Diversity in the workforce not only fosters understanding between people from different backgrounds, but also drives innovation in company practices and policies. People from different walks of life can bring fresh ideas to the table, and that's becoming integral to the way we do business in 2017. Perhaps that's why 96 percent of respondents to a "Voice of the Workplace" survey from the Northern California HR Association (NCHRA) and employee feedback platform Waggl said they believe cultivating diversity in the workforce drives innovation.
"A workforce that is diverse in many dimensions – age, gender, ethnicity, economic background, etc. – can bring together a multitude of thoughts, ideas, and experience levels," says Waggl CEO Michael Papay. "Having multiple perspectives drives constructive debate and can move the organization forward in ways that are otherwise impossible."
In today's business world, companies need every advantage to remain competitive, and that includes diverse talent pools.
"A diverse workforce is key to innovation in that it essentially brings many different perspectives and ideas together at once versus sequentially, allowing for more rapid innovation," says Greg Morton, CEO of the NCHRA. "Despite the current politics of borders and immigration, it is generally accepted that companies benefit from cultivating a diverse workforce, but it can be difficult to measure or quantify the impact of diversity on an organization's ability to innovate."
Regardless of how hard it can be to quantify the innovative power of diversity, "we've all witnessed cases in which diversity has directly driven innovation by creating an environment where out-of-the-box ideas are heard and encouraged," Morton adds. "We've also seen situations where, without sufficient knowledge or training about cultural diversity, managers can inadvertently fail to cultivate trust and respect in the workplace without even being aware of the consequences. It appears organizations that continue to actively commit to cultivating 'cultural intelligence' will be generally better equipped to innovate."
Making a Commitment to Diversity
Businesses that embrace diverse workforces do so by making diversity initiatives a foundation of their corporate cultures. Once this happens, top applicants know they can be themselves if they take a job with the company.
"To achieve the innovation you seek from diversity, it's not enough to get to a quota or percentage of different ethnicities, genders, and ages," Morton says. "Instead, the greatest contribution by the organization is creating a culture that celebrates differences rather than demanding conformity. Once that trust is there, individuals will contribute without fear of not conforming."
Candidates today seek companies that foster diversity, and 71 percent of respondents to the "Voice of the Workplace" survey said their organizations do just that.
"Some concrete metrics exist for measuring diversity within organizations, including diversity in hiring targets, but beyond hiring quotas, it's even more important to foster a culture based on the foundational values of mutual trust and respect," says Papay. "It also requires the leadership of the organization making a strong commitment to inclusion, actively listening to everyone's input, and mindfully taking a diversity of opinions into account when making decisions."
The Next Generation of Diversity
While diversity is important to all generations of the workforce, it's especially valued by younger talent: 100 percent of respondents under the age of 31 said diversity is an essential part of corporate culture.
"Millennials will soon comprise at least 75 percent of the workforce, and as a generation, they have a very progressive perspective on inclusion," Papay says. "The younger members of our workforce expect an inherent respect for diversity in the workplace, and they also demand that their opinions be heard. This viewpoint will quickly accelerate the need for better listening and transparency in the workplace."
This widespread support for inclusion bodes well for future generations in the workforce.
"If this trend continues in the future, we can look forward to less discomfort with differences and more rapid and continued innovation," Morton says.