Diversity Workplace

Why Diversity and Inclusion are Important in the Workplace

6 min read
Lynsey May Sutherland
Author
Lynsey Sutherland

Diversity and inclusivity are more than just buzzwords. The positive impact is no longer debatable – Gartner found that inclusive teams improve performance by up to 30% in high-performance environments. 

If you want to know how to create a diverse and inclusive workplace, we discuss everything you need to know in this article. 

What is a diverse and inclusive workplace?

When we talk about diversity and inclusion at work, it’s about ensuring that we create an open, welcoming, and productive space for everyone. It is about creating and maintaining equality in all areas of an organisation. 

Diversity vs inclusion: what’s the difference?

Diversity and inclusion are related concepts – but they are far from interchangeable. Diversity is all about representation or the make-up of an entity. Whereas inclusion is how well the contributions and perspectives of different groups of people are valued and integrated into an environment. 

When there are different genders, nationalities, races or sexual orientations present in an environment but only the perspectives of certain groups are valued or carry authority, it may be diverse, but it isn’t inclusive. Diversity without inclusion can result in a toxic culture, and inclusion without diversity can cause your business to become stagnant. 

What are the benefits of diversity and inclusion at work? 

When workplaces are diverse and inclusive, they welcome, celebrate and support applicants and employees from different backgrounds. Doing this can be a great source of strength as it opens the door to a broader range of different perspectives, experiences and opinions. 

This is crucial when navigating complex business challenges that impact different types of people, as well as ensuring business actions are properly critiqued by those with different viewpoints – according to Thomson Reuters, inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time.

Diversity can lead to greater innovation

Diverse workforces bring a far-reaching set of life experiences and backgrounds, meaning they look at life through a different lens. Different perspectives within the team can open new ways of thinking to solve and address problems. 

When different viewpoints come together, there is a potential to out-innovate competition. According to Harvard Business Review, diversity unlocks innovation by creating an environment where outside-of-the-box ideas are heard. 

Diversity and inclusion boost employee engagement. 

Numerous studies indicate positive work environments lead to happier employees and greater success. When employees are happy at work, they are more productive and engaged

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace will make your employees feel respected and valued, leading to greater collaboration and creativity. 

Top candidates are attracted to companies with an inclusive workplace culture

Companies that openly embrace diversity and inclusion have a better chance of attracting and hiring top-quality candidates. 

When these candidates are researching potential employers to find out who will be the best fit for them, diversity is high on their list – nearly a third of job seekers say they wouldn’t apply for a job at a company lacking diversity! 

Inclusive companies build trust among their workforce

Companies that go out of their way to create an environment where everyone feels safe expressing their opinions and ideas have a definitive advantage over their competition. 

Employees will trust their management team and colleagues enough to feel they can express themselves freely and will be comfortable being vulnerable and seeing their colleagues do the same. 

When people hold back what they really think in their role, they rob their employer of some of their best ideas – some people may feel too anxious to share their opinions or fear being rejected or criticised by their team. 

In environments where a team considers all ideas and opinions, more people will feel free to share their thoughts. Companies then benefit from more creative thinking, and employees learn to be patient and consider other points of view. 

Why is creating a diverse and inclusive workplace challenging? 

Changing perceptions is one of the biggest challenges businesses face when creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. We all have unconscious biases – ways of seeing the world and looking at things coloured by our own experiences and things we have been told over the years. 

This bias can blind us to opportunities and leave us in a bit of a rut. Leaders can find themselves looking for or promoting people who’re most like themselves, which tends to make circles smaller and diversity less likely. 

Often this happens completely unintentionally, even to leaders actively trying to challenge their own biases. That’s why diversity and inclusion training can be useful for everyone and is an excellent addition to your training and development program. 

How to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace

Building a more inclusive and diverse workplace doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need to do is make a few important changes to how you do things. A few great places to get started include:

Create a diversity and inclusion group or board

Help keep diversity and inclusion high on your organisation’s agenda by forming an internal group or board. Recruit within your teams and set aside time for members to discuss the practices they see currently succeeding and areas in which you could do better. 

Be sure to include representatives across the company, including leaders and top-level management. This group should actively participate in everything from recruitment to retainment policies. 

Introduce policies that celebrate diversity 

It’s easy enough to say that you respect diversity, but words are cheap.

Instead, show your employees that you have considered a diverse range of needs and made provisions for them. For example, do you have a policy on or space for breastfeeding or milk expression? Do you allow people to book time off to celebrate their religious holidays? Do you have policies in place to support people who are neurodiverse and may appreciate a quiet space or the ability to work remotely

A diversity and inclusion group can be an excellent resource for researching and choosing these policies. 

Lead with empathy and understanding 

One of the biggest things to remember when you’re looking to increase the diversity and inclusivity of your workplace is that, as a leader, you can’t completely understand everyone’s experience. 

What you can do is listen and learn by being an empathetic leader. Open and honest communication is a fantastic way to ensure that you reach everyone in your team – even if they don’t have the same background or experiences.

Use inclusive language 

There are lots of phrases or comments that can be unintentionally exclusionary, so it’s a great idea to make an extra effort to use inclusive language. For example, instead of saying ‘hey guys’ to a mixed meeting, you could be gender neutral and say, ‘hey team’ or ‘hey everyone’ instead. 

Encourage teams to show their pronouns on their Slack, Teams or any other company profiles and ask them to share this (if they wish) at the onboarding stage. You could also say ‘partner’ or ‘spouse’ instead of ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ and always consider people-first language, such as ‘people with disabilities’ rather than ‘disabled people’. 

Be open to employee feedback on this and be willing to adjust your language if it hurts or excludes anyone. 

Create channels for everyone to have an equal voice 

For your whole team to feel respected and heard, you need to make sure you have a level playing field in communication. 

This means much more than simply encouraging people to speak up in meetings – people might not due to feeling that their opinion might not be welcome or they are introverted. 

The best thing to do is to ensure that you have multiple channels for communication – and that everyone has access to them. Our employee engagement platform is an excellent example of creating a level playing field for people to raise problems and celebrate successes.

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