cartoon of a diverse workforce of individuals standing in a V shape

What does it take to build a diverse workforce?

Diversity is everywhere. And I don’t just mean the dance troupe. In particular, diversity as a concept in the workplace is crucial to how we perceive businesses and how they succeed. The controversial topic defines our workforces today, with the expectation that it will lead to higher levels of output and increased profits.

It’s unlikely you’ll find any leaders of top organisations who will disagree with having a diverse workforce. But do some companies hire people from different backgrounds purely as a PR exercise? And what makes a workforce truly diverse?

No place for bias

In our current society, we embrace many wonderful and unique cultures. As a result, a major challenge for employers is to keep the recruitment process a fair playing ground. Numerous companies have tackled this through strategies such as anonymous hiring to eliminate any pre-existing bias during their recruitment process. Anonymous hiring removes personal details such as gender, age or cultural heritage when a candidate sends through an application. The system therefore judges candidates purely on job-specific skills.

Diversity is achieved, not imposed

When hiring for the sake of being diverse, managers may focus on trying to improve the company’s image or reputation. In turn, they fall into the trap of a quota-driven game by hiring a certain number of people who are considered more diverse. The misconception here is that companies treat diversity as a condition that should be imposed, when really it should be the outcome of a successful company. In other words, “companies should focus on achieving inclusion, and track diversity as a measure of their success.”

There is no one-size-fits-all approach because recruitment strategies depend on factors such as industry and company size. Companies however, should constantly reflect on the reasons for being diverse and how this will improve overall productivity.

Many would argue that being around different people makes us more creative, diligent and hard-working. It’s easy for businesses to hire more ethnic minorities “but diversity is about increasing people’s actual participation, not just their symbolic participation.” A truly diverse team will likely succeed if individuals feel as though they can contribute with their own ideas. By combining ideas and experiences of individuals from various walks of life, businesses can increase innovation and improve problem solving.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

Fundamentally, it’s about how you implement diversity within the organisational culture to generate a sense of belonging amongst the workforce. For example, a perfectly balanced team with an equal number of men and women may look great to the outside world. On the inside however, could be a completely toxic work culture.

The people you hire need to share the same hunger and desire to succeed as everyone else in the organisation. According to Harvard Business Review, a strong homogenous culture can stifle natural cognitive diversity, due to the pressure on employees in the minorities to conform. If companies can use the differences of its employees to its advantage, the organisation will feel no pressure to be diverse. Instead, diversity will instil naturally in their recruitment process.

Inclusion is key

It can be detrimental to focus too much on enforcing a diverse workforce as this should be a natural consequence of a healthy work culture. Inclusion is paramount as companies learn to accept the differences in employees’ behaviours. This creates a culture that unites all of those differences. 

In short, it is about employing people for the right reasons. Similarly, employers have a duty to forge an attractive employer brand that caters for everyone. Once a business develops a common purpose under established values, they need only look for people who thrive under the same values.

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