Fifty percent of U.S.-based employees work in “very diverse” workplaces and 30 percent work in “somewhat diverse” workplaces, a recent poll found, yet less than half of employees (46 percent) believe that diversity makes their employer—or its products and services—better.
These are some of the findings of a poll of 427 working Americans by Workplace Options, a work/life services provider, in conjunction with Public Policy Polling.
A majority of respondents said their employer “embraces diversity” (63 percent) and offers diversity training (53 percent), but more than one in five respondents (22 percent) said their employer does not embrace diversity and that diversity training is not available in their workplace. One in five respondents said they would be less attracted to a job if an employer promoted and embraced a diverse workplace.
Some experts suggest employees might lack sufficient information to make an informed decision about the value of workplace diversity.
“Diversity is an idea that’s often discussed but rarely explained,” said Dean Debnam, chief executive officer of Workplace Options, in a statement issued Sept. 26, 2012, along with the results of the poll. “Business success is dependent on new ideas and alternative ways of thinking, regardless of the industry, product or service. This fact is precisely why diversity is so valuable, because it brings new perspectives into an organization.”
“People generally support diversity in the workplace as a good idea, but they don’t always understand the benefits, beyond the social and cultural impact,” added Alan King, president of Workplace Options, in an e-mail message to SHRM Online. “We really wanted to know whether the average employee recognizes a connection between diversity in the workplace and a better end product or service,” he added.
When asked about the connection between diversity and business results, more than a third of employee respondents (36 percent) said they don’t think workplace diversity improves products or services. Nearly one in five (18 percent) were unsure.
Insufficient or ineffective communication about the meaning and benefits of diversity and inclusion on the bottom line—and for employees—could be to blame, experts said.
“Getting diverse perspectives and talent from a variety of backgrounds in the door is a great first step,” Debnam said. “But integrating these ideas and experiences into the fabric of the organization and the products or services a company provides is how diversity translates to better business.”
“The radical demographic shifts that are occurring in emerging markets in the U.S. and globally are about being able to sell more goods and services to emerging consumers,” explained Shirley Engelmeier, founder, CEO and chief inclusion strategist for InclusionINC, in an e-mail to SHRM Online. “This is a huge business issue.”
Benefitting from Diversity
It’s not enough to have a diverse workforce, experts agree; employers must know how to leverage difference.
“Many employers give diversity a great deal of lip service from HR and corporate policy perspectives, but they don’t leverage it effectively once it comes in the door,” Debnam said in a statement.
One way to make the most of such differences is to understand the varying perspectives employees bring to the workplace. The Workplace Options poll identified some notable differences. For example:
- Women are 14 percentage points more likely than men to participate in diversity training if offered (70 percent vs. 56 percent).
- Men are more likely than women to say that they would work for an employer with no diversity (57 percent vs. 41 percent).
Engelmeier offered an explanation for those findings: “Women are more likely than men to participate in diversity training because they still are in the minority in leadership positions throughout an organization,” she said.
Gender is just one diversity variable with which employers must contend.
“A lot of employers educate their staff about cultural sensitivities or ethnic differences, but that is not nearly enough,” Debnam said.
“Inclusion is much broader than diversity,” Engelmeier wrote to SHRM Online. “Inclusion is about collaboration, innovation and engagement. Inclusion is about emerging markets and the bottom line.”
In her book, Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage (InclusionINC Media, 2012), Engelmeier offered several ways to engage a diverse workforce:
- Share your strategy with your employees. This not only gives employees a big-picture perspective, she explained, but also “increases the odds that they will share their unique insights and ideas with you.”
- Ask for their input. “If you rely entirely on a handful of managers and top executives to come up with great new ideas, you’re missing out on the brainpower of the majority of your workplace,” she said.
- Listen and evaluate the idea, not the person presenting it.
- Act on what you determine to be the best course of action. “Inclusion is first and foremost about making sure everyone gets a chance to be heard, even if their ideas aren’t always used.”
- Provide feedback to your employees about why you did or did not take their suggestions. “This will reassure employees that their ideas were truly considered and not just passed over.”
- Thank your employees for being willing to contribute.
Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Inclusive Workplaces Lead to Engaged Employees, SHRM Online Diversity Discipline, August 2012
Inclusion Is Key Ingredient in Diversity’s Recipe, SHRM Online Staffing Management Discipline, May 2012
Inclusion Yields Business Advantages, SHRM Online Diversity Discipline Q&A, December 2011
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SHRM Connect Diversity & Inclusion community
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