Years of human rights activism and political, demographic and social changes have driven the agenda for diversity and inclusion in the world of work. As a result, we have witnessed some progress as traditionally marginalised groups have made inroads into various sectors from which they were previously excluded. Alongside this evolution, research has consistently shown that a diverse and inclusive workplace delivers enhanced results in a range of areas. These include improved organisational improvement, improved decision-making, enhanced creativity and problem-solving, greater flexibility, higher levels of trust, employee satisfaction and commitment and enhanced service delivery (Rohwerder, 2017).
So why, with all the knowledge on diversity and movements like ‘Black lives Matter’ and Me Too, is there still so much talk about the lack of diversity and inclusion in organisations? It appears that we are still grappling with some fundamental aspects, like representation and pay equality. The data on gender equity shows that women still earn an average of 82% of what men earn (Corrigan, 2023). The Women at Work Index (2023) indicates it will take more than half a century to close the gender pay gap at the historical rate of progress. The Ethnic Pay Gap Report notes that there is ‘evidence that race remains a significant determining factor for professional success’ (2021). They also note that minority ethnic groups, both UK-born and non-UK-born people, earn less on average than the white British population. In 2022, after years of discussion and support around gender equity on boards, the UK has now made it a legislative requirement that women hold 40% of the board positions of listed companies.
There is still a long way to go before diversity, and inclusion is genuinely embedded in organisations and a common feature in the global workplace. So, what is the key to creating the shift required to achieve the next stage of evolution in the diversity and inclusion space?
Strengthening diversity in the workplace requires that people have the opportunity to effectively cognise the impact of diversity. They need to experience the positive outcomes of a diverse group of people in creating something better, different and unique. Simply presenting the facts about the importance of diversity and inclusion is not enough. Individuals, teams, and organisations must be allowed to experience diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Four key transformations are necessary to shift the dial of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
I realise this will be controversial, and some will argue that this is not the right way. It is also important to note that minority groups do not want to be used as tokenistic pawns in a diversity battle. However, some teams and organisations are simply not going to change without some level of pressure. Unfortunately, as Einstein said ‘You cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In some organisations and teams, there is a requirement for CEOs and Boards to strategically drive an enhanced level of diversity through prescribed levels of diversity.
Recruitment and development strategies must become more agile and creative to embrace diversity and inclusion in their processes. Research has shown that traditional recruitment practices, such as interviews, favour narcissists and people happy to talk about themselves (Lipman, 2014). This is a challenge for many minority groups, who are often less confident in selling themselves and can find interview situations challenging. To shift the dial on diversity in the workplace, recruiters must find new and creative ways to get the best out of those people from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, organisations must ensure that their strategies for developing talent are unbiased and provide the same opportunities for minority groups. It is essential to leverage structured competency-based development strategies grounded in diversity and inclusion.
Strengthening diversity in the workplace requires much more than just tokenism and being seen to do the right thing. If we are going to impact diversity issues, we must make a systemic shift in people’s mindsets. The destructive internal processing of individuals is the starting point of all unconscious bias and discrimination. So if we want to bring about a change in the amount of discrimination in the workplace, we must assist people in rewiring their brains. Organisations will need to start holding people to account for their unconscious bias and require that they shift their attitudes. It is no longer acceptable to shrug our shoulders and make excuses for unacceptable attitudes that result from unconscious bias. To fully embrace diversity in teams and organisations, everyone must be held accountable for shifting their mindsets and embracing diversity.
Leaders are critical to delivering an organisational culture that embraces diversity and inclusion. If we want to shift the dial on these issues, the change must happen at the highest levels of leadership. It needs to commence with a shift in leadership mindset and thinking. Actual change occurs when leaders understand their own unconscious bias and actively seem to shift their thinking to embrace diversity. It is no longer enough for leaders to be emotionally intelligent and do the right things on the surface. They need to change their mindsets and thinking, to bring about systemic and sustainable change in how they do things (Epstein 2014). Shifting leadership mindsets will ensure they change their behaviours and lead a positive organisational culture that embraces diversity and transforms engagement levels (Folan, 2021). We live in exceptional times, and leaders must step up and make the necessary changes to deliver a sustainable shift in the team and organisational culture. The biggest challenge for leaders is being brave enough to face their unconscious biases and then being disciplined in shifting their thinking and mindset.
Once diversity is fully embraced in organisations across the globe, we will see the total capacity of groups of individuals to create truly innovative solutions, deliver enhanced decisions making and improve business outcomes. In the interim, some fantastic organisations are leading the way and doing great work in this space. These businesses demonstrate the positive results of a diverse workforce through improved employee satisfaction, higher retention levels and enhanced service delivery. In a workplace filled with challenges and constantly changing requirements, organisations must take definitive action to address diversity and inclusion.
Dr. Lynda Folan is an Organisational Psychologist, renowned Leadership and Organisational Development specialist, and author of ‘Leader Resilience, The New Frontier of Leadership (2021)’. Lynda has considerable expertise in leading organisations through transformational change and works with organisations across the globe to deliver Leadership Development, Organisational Development, Cultural Transformation and Resilience. As the Managing Director of Inspired Development Solutions, Lynda leads a team that provides leading-edge and bespoke solutions for businesses across all sectors – website: https://www.inspireddevelopment.net/