Diversity: The Key To Staying On Top

Let's focus on individuals who bring in a range of diverse views, experience, and knowledge. It's the only way to stay on top.

4 min read

By now we all have come across studies, articles and debates on workplace diversity and inclusion. Most of them voice how financial profit and performance correlate to a diverse workforce. Companies – big, small, ancient and new – are more eager than ever to get on the ‘diversity’ bandwagon. Who wouldn’t? If you succeed in creating a diverse workforce, your company’s financial returns increase by 24% year-over-year. You also get to make your shareholders happy. Most of today’s white and male leadership wouldn’t dare look away from such tempting figures. We all want bigger piece of the pie. So, we start seeing ‘diversity initiatives’ implemented across company hierarchies.

But I see a clear disconnect between the idea of diversity and its implementation.

Why’s that? It’s seen that men are 30% more likely to be promoted compared to their women peers in early stages of their careers, even in 2017. The same McKinsey study observed: 70 percent of the participating companies committed to promoting diversity, yet less than third of their workforce saw any accountability placed on senior leadership “for improving gender outcomes.” Such figures leave little room for equality or any hope to achieve it. 

The problem lies with the perception of diversity as a concept. Which doesn't help how companies expect diversity warrants financial success. Now, the companies are not in the wrong to think that diversity produces better results. One look at compelling studies - like this one from the American Sociological Review or this one from the Journal of Product Innovation Management - and anyone will be sold. The research notes increased creativity, sales revenue, team performance, consumer base and market value in companies that embraced diversity.

Nonetheless, the definition of diversity is different for everyone. This is where the disconnect comes in. A white, male manager might see diversity in his team by hiring one or two white women. A CEO might hire candidates of different age-group or geographical area(s) – not of gender – and think their company is now diverse. Again, this train of thought is not completely inaccurate. Where this thinking falls short – for me at least – is when companies consider only demographic variables result in a diverse workforce. There’s barely any attention given to informational and ability-driven diversity. 

What does that mean? 

A company that emphasizes on demographic parameters (race, gender, age, etc.) in hiring and retention, steers towards stereotypical diversity. Hiring people of different race, gender or age doesn't define diversity in its entirety. Deep-level diversity (personality, abilities, goals, etc.) allows companies to evaluate candidate’s capabilities, creativity, and individuality instead of their compatibility (or the lack thereof).

A person with differing values, experiences and perspective can disrupt the predominant corporate homogeneity. Their peers start to scrutinize personal and professional biases, race or gender notwithstanding. Socially different people introduce discomfort, provoke self-assessment, encourage transparency and foster creativity within group dynamics.

As I’ve said before – there are proven benefits as well as challenges in creating a diverse workforce. For one, diversity introduces a conflict of action and reaction. People of different color, gender, point of view and ethics try to work towards a common goal, which can be daunting. This can result in unexpected obstacles. For example, diversity can hinder employees’ freedom to express in fear of sounding judgmental. Or increase the cost of employee on-boarding and training. Or escalate differences due to negative stereotypical notions. Or even perpetuate disparate working styles in different teams. 

Diversity initiatives can become crappy if not introduced early on, especially by the senior leadership. The company might get chaotic trying to overhaul the management. Which only proves fruitful when senior leadership communicates and supports diversity openly.

So, is diversity really the key?

It’s crucial for us to understand that stereotypical and deep-level diversity are different, but important anyway. Companies need to create diversity & inclusion programmes which consider both physiological and psychological qualities and differences to see any change. Diversity can become the key to success when everyone believes in it, from senior management to summer interns. If diversity-driven efforts do nothing but separate the minority from the majority, then it’s time for leadership to reconsider how it defines diversity and portrays it down the hierarchy. This’s why both demographic and psychological diversities should drive every employee-centric policy. It compels companies to see candidates as individuals rather than just numbers. 

CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the recent pledge taken by 150 CEOs worldwide – including those of PepsiCo, IBM, and AT&T – is a sign that diversity is finally getting the support it deserves. It remains to be seen how this pact will transform the mostly white and male corporate workforce we all have come to see. 

Diversity is that wildcard entry every company wants to bet on to come first in this globalized race of relevance. As Katherine W. Phillips, senior dean at Columbia Business School, said: “A male and a female engineer might have perspectives as different from one another as an engineer and a physicist — and that is a good thing.” 

 


Sphoorti Bhandare is a PR consultant with a heart of a digital nomad. Sphoorti studied Electronics (B.Tech.) and pursued Masters in Public Relations in New York. A Bollywood dancer by nature, Sphoorti keeps busy by finding new PR trends, learning about social media tools and planning her next travel destination. She's usually found mastering Zumba, making whipped coffee and hopping from one country to another.

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