and CEO Action for Diversity Inclusion member Paula Downey supports an approach similar to Wittenberg's. She writes that her organization has a number of diversity initiatives in place, including an active diversity and inclusion program that provides unconscious bias and diversity training, a biennial diversity summit, and an executive diversity council.

In addition, Downey says her company follows specific strategies to optimize its diversity efforts:

Creating a strong foundation by embedding diversity and inclusion in the company's core values

Analyzing data to measure correlations between diversity and business outcomes

Using a scorecard to measure how effective the organization is at providing an inclusive work environment

You can build diversity in your organization by using resources designed to encourage difficult conversations on power and privilege, such as the diversity toolkit, created by the online Master of Social Work program from the University of Southern California. The toolkit helps employers and managers discuss identity, power, and privilege through in-depth activities that delve into issues like race and ethnicity, class and historical disadvantage, and gender-free nouns.

Armed with the right tools and strategies, business leaders can better support diversity and inclusion in the workplace while reaping the benefits that result.