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Diversity and inclusion, which are the real grounds for creativity, must remain at the center of what we do. - Marco Bizzarri

One could argue that the reason our vast and diverse human race has evolved into this well-oiled machine of progress and precision is that each one of us brings something unique and valuable to the table.

Even if our roles or job descriptions are technically the same on paper, no two people will ever perceive them in the same way.

Diversity Spelled letter by letter

What is diversity and inclusion?

With no single definition of diversity being in place, for simple use and ease of understanding from an organization’s perspective, it can be considered a group of people who are different from each other on multiple human and geographical demographics and are brought together for their skills.

On the other hand, inclusion focuses on creating and having a culture that nurtures this talent and provides them with a healthy work atmosphere, allowing them to come together and work harmoniously, comfortably, and contribute effectively and confidently. Inclusion ensures that everyone feels valued and adds value.

Importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace

‍‍Why should you focus on actively increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace through focused activities? It’s simple:

Inclusive Workplace = Increased Performance

Diversity isn’t a passing fad or the newest workplace trend that a business should try and incorporate. Each of our social spectrums – race, gender, sexual orientation, age, education, socioeconomic backgrounds, personalities, interests, and so on, are equally important.

They are all inherently linked to strong organizational values and environments where people feel psychologically secure.

A recent Gartner report shows that people who are part of diverse and inclusive cultures tend to flourish, allowing teams to bring their whole selves to work and perform better. The research also shows that performance has improved by 12%, and the intent is to stay by 20%!

If you think about it, it’s simply human nature. Who wouldn’t be able to give their all for your business when they believe that respect, acceptance, and true support are being offered to them, regardless of their background?

In the wake of social and political turmoil in 2020 - beyond Covid19 - the collective global awareness for the benefits of diversity and inclusion (D&I) and embedding tolerance into the company culture has taken on renewed urgency.

Diversity is not just a nice-to-have. Business leaders are being confronted with strong empirical evidence that a diverse workforce directly impacts their bottom line. Companies that struggle with diversity or give it only lip service are penalized with less-than-optimal performance.

And yet, organizations are not embracing I&D with gusto. For example, despite years of diversity programs, black representation, as measured through CEOs in Fortune 500 companies in the USA, has decreased from 2012 to 2020 and remains anemic 1%, even though the black population is 13.4%.

Moving the needle on diversity remains a big challenge, and much more work needs to be done.

Diversity as a concept first introduced in the early 1940s has evolved over the past few years immensely. It is one of those strategic initiatives that all progressive organizations invest in.

While hiring diverse talent is important, retaining this talent over a reasonable time within an organization has gained substantially higher importance in the past few years. Hence the concept of diversity is practiced in conjunction with inclusion.

According to HBR, in a survey of 1000 respondents run by Glassdoor, it was found that 67% of job seekers overall look at workforce diversity when evaluating an offer.

The current state of diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Unfortunately, progress for more I&D in the workplace remains indifferent. Many programs for more I&D have failed, which is reflected in trailing financial performance.

CG’s research on gender diversity shows that 91% of companies have a program in place. Yet, only 27% of women say they have benefited from it.

McKinsey notes that a third of the firms they have tracked over the past five years have improved gender and ethnic diversity on their executive teams, while the majority have stalled or gone backward.

In their data, the laggards were organizations that had an average of 8% female representation on their executive teams—and no ethnic-minority representation at all.

McKinsey predicts that companies who saw I&D as a strength before the pandemic are likely to leverage it to bounce back quicker.

For companies that deprioritized I&D during the crisis, the impact will be felt not just on their bottom line but in the lives and happiness of their employees.

The shift to remote and hybrid working driven by the pandemic presents companies' opportunity to accelerate building inclusive cultures.

With its benefits of increased flexibility, remote working can facilitate the retention of women and minorities, who are disproportionately burdened with managing family work. It thus widens access to a pool of diverse talent that may not have been available to these companies.

