Fostering diversity of employees is a key factor in boosting your company’s innovation. However, results from a recent survey of the Economist Intelligence Unit imply that companies are not adequately utilizing tools and technologies to handle a diverse workforce. 35 percent of the executives surveyed were using HR information systems, 31 percent were using e-learning systems and only 21 percent were utilizing networks supporting home-based workers and enterprise social networks. Fortunately, there is reason to be hopeful. Bigger changes seem to be on the way as cloud-based technologies become common in the business world and more aging workforces get replaced by millennials.

Boost Your Innovation with Workforce Diversity

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This article will take you through 1) what is workforce diversity, 2) the diversity situation in 2014, 3) how workforce diversity can contribute to innovation? and 4) other benefits of workforce diversity.

WHAT IS WORKFORCE DIVERSITY?

Workforce diversity is about a labor force comprising a wide blend of workers from varied ethnic and racial backgrounds, of varied genders and ages, and of varied national and domestic cultures.

Types of diversity

1. Age

At a particular time, three or four generations may be working together. Employees belonging to these different age groups would bring with them varied strengths, experiences and worldviews and the variations would benefit the workplace.

2. Gender diversity

This is not just about treating female employees as equal to their male counterparts. It also means the inclusion and acceptance of non-sexed or transgender employees.

3. Disability

The U.S. government supports the employment of people with mental, emotional or physical disabilities by way of federal laws and by ensuring that financial support is available to companies to hire these workers. Workplaces are also required to make reasonable accommodation available for people with “invisible disabilities” such as fibromyalgia, dyslexia or depression. By providing accommodation, the disabled workers can carry out their responsibilities without reducing performance standards or expectations.

4. Ethnic/Racial

The U.S. workforce has always had people of color in it, in spite of the fact that the latter may not have received fair treatment. Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asians all had their own contributions in developing different industries. Now, they are more extensively hired in corporate, professional, public and service places of employment.

5. Religious

People of all religions and even of no religion work together. Workplace-associated religious diversity may have its own set of challenges. An example for this would be when one employee does not wish to participate in a compulsory company program having religious overtones.

6. Thought Diversity

For long, workforce diversity has had to do with the factors mentioned above, namely age, gender, disability, ethnicity/race and religion. However, a recent study by a U.S. based consulting and professional services company revealed that “diversity of thought” is the future of diversity in the workplace. This kind of diversity can improve problem-solving and drive innovation.

People differ in their backgrounds, cultures and personalities. These differences determine their thought process. While some people think in an analytical manner, others flourish in creative zones. While some relish spontaneity, others are meticulous planners. The company believes that blending the different kinds of thinkers in the work environment can spur insight, fuel creativity and boost efficiency. Thought-associated diversity also assists with protecting against “groupthink” – a perilous inclination in groups that has to do with concentrating primarily on group conformity, frequently at the cost of making fine decisions.

Suppose you have a set of 10 questions for an interview session. You are going to pose these 10 questions to each of the candidates applying for a post in your company. Now, suppose four candidates of yours (A, B, C and D) answer the first 7 questions correctly, three candidates (E, F and G) answer the first 7 correctly and the 10th one correctly too. Now along comes candidate H. He can answer only the first three questions correctly but surprisingly, he also answers questions 8 and 9 correctly (two questions that all the other candidates missed). Based on the interview round, most managers would give preference to candidates E, F and G. Secondary preference may be given to candidates A, B, C and D. Hardly any manager would think of considering candidate H because he gave correct responses to a fewer number of questions. However, it may be more sensible to hire candidate H simply because he answered certain questions that no one else could. His answering of those questions shows that he brings a different thought process to the table.

THE DIVERSITY SITUATION IN 2014

As per SHRM statistics, 55 percent of companies are major diversity promoters while 42 percent of diversity programs are recommended/supported by the CEO, HR heads and top leadership. The approaches towards diversity and inclusion tend to differ in different parts of the globe. While those in North America are inclined to be centralized to a greater extent, those in Europe and Asia are more relaxed. Having said this, one common feature seen across the world is the heavy emphasis on employing and promoting women. This trend is easy to comprehend considering the fact that the female sex makes up 50 percent of the world by population. In addition, compared to their male counterparts, they are easier to incorporate into an organization owing to fewer cultural differences on the whole, compared to men who are considerably represented at the top tiers in the corporate workplace. Consequently, most business leaders are worried about huge gaps in emulating the general population, especially with respect to three methodically under-represented groups of people: workers in the age group of 50+, disabled individuals, and ethnic and religious minorities. In future, it will be essential for companies to conquer the hurdles that keep these groups from being integrated into the topmost levels of a company.

HOW WORKFORCE DIVERSITY CAN CONTRIBUTE TO INNOVATION

Language diversity

Language diversity is achieved thanks to the hiring of employees of different nationalities. This language diversity can be helpful in interactions with clients from different nationalities.

Larger skill set

The greater the diversity in your workforce, the more rich the skill set and competencies your company is blessed with. There’s only good and no bad in bettering your company’s capacity for success irrespective of what the future has in store.

