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Managing Diversity in the Workplace: Building an Inclusive Organizational Culture

Diversity in the workplace is increasingly becoming a top priority for all organizational leaders. Initially, workplace diversity was merely a tick in the box with a narrow focus on just hiring professionals from different age, geographical and gender groups. The conversation has now matured significantly, with expansion not only in the scope of what diversity in the workplace entails, but also how it pans out. Let’s dive deep into the various aspects of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Table of Contents

Understanding diversity in the workplace

In the simplest terms, workplace diversity can be understood as a workplace which gives equal voice, recognition, representation and value to individuals of different backgrounds ranging from gender, race, culture, ethnicity to sexual orientation, religion and much more. More importantly, diversity in the workplace must not only take into consideration overt differences in looks and appearances, but also the covert ones, like differences in thoughts, opinions, perspectives, experiences, etc. At the same time, diversity and inclusion in the workplace is no longer limited to hiring diverse groups, but also ensuring their equal participation in all organizational processes and decision making. 

Types of diversity in the workplace

As the understanding of diversity in the workplace has been expanding, so has the types of diverse groups which are being given equal recognition. There is no global benchmark on which types for diversity an organization has to take into account, as the backgrounds of individuals vary significantly. Here is a quick list of types of diversity that organizations consider significant today:

  • Gender
  • Culture
  • Race
  • Age
  • Socio-economic background
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Geographical background
  • Disabilities
  • Education
  • Language

This list can go on based on the unique experiences of each organization. More often than not, gender diversity in the workplace, age, geography is common to all organizations irrespective of their location and industry focus. Other forms like cultural diversity in the workplace or diversity of religion, socio-economic background, etc. are more common to developing countries like India. On the other hand, diversity of race, ethnicity, etc. are more found in organizations headquartered in western countries. 

Benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Increasingly, organizations are viewing diversity and inclusion in the workplace as a business case bringing along multiple benefits for both the employees as well as the employers. Some of the top benefits of workplace diversity include:

  • Innovation: Diversity brings along different ideas, perspectives and experiences which enables organizations to innovate and think out of the box. According to a 2018 study by Harvard Business Review, companies with higher than average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues. Therefore, diverse thoughts can lead to new revenue streams with enterprise-wide innovation.
  • Market expansion: Workplace diversity also promotes competitive advantage for organizations as they are able to cater to diverse customer needs and expectations. According to research, around 70% of diverse companies are better positioned to capture new markets. Diversity ensures that your employees understand diverse markets and are able to make inroads into them.
  • Profits: Focus on workplace diversity positively impacts the bottom line of an organization as well. According to a McKinsey study, companies in the top quartile of gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns that were above their national industry median. Additionally, a diverse team can boost productivity by 35%. Invariably, increased productivity indicates greater profits.  
  • Talent pool: Organizations that value diversity witness twin benefits when it comes to onboarding human resources. Firstly, they have access to a much larger talent pool when they are not targeting a homogeneous group of individuals. Secondly, professionals themselves believe an organization’s focus on diversity and inclusion is an important attribute when they are looking out for opportunities. According to Glassdoor, 67% of job seekers said that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. 

Creating a business case for diversity in the workplace: Going beyond the numbers

In addition to showcasing how a focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace could yield greater productivity, innovation and other business performance indicators, it is important to scratch beyond the surface. Here are a few practices that organizations leading the diversity and inclusion dialogue have put to play to create leadership as well as employee buy-in:

  • Identify their pain points: Organizations can converse with leaders and employees on a deeper level and understand their pain points and any instances of stereotyping, discrimination, etc. they may have faced. It may not only be limited to their professional life, but can span across. Exclusion and discrimination at times takes such subtle forms that individuals don’t even realize it is happening to them. However, when they are made aware about the same, they become advocates of inclusion. In such a situation, those in positions of power and influence tend to make a difference and get inclined towards managing diversity in the workplace.  
  • Communicate employee pulse: Unless leaders acknowledge that there is a problem and need for diversity and inclusion, getting the needle moving towards building a business case is very difficult. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to let the leaders know the pulse of the organization as a whole. Organizations must gauge how their employees value diversity and their inclination towards working for an inclusive organization. When leaders are presented with evidence from their own organization, they are bound to see the business case for D&I.

  • Negative reinforcement: It is also important to showcase the negative impact of not focusing on such efforts will create a sense of urgency and importance. Simply talking about how lack of D&I results in employee turnover and the cost of each employee turnover will be a good starting point. When leaders do a cost-benefit analysis, the cost saved on replacement of employees will outweigh the cost of D&I initiatives, creating a clear business case.  
  • Identify business challenges: Business challenges due to a lack of focus on diversity and inclusion can serve as a clear business case. For instance, if all other organizations in an industry are focusing on D&I, the organization not considering it as a business case might face reputational risks in the market. Therefore, it is very important to identify business challenges which either arise due to absence of workplace diversity efforts or which can have a potential solution with such efforts. 

How to measure the level of workplace diversity?