How implicit bias operates?

In a 2020 survey, scientists interviewed men and women from 78 countries to understand their biased posture. The results were that men were associated with being more brilliant when compared to women.

When confronted with the bias, respondents adamantly denied having such an opinion. People are often reluctant to admit they have stereotypes.

All evidence points to the fact that men and women are equally bright, yet there are entire industries where such implicit bias is widespread.

But there is hope. According to a paper from Harvard, there has been a remarkable change in the past 50 years in our beliefs about race, sexual orientation, or gender. More organizations recognize that they have a problem with inclusion and commit to making changes than they were 20 years ago.

8 Benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace

With diversity in the workplace focusing on who is getting hired and inclusion focusing on how they feel at work, let us look at how D&I is redefining the organizations' becoming high-performing organizations.

“Credit Suisse's 2012 global analysis found that organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher net income growth and a higher return on equity than those without a woman on the board.” — Glassdoor

Benefits include economic growth, reduction in employee turnover rate & increase in retention rate, employee satisfaction, increased productivity, and more. Let’s discuss the benefits of diversity and inclusion in detail below.

According to Glassdoor, 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity.

1. Better financial results

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study, which studied 1,700 companies in eight countries, found that diverse leadership teams result in better innovation and improved financial performance.

Specifically, companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19% points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity. (See Exhibit 1)

companies with below and above average diversity scores

In another large study (2014-2019), McKinsey followed 1039 companies encompassing 15 countries (Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Norway, Denmark, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and determined that the business case for I&D is stronger than ever.

They concluded that a diverse and inclusive employee base is a significant asset in a fast-moving global economy. In their study, companies that are “diversity winners” are pulling ahead of laggards.

Their data (see figures below) shows that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile — up from 21% in 2017 and 15% in 2014.”

Cultural diversity and inclusion in leadership roles resulted in top-quartile companies outperforming peers by 36% in profitability. Companies in the top quartile for both gender and ethnic diversity are 12% more likely to outperform all other companies in the data set.

business case of gender diversity
business case of ethnic diversity

2. Better teams

There is strong evidence that teams with diverse backgrounds and random member selection are likely to be more successful and perform better.

They do this by being more likely to innovate, be more agile, and anticipate shifts in consumer needs — helping their companies to gain a competitive edge.

“It’s proven that more diverse companies are often more innovative and creative,” explains Duke Energy Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Joni Davis. The main reasons for more productivity and creativity are bringing together individuals from varied backgrounds and experiences, and each will have unique ways to improve your products and services.

Adding the secret sauce of teamwork and collaboration platforms like Empuls allows multi-functional, culturally diverse dispersed teams to connect seamlessly, support each other socially, and succeed even in uncertain times.

3. Higher retention rate‍

A high retention rate of talent and knowledge. With strong inclusion practices, an employee feels heard, valued, and has a sense of belonging to an organization.

These are clubbed with encouraging policies of growth and advancement, timely feedback processes, reward and recognition, and overall employee-centric culture. The organization provides all the reasons for an employee to thrive and grow.

4. Enhanced employee satisfaction

For wholesome working experience in an organization, interventions are required at all stages of an employee’s life cycle, along with pre-hiring and post-exit stages.

With inclusion in the foundation of people policies and practices and culture focusing on employee well-being and development, the engagement scores will result in high CSAT and employee net promoter scores.

5. A global think tank

With talent coming in from diverse backgrounds, cultures, nationalities, and perspectives, the organization transforms into a global think tank that allows for the free flow of ideas and suggestions, debate, and brainstorming, resulting in the best and most comprehensive output in any given situation.

Employees in such a setup go beyond their personal likes and beliefs. As the group is diverse, the possibility of thinking the same ideas or solutions or shying away from sharing thoughts is reduced considerably, allowing freshness in every idea and paving the way for innovation with creativity.

