How to Encourage Greater Diversity in the Workplace

As national demographics change, so do the faces of your workforce. Today’s employees are much more diverse than they were a generation ago; Women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and members of ethnic and cultural minorities all have an increasingly important presence in the workforce, and that’s a good thing. Increasing diversity in the workplace exposes employees to different perspectives, encouraging creativity, innovation, and productivity.

Why Grow Company Diversity?

A diverse workforce comes with its challenges, but there are many more advantages, including:

● Provides you with access to more human capital
● Offers opportunities to increase your market share by marketing authentically to women, cultural minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community
● Allows you to recruit the best and brightest in an increasingly competitive hiring market
● Reduces employee turnover by creating a safe, welcoming environment for all employees
● Increases innovative thinking by drawing on different backgrounds and experiences

Companies that focus on increasing diversity now will have a competitive edge in the future. By 2050, there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority in the United States, and immigrants and their children will account for 83 percent of the working age population. Diversity isn’t really an option for companies — it’s an inevitability.

How to Encourage Diversity in the Workplace

Old habits die hard, and you may have to overcome both overt and indirect barriers to diversity. This is to be expected; change is frightening, especially to employees and executives who have spent most of their careers in industries dominated by a single group. For example, in the U.S., the dominant group is usually white men (although there are exceptions). Try using the following strategies for increasing diversity:

Point to international leadership: Look for influential leaders who advocate for diversity, and share your findings with others. A common example is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who filled his cabinet with fifty percent men and fifty percent women while ensuring minorities also had a voice. If diversity works for world leaders, it can work for business leaders, as well.

Allow more room for diversity: When your company is growing, you could be filling positions as quickly as you open them. It can be challenging to slow down and take the time to add diverse prospects to your candidate pool, but it’s really important to do so. Requiring recruiters to source and interview a specific percentage of underrepresented groups will set you up for success. If you don’t know your organization’s current percentages, analyze your sourcing data to find out where gaps exist. It’s also a good idea to expand job board postings to include nontraditional sources, and reach out to diverse groups to make sure people of all walks of life have an equal opportunity of seeing open positions.

Create diversity mentoring opportunities: Mandatory diversity training is often touted as a way to educate employees about diversity, but as Time author Joanne Lipman points out, forcing people to be diverse doesn’t work and can even solidify resistance to diversity. Participants may feel threatened by diversity training and actively rebel against diversity in a misguided attempt to safeguard their own jobs and autonomy.

Instead of forcing your workforce to learn about diversity, take a subtler route. Offer formal, volunteer-centered mentoring opportunities, and consciously pair mentors with mentees from different backgrounds. Doing so brings together employees who might not otherwise interact, breaks down barriers, and builds mutual understanding — all on a voluntary basis.

Focus on the bottom line: Ultimately, business decisions are based on what makes the most sound financial sense. If only hiring people with red birthmarks improved a business’s bottom line, those are the people businesses would hire.

Encouraging diversity provides a noticeable return on investment. According to McKinsey & Company, companies who rank in the top 25 percent for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns higher than their industry’s median earnings. The same applies to gender diversity; companies who rank in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have earnings above their industry average.

Equally impressive, the more diversity a company has in its executive team, the higher its earnings. For every 10 percent increase in executive diversity, earnings before interest and taxes rise by 0.8 percent. These are not numbers your business can afford to ignore; diversity has a direct effect on your bottom line.

Despite these findings, many companies fall short in embracing diversity. Diversity and inclusion is not a box to be checked or a to-do list item to be crossed off. It’s not a one-and-done, set-it-and-forget-it solution. To be successful, it must be made a strategic priority throughout the lifetime of an organization — woven into a company’s culture and considered in daily decisions.