Boosts creativity

Enabling workers of different backgrounds, experiences and qualifications to work together paves the way for effective on-the-job problem solving. What’s more, the cross-fertilization among diverse groups within the organizations causes a boost in creativity. Multiple voices bring about new ideas, new products and new services and engender out-of-the-box thinking. Employees representing varied backgrounds bring with them a range of solutions on how to accomplish a common objective. With the number of diverse ideas suggested increasing, the possibilities of arriving at a workable answer are better. If the atmosphere is one that necessitates brainstorming, more ideas are crafted owing to the existence of a culturally diverse team. Case in point: An American company may gain from a completely different approach to solving a problem by way of Chinese or other nationalities working in their company.

A variety of opinions, ideas and approaches helps businesses make decisions pertaining to initiating, running and funding their operations as well as decisions pertaining to marketing.

Helps in understanding requirements of a diverse customer base

Employers can cater better to a diverse customer base owing to a variety in fresh processes and ideas introduced into the organization. Employee diversity leads to new ideas and helps with boosting the capture of new clients and global opportunities.

The executives of L’Oreal USA comprehend the insight and value the company’s diverse workforce can offer in developing consumer offerings and brands that cater to particular ethnic groups. By developing an inclusive and diverse workforce and then tapping the perspectives and ideas of its talent pool, the company comes up with products that tackle a range of consumer concerns while also developing communities within varied populations.

OTHER BENEFITS OF WORKFORCE DIVERSITY

Helps to avoid employee turnover expenses

Businesses that are unsuccessful at cultivating inclusive workforces are associated with higher turnover rates when compared to business that attach the necessary importance to workforce diversity. This is because the former encourage an unfriendly work environment that makes employees want to leave. Owing to their inability to retain talented employees, avoidable turnover-associated costs are the result, at the cost of the company’s profits. To avoid these costs, businesses should foster a discrimination-free and diverse work environment.

Increases employee motivation and productivity

Employees are motivated to work consistently and better when they are treated with respect and dignity. In addition, employee morale increases. This in turn can lead to increased work output from them and competitive advantages. Leadership diversity within the organization enables managers to contribute new methods and skills for accomplishing concord within their teams.

Improves company reputation

Job seekers are attracted to businesses with a diverse workforce owing to the fact that it is obvious these companies do not observe employment discrimination. Prospective employees would like to think that their prospective employer is one who treats all his staff equally irrespective of their race, gender, ethnicity or other factors. Thus, it is quite clear that the fact that an organization believes in and practices employee diversity will improve the organization’s reputation. Such an organization is successful at both attracting and retaining talent. Gone are the days when top talent was embodied by a homogenous group. Currently, top talent incorporates representation of people from varied life experiences and backgrounds.

Helps to take advantage of the company’s entire potential

If we take the example of the United States, it is expected that by the year 2050, ethnic or racial majority will not exist there. So, the nation’s boardrooms will have to show that they represent these altering demographics. At present, women and people of color only represent 18 and 14.5 percent, respectively, of Fortune 500 company corporate boards (among the senior management). Companies could be more competent if they recruited board directors with varied experiences and extensive expertise.

SOME WAYS TO ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEE DIVERSITY

Develop a diversity policy and make it public

This policy should fix formal strategies and goals relating to shaping an equal opportunity environment. As soon as your policy is established, make it public, both externally and internally.

Publicize job vacancies in various venues to magnetize a varied workforce

Look further than apparent recruitment techniques and venues to get the right people. There are plenty of sites online that are helpful for equal opportunity employment. These include: En Espanol, The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, The National Society of Black Engineers, America’s Job Bank, Black Executive Exchange Program, and the Society of Women Engineers.

Craft job descriptions that don’t exclude anyone

Your job description should be lucidly written for all kinds of applicants and with no discrimination whatsoever.

Be up-to-date on legislation

This will help you steer clear of potential litigation.

Learn about cultural traditions and holidays

Whether you’re in the top ranks of your company or another employee, be understanding if your coworker takes time off to celebrate a particular festival or observe a specific custom. If one or more of your employees from different nations or cultural environments openly talk about some customs, consider studying about these customs (for example: their origins, what they signify and the date they are celebrated). If you put in the time to know more about these customs, your employees would most probably be touched by it.

Facilitate flexible working arrangements

Permitting flexibility in the work environment will show you to be a fair employer in addition to one who fosters employee diversity. You can consider options such as part-time schedules, modified daily starting and closing times, telecommuting, job sharing and/or compressed work week. Offering such options will help your employees be good at their job as well as look after their domestic responsibilities well or else, develop their talents in some other manner.  An employee who is professionally and personally fulfilled will most likely turn into an efficient and enthusiastic employee.

It is true that company attempts at diversity and inclusion are a given. However, organizations still have to deal with challenges – both internal and external in executing these procedures and policies. Internally, companies continue to struggle with negative thought processes with respect to variety among their rank-and-file. Externally, an unsteady economic recovery has hindered the hiring efforts of many companies. In future, companies would additionally have to come to grips with an aging workforce, difficulties associated with handling a multi-generational workforce, and a reducing pipeline of qualified hands. Fortunately, organizations can be positioned to withstand these troubles and soar above the competition provided they give top priority to diversity and inclusion endeavors. Yes, there’s no doubt that employee diversity is essential to take your business forward.

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