Diversity Initiatives Which Benefit Your Organization

In our last edition we discussed managing a diverse and inclusive work team. This edition will explore some of the initiatives which may benefit your organization.

There is a growing body of literature that makes a compelling business case for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The literature identifies that diversity initiatives often result in a number of benefits to the organization, including:

Improved service to clients. Many organizations recognize that a diverse workforce helps the organization understand and respond to the needs of an increasingly diverse client base. Diversity at all levels allows the organization to be responsive to the needs of the community it serves in three areas of customer service: at the strategy level where strategic decisions about organizational direction and service delivery are made; at the design level where service design decisions are made; and at the service level which is the point-of-contract between the organization and its clients.

Better management of all employees. Addressing issues of diversity and inclusion will enable an organization to institute or formalize non-discriminatory human resource policies and practices, increase transparency and consistency of its employment practices, and support better management and treatment of employees. Ultimately all employees will benefit from better management of human resources.

Reduced human resource costs. Equity initiatives often lead to a healthier working environment for all employees and a reduction in costs associated with unhealthy work environments, including absenteeism, turnover, legal costs and staff time needed to deal with harassment and discrimination complaints. Employees who work in unwelcoming workplaces that are not accepting of diversity are more likely to leave to take other jobs, take extended leaves of absence, and retire early.

Improved productivity. Workplaces, which are unwelcoming of people from diverse groups, can be poisoned and unproductive. Employers that create and support a work environment in which all employees feel valued and safe from harassment, and that treat their employees fairly and with respect are typically rewarded with increased morale, better performance and higher productivity overall.

Improved creativity and innovation. Organizations that encourage and support workplace diversity are better able to attract and retain top talent from the diverse groups. In expanding the pool from which they hire and the resulting diversity of perspectives, approaches, knowledge and skills within the organization enables these organizations to boost their creativity and innovation. This gives them considerable advantage in a highly competitive market.

Improved corporate image. Employers that are known to have a commitment to diversity and inclusion have a more positive corporate image by the public in general and by prospective employees. A public commitment to diversity helps the organization to become known as a desirable place to work. This then increases the organization’s ability to attract and retain high calibre employees from diverse groups.

In addition, the organization’s corporate image can suffer from discriminatory practices that result in lengthy and public battles in courts and before tribunals. While issues may not go to court or result in formal complaints, unhappy employees may share their experiences with others.

The two words – diversity and inclusion – are often used interchangeably. While they are conceptually distinct, in practice they overlap. Diversity refers to workforce demographics and worker characteristics. Inclusion refers to human resource management practices that increase employee participation and leverage differences.

The concept of diversity is used to refer to the observable (gender, race, physical ability, age) and unobservable differences (learning styles, sexual orientation, socio-economic status) among people. This approach tends to focus on the removal of barriers to the hiring and advancement and the representation of the various groups at all levels of the organization. Traditional approaches to diversity management include targeted recruitment, career development, mentoring, and education and training. The goal of diversity efforts is to reflect the diversity of the community in which the organization operates or which it serves.

Diversity representation is not an end in itself but a means to inclusiveness. It requires more than just hiring new faces or funding services for newcomers or at-risk communities. Embracing the principles of inclusion means understanding, accepting and respecting diversity. It requires opening minds and doors to new perspectives and worldviews that often don’t find a place at the table.

Inclusion refers to a sense of belonging: feeling respected and valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so than you can do your best work. Inclusion reflects a shift in organizational culture whereby diversity is treated as integral to the way business is done. The process of inclusion engages each individual and makes people feeling valued essential to the success of the organization. It includes an organizational approach to eliminating barriers, based on an acknowledgement that society is not homogenous and that many people do not have access to services, jobs and positions of leadership due to societal and system factors rather than personal deficiencies.

Inclusive work practices and diversity-related outcomes go hand in hand. Organizations that have both higher numbers of people of colour, immigrants, persons with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and LGBTTQ employees, represented at all levels, and that have created an environment that is positive for all people, are defined as highly inclusive and diverse.

Written by Tana Turner, senior associate Aviary Group Summer 2008

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