It’s one of the big buzz words right now as companies try to implement strategies to reduce the gender pay gap or avoid fines from not having a proportion of ethnic groups within the organisation.

It’s not only diversity legislation that is driving the change forward, but also public perception and brand reputation. Some organisations are making positive advances in the face of it, but is diversity really having a positive impact on your business or is it more of a hinderance?

Leading reports and studies – Forbes, Harvard business review, McKinsey – show that gender and racial diversity in leadership teams are proven to increase profitability and diversity across the organisation, leading to better innovation and talent attraction.

While this may make the case compelling to make changes in diversity, there is still the ‘how’ to implement it an effective way with the biggest positive impact on business. This is no small feat and requires real commitment from the leadership and buy-in from the wider organisation. This can be a good time to reassess the organisation’s values and leading principles to guide the company through the transition.

Here we outline some of the main sticking points and how to turn these challenges into a step forward for your organisation:


Equality -vs- Equity

One size misfits all!

Quite topical right now and certainly a touchy subject, with issues arising over the gender pay gap and the lack of gender and ethnic diversity at the leadership level of many organisations.

Problems often arise here when equality is taken to mean ‘treating everyone the same’, rather than ensuring that everyone is afforded the same opportunities, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.

Equality must be the general standard in organisations to ensure that they are not in breach of the law or acting immorally. Equity means that everyone is given the opportunity to achieve what they want and need to achieve.

We are not all the same; we have different needs and live in different circumstances.

Employees feel valued and are generally happier at work when their individual needs are recognised and met. Some people want more flexibility even if it means less pay, while others may want to rise through the ranks and work as much as they can to do so. For instance, I remember working in a sales team were one of the team wanted to work 4 days in the office and one day from home and allow him to start later and leave earlier to drop off and collect his children. The manager agreed changes and let him work with the new schedule, but of course that didn’t mean that everyone else needed or wanted the same treatment.

Any organisation can recruit in order to tick the equality boxes, but it takes a holistic and forward-thinking approach by the leaders and management team to create equity.


All singing the same song -vs- Trying to escape the echo chamber

This is one of the statements that can often be found on boardroom bingo sheets.

The business jargon for “we are all speaking about the same thing here” unfortunately often translates into “we are all saying the same thing, right!” The first phrase is necessary to avoid miscommunication and ensuring the team is addressing the right topics or issues and taking appropriate action. The latter is confirmation that the team involved in the discussion has manifested into an ‘echo-chamber’: a group of people maybe of the same sex, background or schooling that reflects and reinforces the same voices and messages like a mantra, excluding others that could provide valuable input.

The damage done here can be far-reaching within the organisation, as the topics discussed and the decisions made are not really open to being challenged by different perspectives, thus weakening the atmosphere for bringing new ideas to the table.

Breaking out of the echo chamber introduces new and different voices to the choir, enriching the song.

When an organisation is represented by a diverse variety of experience, knowledge and expertise, enhanced innovations are created and increased speed-to-market with products/services becomes possible.


Representation -vs- Inclusion

In their haste to meet quotas, some companies are hiring and promoting people from BAME communities and women.

This should be a good thing, right? Well, yes, in the face of the well-documented racism and sexism that has taken place over the decades. Yet this move has often been resisted by organisations and corporations. Why?

Striving for equal opportunities is definitely needed, but not as a gimmick. The push to tick the right boxes doesn’t do justice to the symptoms or the deep-rooted issues when rolled out callously.

When people feel they are hired or promoted to fill quotas, the message they are actually getting is that they ‘are not good enough’ irrespective of how qualified and experienced they are. Even after proving themselves more than capable, a question mark may still hover over them in colleagues’ minds (subconscious or not).

This often happens because the people that have been underrepresented may now be seen, but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily heard. They may be left out of the key management and decision-making roles and are statistically less likely to make it to the leadership team and thus are rarely seen in the boardroom.

To have a diverse culture in the workplace, underrepresented team members need to have a voice and the leadership team need to be in a position to hear it and actually listen.

This way not only will they feel valued, but the organisation will benefit from a more diverse range of perspectives and opinions.


In Conclusion

As stated earlier, it is not simply a matter of the HR function hiring people with different ethnicity or gender (although that’s the first step on the ladder!), it’s the leadership that hold the keys to true diversity transformation of any organization. Once leaders are open to accepting that their wider organisation may not be as experienced or ‘well educated’ but can contribute in unexpected and valuable ways, this can create a sense of trust and cohesion that inexplicably inspires people to think in creative and innovative ways and leads them into going the extra mile.

This is a win-win situation because the employees feel empowered and motivated and the organisation leverages the existing talent, which in turn attracts more talented people.

Looking for help with dealing with diversity issues within your organisation? Open up and ask us your innermost questions…

Further reading:

Forbes on Innovation Through Diversity

HBR on How to Drive Innovation

Mckinsey on Why Diversity Matters


Photo Credit: Luca Upper for Unsplash