Before jumping on to how to manage diversity in the workplace and promote it, organizations must focus on measuring and tracking a few key metrics. Unless organizations have a baseline on the challenges to diversity along with the diversity of inclusion goals, their efforts and investments will not entail 100% success. The following metrics can help organizations identify gaps, prioritize initiatives and set targets to achieve their diversity goals:

  • Recruitment: The first metric to measure is the first step of the employee lifecycle. On the one hand, organizations must measure if their final recruitment process has a fair mix of diverse individuals, balanced with the application mix. For instance, if 40% of women applied, look at the mix of men and women who have actually been hired to check if it has a fair representation of women. Additionally, focus on identifying reasons for weakness of applicant diversity. For instance, if applications from a particular group are virtually missing, organizations need to revisit the job description and other parameters to rectify their recruitment strategies and processes.
  • Retention: Next in line, organizations must also evaluate their performance in retaining workplace diversity. At regular intervals, 5 years, 10 years and so on, organizations must measure their diversity mix and compare it with the previous levels to understand if the level of diversity is increasing or decreasing. 
  • Promotion: Organizations need to also track the promotions they make and compare the ones awarded to members of diverse groups vis-a-vis others. For instance, if the representation of women at the entry level is 30%, a similar proportion must be witnessed years later at the top management. If the situation is any different, then organizations need to revisit their development efforts, promotion parameters and retention strategies. 
  • Pay and benefits: This parameter to measure workplace diversity doesn’t need much explanation. Those at the same level, performing the same role with similar skills and competencies must receive similar compensation and benefits. Organizations that fair well on this metric are usually more diverse and inclusive.

In addition, metrics like representation across departments, participation in events, development opportunities, etc. are also important to gauge the true level of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Organizations can leverage a variety of tools to measure and track these metrics and subsequently, set goals, conceptualize strategies and improve their performance. Employee inclusion surveys are an effective way to gauge employee opinion on diversity at the workplace, especially to understand their take on fairness of promotions, recognition, participation, etc. Focus group discussion with employees representing diverse groups to understand their pulse and pain points can also be highly effective. Finally, unconscious bias tests like the Implicit Association Test by Harvard can help organizations understand their position in the diversity and inclusion spectrum. 

How to promote diversity in the workplace? 

The following section will focus on how to manage diversity in the workplace and promote the same. Open communication, transparency, treating everyone with equality and personally are a few established practices, there are others equally effective, but sometimes overlooked. Based on industry benchmarks, we have curated a list of the best practices for leaders striving to promote workplace diversity: 

  • Get hiring right: Hire talent from diverse backgrounds starting with application sourcing. The job description must be inclusive and shouldn’t even subtly indicate preference for one group over another. Additionally, the criteria for selection must be objective. Many organizations emphasize on a cultural fit when it comes to hiring, the meaning of which is mostly subjective. Generally, cultural fit refers to a homogeneous group of people Therefore, the parameters for selection must be objective and comparable, supported by a diverse interview panel. Finally, organizations should limit the notion of referral hiring, where existing employees refer individuals from their networks for the role. While this is an easy way to access reliable talent, however, more often than not, this limits diversity. 
  • Policies and practices: Organizations must have a zero tolerance policy towards any form of discrimination, bullying etc. on any attribute, including diversity. Such policies must be effectively communicated with strategic practices for strong implementation. For instance, there must be a clear and easy process for grievance sharing and redressal, strict action against the perpetrator, if found guilty, etc. At the same time, supporting diverse groups by infrastructural and other efforts is also important. For instance, having feeding spaces for new mothers, promoting braille signage or ramps for those with physical disabilities can promote diverse representation. 
  • Training and mentoring: Promoting sensitization training programs, mentoring initiatives and other such efforts are likely to reduce unconscious bias and other obstacles in the way of workplace diversity. Not only will such programs help everyone value the perspectives and contributions of others, it will also inspire confidence in diverse groups to come up the curve in all parameters. Communicating in a sensitive manner, showcasing empathy, etc. are all by products of such efforts. 
  • Promote executive diversity: It is important to have diverse representation from top to bottom. Unless diverse groups see diversity at the C-suite level, they will always doubt their capabilities to rise in a particular organization. Therefore, workplace diversity must focus on creating diverse role models in leadership and executive positions with influence and decision making capabilities. 

Managing a diverse team remotely: Top 6 strategies

With a quick transition to remote work as a result of the pandemic has pushed organizations to reinvent their strategies on how to manage diversity in the workplace for a remote team. Here are the top six strategies that most forward looking organizations are adopting:

