We are in the midst of the perform storm. An unprecented combination of forces have collectively propelled workplace diversity (back) onto the agenda for leading organisations. A stronger regulatory environment, economic pressures, greater stakeholder expectations and corporate social responsibility are all playing their part. Notwithstanding these forces, some remain sceptical about the business case for diversity. Perhaps rightly so? For far too long we have only heard the headlines and yet knowing the details will help organisations navigate the path ahead.
In this except from “Only skin deep: Re-examining the business case for diversity”, we help leaders chart their course by looking at the fundamentals of the business case for diversity. We land on some fundamental principles that make sense of the evidence, including the definition of diversity and the connection between diversity and inclusion. We conclude that there is a robust business case for diversity, but the details are not quite captured by the headlines. The case rests on understanding that diversity means more than having a sprinkle of women and a dab of colour, and that the value of diversity rests in developing an inclusive workplace – and that means adaptation, not just assimilation and tolerance.
What does diversity really mean?
Diversity has traditionally been thought of in terms of the ‘visible’ differences between people (eg gender). Diversity is about those differences but this narrow definition ultimately short-changes what it really means. Diversity is about what makes each of us unique (eg our backgrounds and life experiences) and this broader view of diversity is encapsulated by the idea that diversity is really about diversity of ‘thought’ – where different perspectives are the point of difference rather than visible characteristics. So what does this mean for the business case? A lot.
Among other things, it creates a new line of inquiry about the nature of the case, shifting the question from “How can increasing gender and racial diversity help us improve business outcomes?” to “How rich is our knowledge bank?” and “Do we have the variety of perspectives necessary to deal with complex problems and create innovative solutions?” But more than just changing the business case conversation, focusing on diversity of thought enables us to see people as individuals rather than as representatives of a group and this helps us to find common ground when working together.
So where does that leave demographic diversity? Demographics now become a ‘check in’ metric, or a ‘moment of truth’, acting as a lead indicator as to whether organisations are drawing from the full knowledge bank and practicing meritocracy.