The COVID-19 pandemic has given employers lots of challenges. Not only have they had to protect the health of their employees, they continue to have to cope with far-reaching operational disruptions. At the same time, they are having to execute plans for recovery and adapt their business models to survive and thrive in the new normal. It is easy to understand why, in facing recent challenges, the task of furthering diversity may have taken a back seat. And yet, fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace is more important than ever.
” It is easy to understand why, in facing recent challenges, the task of furthering diversity may have taken a back seat.”
What is a diversified workplace?
Most people think of a diversified workplace as a work environment that includes employees of different genders and ethnic backgrounds. While this is true, the full extent of diversity has become more complex. A diversified workforce includes people who vary across a broader range of categories. These include:
- Sexual orientation
- Educational backgrounds
- Skills and abilities
- One that practices cognitive diversity
“For millennial employees, walking into their place of work and seeing all types of people is a given.”
The Millennial employee’s take on diversity
For millennial employees, walking into their place of work and seeing all types of people is a given. Their definition of diversity encompasses a team’s ability to combine different ideas and approaches to better overcome challenges and achieve business goals. This is in stark contrast to employees, from Baby Boomer and Generation X cohorts, who view diversity through the lens of being “the right thing to do” based on morality, compliance and equality. In other words, while the aim of “pre-millennial” employees is to ensure that the mix of people on a team accounts for a full-house of diversity identifiers, millennials look past these identifiers to focus on the knowledge, experience, and unique insights that individuals bring to the party.
The millennial employee’s take on inclusion
For millennial employees, inclusion is not about getting employees of different cultures and creeds in a room. They are much more concerned with cognitive diversity, i.e. the diversity of thoughts, ideas, and philosophies, and solving business problems through a culture of collaboration. For them, inclusion is about connecting diverse individuals and forming teams in which everyone has a say, and capitalising on a variety of perspectives in order to make a stronger business impact. In this way inclusion should be viewed as a critical tool that enables business competitiveness and growth.
Why do diverse teams perform better?
Enriching your talent-pool with employees from different genders, ethnicities, abilities and orientations is key for boosting your teams’ shared intellectual potential. Creating a more diverse workplace will help to keep your team members’ biases in check and cause them to question their assumptions. Research bears out that diverse teams perform better for these three reasons:
“Enriching your talent-pool with employees from different genders, ethnicities, abilities and orientations is key for boosting your teams’ shared intellectual potential.”
- They focus more on facts
Diverse teams are more likely to constantly re-examine facts and remain objective. They may also encourage greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant.
- They process facts more carefully
Greater diversity may also change the way that entire teams digest the information needed to make the best decisions. Scientists think that diverse teams may outperform homogenous ones in decision making because they process information more carefully.
- They are more innovative
To stay competitive, organisations should continue to innovate. Research suggests that one of the best ways to boost their capacity to transform themselves and their products may involve hiring culturally diverse team members. Research has revealed that businesses run by culturally diverse leadership teams were more likely to develop new products than those with homogenous leadership..
Diversity is at risk due to the pandemic
A McKinsey Quarterly article entitled, Diversity still Matters, published in May 2020 states: “Inclusion and diversity are at risk in the crisis – but are critical for business recovery, resilience and reimagination.” It goes on to say, “The lessons from previous crises tell us there is a very real risk that inclusion and diversity (I&D) may now recede as a strategic priority for organizations. This may be quite unintentional: companies will focus on their most pressing basic needs—such as urgent measures to adapt to new ways of working; consolidate workforce capacity; and maintain productivity, a sense of connection, and the physical and mental health of their employees.”
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Some of the challenges faced by marginalised or underrepresented employee groups is being visible, being listened to and clearly valued for their input and contributions. When employees are remote, the potential for exclusion, especially for these groups, can increase and isolation makes it harder for such employees to feel connected, to build relationships and to feel part of the company culture. Backing this up, a research study by McKinsey conducted in August and September 2020, with 1,122 executives and 2,656 employees across 11 countries reported that it is diverse groups—including women, LGBTQ+ employees, people of colour, and also working parents—who are having the hardest time, both in the workplace and with balancing work and home life. The severity and prevalence of these challenges, such as with mental health, were far higher in developing countries than in developed nations.
There are many peer-reviewed studies, surveys and reports that strongly suggest that a diverse and inclusive workforce have proven to be an asset, and not a liability, to organisations emerging out of recession. Organisations that champion diversity in the workplace are proven better succeed in an ailing economy. Thus, during the current pandemic, organisations with an inclusive culture could better mount expansive workplace transformation. Such organisations are more likely to already have established protocols for employees to work from home or to work flexible hours. They are also more likely to have existing systems to help remote workers feel included and offer them help during a stressful time like a global pandemic.