“As per 2016, Boston Consulting Group study innovation jumps once the proportion of female managers within an organization rises above 20%.” | Glassdoor

6. Enhanced performance

As the inclusive culture thrives on openness, transparency and believes in sharing ideas and contributing to each other’s success, it enables employees to seek each other’s help, receive feedback positively, learn and optimize their performance.

In this process, everybody learns and grows, thereby improving an organization’s performance levels too.

A study by Enterprise decision platform Cloverpop shows that inclusive decision-making leads to better business decisions 87% of the time, reaching those decisions twice as fast in half the meeting times.” — Glassdoor

7. A preferred brand image‍

With your talent coming from a diverse background that grows with well-placed inclusive practices, your employees become your brand ambassadors, contributing positively to the brand image.

Not only does it connect you to the specific diverse communities locally, but it allows you to expand your reach far and wide.

The more you become assertive with D&I, the more diverse and good talent you attract and retain, the more you add to your brand image.

“A Glassdoor study found that 57% of employees and 67% of job seekers consider diversity an important element of their workplace, which affects recruitment and retention.”

8. A strong knowledge base

A diverse workforce is a strong knowledge base of local cultural and societal nuances. They bring good insights into these cultural aspects that can be of immense value as part of sustenance and expansion. Their links & ties to local communities, self-help groups, memberships in their respective diverse groups can be good sources of information and local talent sources.

Refinitiv, one of the world’s largest providers of financial markets data and infrastructure, serving over 40,000 institutions in approximately 190 countries, recently announced the 2020 top 100 most diverse and inclusive organizations globally as ranked by the D&I index leading the top 100 D&I indexes were banking, investment services, and insurance firms, followed by pharmaceuticals, telecommunication services, specialty retailers, personal and household products and services.

The United States leads the Top 100 list with 20 firms, followed by the United Kingdom with 13, Australia with nine, and Canada and France with 7.

The D&I Index utilizes innovative analytics to rate and score companies across four main pillars: Diversity, Inclusion, People Development, and Controversies.

Key findings of the refinitiv diversity and inclusion report for 2021

Globally the cultural diversity and inclusion of board members has increased from five years ago but has stalled at around 30%.

  • EMEA leads the way with the most culturally and gender-diverse boards.
  • At the country level, Germany is the only country that has maintained a positive increase in the percentage of culturally diverse board members.
  • Regionally, Africa is leading the way with on average 34% of female managers.
  • The number of companies with an official flexible working policy has increased by 54% over the last five years.
  • A total of 25% more companies have a career development policy in place than five years ago.
  • Regionally the largest increases have been seen in Oceania with a 40% increase.

For more information about the diversity and inclusion report for 2020, please visit here:

Top 25 Index ranking and their corresponding overall D&I percentage score (%)

25 Index ranking and their corresponding overall D&I percentage score (%) ‍
25 Index ranking and their corresponding overall D&I percentage score (%) ‍

How to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

There is no silver bullet or a single solution to increasing I&D. Deliberately setting and then collecting relevant metrics allows companies to develop diversity goals and create timelines for reaching them.

Besides an internal desire to expand diversity, many civic organizations pressure companies to diversify. For example, the #Metoo movement has brought the destructive impact of sexual harassment to the fore.

To a great extent, cultural diversity and inclusion enter the organizations naturally as they start to expand and go global.

However, for some forms of diversity such as gender diversity, PwD, LGBTQ require commitment and well-defined inclusion practices discussed below.

Let's understand these practices in detail.

1. Cultural inclusiveness in the workplace

“We often forget the ‘I’ in the I&D conversation,” says Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “The challenge is in having a culture where all employees feel included. It’s a major investment to bring talent into your organization, so why bring them in if they’re not happy when they get here? You’ve got to get the inclusion part right.”

Global investment banking company Citigroup is powering ahead with a no-nonsense I&D agenda and placing equality, accountability, and transparency at the center of everything that it does. Creating a culture where minorities thrive requires a sustained and deliberate effort.

