Be the change you want to see: promoting change & diversity in the workplace

Written by
Changeboard Team

10 May 2010

10 May 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Diversity - crucial in today's business climate

The globalisation of business and increased mobility of workers has led to a blending of nationalities and cultures in the workplace. Demographic changes mean that generation Y works alongside generation X and the proportion and influence of women in the workplace is increasing.

Against this backdrop, diversity is a basic requirement of building a successful business. Companies need to be diverse to reflect and understand their customers, and to take advantage of the best talent available. The language skills, cultural background, experience and creativity of a more diverse workforces can also be core to developing new products and services and opening in new markets.

Promoting gender diversity

So how can employers promote diversity? There are many practical actions employers can take. To address gender diversity employers must encourage female contribution to the workplace.

In the UK, despite girls consistently out performing boys at GCSE and A Level and more women entering university than men, pay and status inequality remains an issue. Women are consistently paid less than their male counterparts and fail to be promoted to C-suite and board level positions. A key to fixing some of these issues is making it easier for women to return to work after having children.

Employers should provide flexible working conditions, including a part-time working option, create solutions for childcare help and reasonable parental leave. They should also provide training to update skills to re-engage those that have been out of the workforce for a time. Interestingly, it has been found that extended parental leave is not conducive to encouraging diversity, as those with long periods away from work find it much more difficult to return.

Promoting age diversity

As the number of experienced older workers grows, employers should have policies to encourage them to remain at work which could include the creation of part-time and flexible roles, and the creation of mentoring and consultancy positions to make the most of their experience.

Offering retraining and healthcare provisions are all useful tools. The trend for early retirement schemes will continue to reduce as we are all asked to work longer to fill the predicted employment gap created by an aging workforce - so it's important that companies act now.

Racial diversity

Encouraging racial diversity is as beneficial to companies as it is the wider society to create cohesion and innovation.

Studies by Harvard Business School in the USA have shown that racially diverse groups are actually more productive, and are better decision makers, weighing up more information and taking a more holistic approach. Racial diversity can be addressed by clear positive policies and active recruitment of a diverse workforce, as well as provision for language and religious requirements where required.

Driving the diversity agenda through social media

At the heart of this topic lies the need for education and attitude change. Within the last 20 years globalisation, through easier international trade, increased migration and better technology and communications, has dramatically changed the way many companies operate. 

However, the speed of change will only increase, and the HR community has to ask itself how, on top of existing and emerging diversity issues, it handles recruitment for a generation who communicates and builds relationships freely with people, often strangers, across the globe using social media.

Bringing opposites together

Are we truly ready for the changes that it has caused? As HR professionals, we need to educate senior managers about the Benefits of diversity. Do your line managers value the differences in those around them? Or is there still the tendency to work with those they get on with, and hire those people who think like they do?

When opposites have to work together, there are two choices - either to focus on the differences and the difficulties of working together, or to choose to focus on the benefit and value that diversity brings. In doing the latter, you will find richness and quality, and you will be able to produce a more rounded solution that appeals to a broader audience.

HR should embrace diversity

I'm constantly fascinated by the use of the Myers Briggs tool, which encourages deep understanding of peoples personality differences and encourages acceptance that there are other ways of doing things.

This acceptance and embracing of diversity is at the psychological heart of the human resources concept of diversity. We should embrace it as HR professionals, and we should be role models in our businesses.

As Ghandi famously said: "Be the change you want to see."