  • Facilitate team communication, preferably with video: Facilitate communication and collaboration between diverse team members by assigning group tasks and projects. Ensure that team members have access to tools like Slack, Trello, etc. for effective collaboration. In addition, virtual coffee breaks with video interaction between different employees can be a great tool.
  • Be mindful: Managing workplace diversity remotely requires business leaders and managers to be mindful and don a blanket of empathy. It is very important to understand the different set of challenges that each employee is facing given the remote scenario and personalizing the approach to team management. A cookie cutter approach of expecting everyone to work at the same time and deliver the same output together might be an overstretch. 
  • Create virtual Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Transitioning to a virtual ERGs is the need of the hour. There are several ways to go about this. For one, organizations could simply take their existing ERGs online. At the same time, there is sufficient opportunity for organizations to lead the way for newer and smaller ERGs which were previously shunned off because of capacity constraints. With the flexibility to join sessions from home, such ERGs will see an increase in participation from both those who identify with the cause, but are shy of participating in person and allies too. 
  • Virtual team building activities: Virtual team building activities which require team participation could be leveraged by pairing up diverse minds. Finally, organizations need to step up their tech game with the right tools like Zoom to conduct virtual sessions and meetups.
  • Encourage digital training: Managing a diverse team remotely requires significant training to deal with individual and collective biases. As the workforce is going remote, organizations need to move such training to digital platforms. It might be a good idea to experiment with HR tech tools that help employees in the identification of bias and offer best practices to combat the same. Such tools can be calibrated to match the personal pace of each employee. At the same time, they can ensure complete anonymity and help employees navigate their way out of different biases. 
  • Lead by example: Team leaders need to keep their bias and comfort at bay when dealing with team members remotely. Firstly, leaders must ensure an open door policy to inspire confidence in different team members to approach them for anything without hesitation. Secondly, they should not fall back on certain favorite employees just because it is easier to collaborate with them remotely. It is important to give each team member the same treatment even when they are working from home. 

Challenges to managing diversity in the workplace

Most organizations today acknowledge the importance of diversity in the workplace. Additionally, they possess the right resources and make sizable investments towards diversity and inclusion initiatives However, not all efforts reap success. Here are the top reasons why workplace initiatives fail in organizations: 

  • Lack of Leadership Buy-In: Whenever an advocate of workplace diversity brings up the topic, there is little conversation on the way forward. Either it is outrightly dismissed, or the charge is given to an HR professional to deliberate on the next steps. Invariably, the lack of leadership involvement prevents the development of a culture that sees value in diversity and inclusion, causing such initiatives to fail. 

Mitigating the challenge: It is worth the effort to illustrate to the senior stakeholders the ROI of diversity and inclusion programs. This doesn’t simply mean quoting data points from industry reports. Rather, it involves projecting the impact of such programs with specific benefits to the organization’s priorities. 

  • Employee Resistance: Lack of leadership buy-in tends to percolate down to employee resistance. When employees feel that their leadership is not serious about a particular line of action, their commitment to the same also decreases. Especially employees that do not come under the diversity gamete see diversity training more as a mandate than something they look forward to.

Mitigating the challenge: It might be a good idea to not force everyone to attend each diversity training. While some sessions can be held organization wide which are generic in nature, others can have a sign up system. The freedom of choice is likely to boost participation and prevent such initiatives from failure. 

  • Tick in the Box Approach: For many organizations, managing diversity in the workplace comes from FoMo or the fear of missing out or just because that’s the latest trend. In such a situation, diversity & inclusion initiatives become more of a tick in the box, as opposed to genuine effort. This rarely has any real impact because it fails to deal with the unconscious bias and the whole sensitization and inclusion process, subsequently failing the strategy at large.

Mitigating the challenge: Organizations must focus on crafting a winning strategy which does not end on information dissemination, but actually focuses on behavioural changes with subtle nudges and consecutive sessions to bring about a cultural transformation.

  • Lack of Consistency: Conventionally for many organizations, diversity & inclusion initiatives were a result of an incident or an issue with a lack of a consistent approach to managing the diversity in the workplace. Efforts on a case to case basis lack authenticity and impact. 

Mitigating the challenge: It is best to have a consistent strategy to roll out the diversity and inclusion efforts instead of simply waiting for the next issue to fire up. Integrate diversity initiatives into the daily course of work and engagement activities, rather than making it yet another KRA for the employees, may be a good approach.

  • Poor Grievance Processes: The lack of an effective grievance process renders a situation where someone who is uncomfortable is unable to share the challenges they are facing. This will invariably mess with their mental wellbeing and in turn affect performance and engagement at work, leading to a failure of the initiatives.

Mitigating the challenge: Setting up an effective and robust process to manage grievances must be an integral part of any organization’s diversity strategy. Ensuring that the complainant is kept anonymous to prevent any form of domination or bullying along with a legally vetted process which ensures confidentiality will promote confidence within employees to share their grievances.

Building blocks for diversity and inclusion in the workplace

The foundation of diversity and inclusion in the workplace starts with a firm acknowledgement of the need for the same and a strategic plan of action. There is no doubt about the fact that successfully managing workplace diversity is the route to a positive employee experience. When each employee feels valued and receives a fair treatment, the engagement quotient is bound to soar high. Thus, organizations need to step up their efforts and manage a diverse team to reap benefits of innovation, belongingness and engagement. Here, organizations can leverage collaboration with platforms like SuperBeings to gauge employee pulse on diversity efforts. Such platforms can bring in consciousness and sensitivity at all levels with data-driven, real-time solutions based on industry practices to promote and manage diversity in the workplace.  

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