Inclusivity and diversity are terms that have been around for quite some time and that are gaining in relevance exponentially.
However, even though it is widely used, the term “diversity” is difficult to define. Diversity has a different meaning to different people. In a study conducted by The Harvard Business Review, 180 Spanish corporate managers were interviewed in regard to their perception of diversity. They usually define it as either demographic diversity including race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.; experiential diversity meaning affinities, hobbies and abilities, as well as cognitive diversity which defines the way we approach problems.
Diversity is a dynamic term. Therefore, even though there are countless existing frameworks that attempt to classify and structure diversity, also specifically within organisations, the different dimensions usually flow into each other.
In general, when working on building a more diverse workforce, you are looking into increasing your knowledge pool and broadening your perspective in order to use it as a growth and profitability asset within your organization. This can be by diversifying the age span of your company's employees, increasing race and ethnicity diversity all over your organization, pushing to implement policies that can help reduce the gender pay- and leadership gap, adapt processes to become more approachable for people with disabilities and much more.
Even though social justice is usually the first thing that comes to mind, companies all over the globe have started to look at diversity as a source of competitive advantage.
And not without reason: In the past years companies with an improved diversity agenda have proven to be more likely to outperform less diverse competitors in profitability. A study conducted by McKinsey last year found that, only looking at ethnic and cultural diversity in 2019, top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth one by 36 percent in profitability, slightly up from 33 percent in 2017 and 35 percent in 2014.
The aspect of social justice should not be underestimated either. Culture change expert and career leadership coach Suzy Sallam pointed out that in order to attract the best talent, companies should look at working on their inclusivity agenda since it has become a major reference point for potential employees.
Still, progress on diversification initiatives are slow. Companies are still unsure about how to best use diversity and inclusion as an asset to support growth and profitability.
Another aspect that often stands in the way of implementing diversity within companies are our unconscious biases that create blind spots. Blind spots often steer our decisions and can put us in a tunnel, surrounding ourselves with people with the same point of view, that tend to go through similar decision making processes that lead to the same outcome.
Becoming aware of these blind spots can make a big difference, exposing ourselves to new ideas, perspectives and actively diversifying our networks, leading to better and more value adding outcomes that the ones emerging from a homogenous workforce.
Even though the current situation can be seen as an obstacle for many companies to not engage in further diversity and inclusion initiatives until the situation has calmed down, one should look at the opportunities of the evolution the work environment has gone through in the last year, especially in terms of remote work and its impact on employee mobility, enabling new talent pools that previously were not accessible. Here, your company can use this as an opportunity to not only strengthen their workforce but at the same time consciously work on improving their diversity initiatives.
One of these talent pools include employees with disabilities. Even though this term is very broad and again has many different dimensions, according to the ADA, an individual with disabilities "has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment."
Remote work brings important benefits to people with disabilities including reducing or even eliminating the time commuting to work, which is a great opportunity for those who rely on mobility assistance. Increased flexibility is also a plus since, working from home provides an environment which is already set up with needed medications, assistance apparatuses and much more, serving as a comfortable and accessible office environment.
Further talent pools that can be accessed remotely are those that were not accessible due to geographical barriers. Being able to work from their home country will increase your reach of talents from all over the world, at the same time improving the diversity of your company in terms of ethnicity and race.
Diversity in terms of gender equality in the workplace can also be strongly improved. An important issue faced by women all over the world is their disproportionate responsibility for caregiving, making it especially difficult for them to access leadership positions.
Even though this is not the solution to the problem by far, the increased flexibility of remote work is of great support for many employees, enabling them to progress in the workplace while balancing other responsibilities, for example, as parents.
These are just a few examples of how a remote environment can help to improve the diversity of your company. This blog post should be seen as an encouragement to further explore the benefits of this work model to improve diversity and inclusion in your organization in order to increase the richness in knowledge, experience, perspective, culture to make your company a place where everyone feels safe to share their points of view and ideas, turning this into one of the greatest assets in order to succeed in the future business environment.