Workforces are by nature diverse entities and to make organisations even more complex, today’s workplace is rapidly evolving. For example, baby boomers are aging and remaining in the workforce longer, companies are conducting more business on a global basis and women are playing a more prominent role in executive teams.
Workplace diversity is brought about through people’s individual differences. It is important to acknowledge the benefits that a diverse workforce can bring to the workplace through each organisation’s unique blend of professional skills, working styles and life experiences – and also through the diverse characteristics of its employees, such as cultural background and ethnicity, generational differences, age, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, language and education.
Respect, compassion and tolerance of each other’s differences should be the hallmarks of a healthy working team. Embracing diversity in the workplace matters because it is essential to innovation. Among other things, it helps employers to harness the benefits of technology, and to improve productivity and quality of services. It results in new and better ways of doing things.
Inclusion is the key to unlocking this potential. Inclusion is about empowering people to contribute their skills and perspectives for the benefit of organisational performance and business outcomes. These are benefits that include higher employee engagement, improved performance, greater innovation, retention of talent, improved employee wellbeing and lower levels of illegitimate behaviour such as harassment and discrimination.
Further benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce include:
• A variety of skills and experiences among the team means that colleagues can learn from each other.
• By working alongside people of different backgrounds, experiences and working styles, innovative concepts can be born from bouncing ideas off of each other and offering feedback and suggestions.
• Hiring employees who speak different languages makes it possible for a company to work over a wider geographical area and interact with a broader client-base.
• A company who embraces diversity will attract a wider range of candidates to their vacancies – the organisation will be viewed as more progressive and will appeal to individuals from all walks of life.
• Employees are more likely to feel comfortable and happy in an environment where inclusivity is a priority. Equality in the workplace is important for encouraging workers from all backgrounds to feel confident in their ability and achieve their best.1
Often in their work as EAP counsellors, EA professionals meet with people who are experiencing difficulty on the job because they are having trouble embracing the “differences” of their co-workers – or with one in particular. Sometimes there are serious issues at hand, but often these conflicts arise between colleagues who have not taken the time to get to know or understand the other person or to consider the foundation for their different behaviour.
There is a strong business case for an organisation paying attention to diversity and inclusion management and initiatives; and mentoring can play an important role in managing a diverse workforce. Mentoring orientates employees with diverse characteristics and cultural backgrounds, and helps by providing insights regarding their colleagues and the environment in which they find themselves.
Mentoring can come from several different quarters and in many ways EA professionals, in their expanded role in providing health and wellness to employees, are an ideal resource to providing or referring the cultural mentorship required – be it on an individual person-to-person basis, with groups, or at department or organisation-wide level through a seminar.2
In the last decade the definition of EAP has been expanded to include the provision of strategic analysis, recommendations and consultation throughout an organisation to enhance its performance, culture and business success – and in doing so to support a workplace that is diverse, inclusive and that empowers everyone to contribute their best.3
On the basis that diversity will continue to increase significantly in the coming years,
organisations need to recognise the need for action and be ready and willing to spend time and resources on managing diversity in the workplace. EA professionals are equipped to provide guidance, information, and resources to help organisations and individual employees embrace the multicultural workplace in the years to come.
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