@Work

Why Workplace Diversity Matters

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Remember that last family reunion where your uncle makes one of his inappropriate comments at the diner table? Your aunt, instead of calling out her husband and putting him in his place, simply offers you a second plate of pasta with a look of embarrassment on her face. Because you don’t want to ruin your family diner, the first you had in a long time, you grudgingly excuse your uncle’s indiscretion, this once.

As the evening wears on it also wears on you. That evening, you get home frustrated and carrying some serious regret for not having said something, anything, when you know you maybe should have. We’ve all been there.But what happens when you witness that kind of antagonistic behaviour, whether racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic, at the office? Well, it can definitely have far-reaching consequences leading to detrimental outcomes -from employees quitting their jobs, to customers boycotting your brand, to harassment lawsuits -there’s just no place for discrimination of any kind in our workplace. That’s why it’s so important for organizations to have an honest conversation on the importance of promoting diversity and encouraging equality within its ranks, whatever its size.

The roots of intolerance

It’s the genealogical tree of discrimination at work here. One’s ignorance leads to fear, fear then turns to hate which ultimately supports rejection. The branches on this tree are numerous and long, nurturing everything from systemic racism to individual hate speech and physical violence. The roots of this tree of prejudice can go deep and once firmly rooted can rot a company to its core.

Take for instance, the Starbuck scandal, where an employee called the police on two African Americans who were simply waiting for a business meeting to begin. Or how about in 2016, where a parisian restaurant had ignited international outrage for refusing to serve two Muslim women wearing the hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf? How about the case in Germany where the same thing happened when a Muslim woman wearing a niqab was thrown out of a restaurant?

As these cases clearly demonstrate, many businesses suffer from serious systemic discrimination issues. The questions is, “how many organizations are guilty of the same inaction on injustice without necessarily making the news”?  Ignoring the topic of bigotry in any and all its forms, or refusing to take positive diversity-related initiatives seriously will, without question, negatively impact a company’s reputation.

Nurture tolerance and feed fairness

What is there not to like about diversity? The benefits of a diverse workplace are numerous, both in terms of professional and personal relationships. Here are some of them:

Embrace the differences: Being around people from various backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, gender and sexual orientation can enrich our human experience. It gives us an opportunity to  understand others and ourselves better, even be inspired to work differently and reinvent ourselves in countless ways. What’s more, recognizing and embracing our colleagues for their differences ultimately encourages a highly engaged, supportive, collaborative workplace. Besides, it’s just the right thing to do.

Be challenged: There would be no innovation if everyone shared the exact same opinions on everything they discussed. Having a culturally diverse workforce enables contrasting perspectives from a varied set of people. Being challenged in such ways will have you thinking differently in life and at the office and can help your company grow.

Learn: One of the greatest benefits of being challenged by diverse perspectives -it forces you to revisit your deeply-rooted convictions. Smart people, and great leaders for that matter, are not the ones who stick to their ideas no matter what, they’re the ones who actually acknowledge when they’ve made a mistake and recognize the value it begets.

Increase profitability: This is a truth we don’t talk much about, but diversity is a considerable driver of business growth. According to the Center for Talent Innovation, companies with diverse employees and leaders are 45% more likely to grow market share over the previous year as well as 70% more likely to capture a new market. There’s no denying those numbers.

Teaching Diversity at the office

Remember the genealogical tree of discrimination we previously mentioned? Dealing with ignorance is the first step to building a healthy, diverse workplace and rooting out the causes of inequality, whole-step. Your desire to implement positive change within your company structure must be sown into everything you do.

Address your own biases: No matter which gender, social class, culture, or religion one happens to belong to,  prejudice must be stamped-out for good wherever it exists and whenever it occurs. For instance, ask yourself this question… “Do you address a male co-worker the same way you address a female one”? Or, “Does every employee feel that your organization provides them with the opportunity for equal pay and advancement based on their individual merit and competency?”

Lead the way: Ignorance is often the result of insufficient understanding on specific topics, environments, and most importantly, peoples. For you to showcase the benefits of diversity, you first need to prove that you believe in them. To this end, diversity at the workplace starts with the hiring process. Make it a priority and pride yourself on being hiring a diverse set of people.

Educate: Organize workshops and training at the office based on the topics of diversity. Teach essential human values such as respect, altruism, understanding, hospitality, caring for others, etc. Better human beings generally make better employees.

Mediate disputes: Never turn a blind eye on conflict or the belligerence of bigotry. If you witness inappropriate behaviour at the office, whether towards a customer or an employee, address it quickly and convincingly. Leaders and HR Executives should act at as mediators to prevent such events from happening ever again.

Unify your workforce: There are many ways to learn, and the most efficient one is when you enjoy the process. Organize group activities on inclusion and diversity. Encourage your employees and co-workers to communicate their thoughts and experiences, and share their knowledge with their fellow co-workers.

Promote diversity: Proudly acknowledge the importance of diversity in your workplace. Make it one of your company’s core values. Let your customers know that your initiatives to better diversify your workforce are among your company’s top priorities.

Improving diversity is not only about making your office a better place, it’s about proving that you firmly believe in the equality of opportunity and basic human rights. Everyone, anywhere, should always and only be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender or religion or anything else that makes us unique. Remember that the next time you attend your family reunion.