According to Dr. Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Airbnb’s head of global diversity, “If the majority of your leadership roles are occupied by white workers, you are sending the message that this group has the most potential to contribute at high levels.”

To counteract this, companies need to be welcoming and attract minority candidates for key roles. Cultural diversity and inclusion have to be driven from the top down. Management has to communicate and promote openness in diversity and inclusion discussions and include them as an organizational strategic priority.

2. Having well-defined policies

This allows an organization to clearly and upfront express and detail out what is acceptable and what is not. It puts out an organization’s commitment to a fair, transparent, respectful, and equality-based approach in its actions.

Clearly spelled out guidelines as part of recruitment policy, promotions, appraisals, dress code, disciplinary actions for non-adherence, and overall code of conduct helps employees align their efforts to the organization’s focus on equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace.

According to SHRM ,“The majority of women in the workforce feel excluded from decision making, do not feel comfortable expressing their opinions, and do not feel as though they can succeed.”

3. Training leaders and managers

People follow leaders, and managers drive their teams. Hence, it is essential to have them on board with the concept of D&I.

Executing a well-articulated training plan to create awareness and adoption of D&I by the leaders will help them overcome their personal notions/beliefs/stereotypes and act in the best interest of the organization. As the employees see their leaders lead by example, it drives commitment in them and practices inclusion in their actions.

HBR says, companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues.

4. Recruitment

Bias is most widespread during the recruitment process. Recruitment is also the point at which companies can positively impact the I&D characteristics that create such an unconscious bias.

Acknowledging that such bias exists is a good first step in combatting it. The Implicit Association Test (IAT), developed at Harvard, is useful for measuring such attitudes and beliefs.

According to Tracie Stewart, professor of Psychology at Kennesaw State University, “Implicit, or unconscious, biases are stereotypes and prejudices that are activated automatically, unintentionally, and outside of our awareness,” Stewart said. “They are biases that we have but don’t realize we have, and they can be based on a person’s race, gender, age, religion and/or sexual orientation.”

I&D is more important to the newer generations of workers who will soon become the majority in the workplace. Companies would do well to focus on their preferences and desires.

Here are some ways to address recruitment bias:

  • Obfuscating the identifying information of candidates, or blind hiring, in the application and initial vetting process encourages recruiters to look at the applicant's qualifying characteristics.
  • Staff training to understand bias and ways to work with awareness to address it.
  • Prioritize broad representation and equality of opportunity throughout the organization.
  • Offer HR policies emphasizing flexibility to allow a broader net to be cast for prospects with diverse backgrounds.
  • Strengthen accountability for delivering on I&D metrics and goals.

5. Compensation

Today, many companies hire Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) whose role is to make sure that the company meets its diversity goals and provides compensation and benefits schemes to promote inclusion.

Having a balanced R&R program that focuses both on performance and behaviour interpersonal skills shows an organization's commitment to driving inclusivity. Such innovations create a more engaged workforce, attract employees from a wider pool, and create a winning culture.

6. Collect, compare, and analyze metrics

Tools and templates to assess the state of I&D in an organization are readily available from multiple sources. The results from such surveys help to create a viable roadmap for addressing areas of concern.

For example, PwC has a survey that provides a good template for understanding the facts and maturity of I&D within a company and providing actionable intelligence to management.

It is important to understand that good survey data is inversely proportional to the confidentiality of responses. PwC reports that data aggregated from over 3,000 survey respondents from 40 countries shows a disconnect between I&D priority and perception. A key reason for such dissonance is the lack of empowerment and accountability for I&D within leadership.

diversity statistics

Once firms have their diversity data, they need to continuously examine and identify and address problem areas to meet internal diversity goals. Collecting diversity data but not analyzing it leaves organizations without valid insights, thus the inability to fix I&D problems.

There may be some instances that due to some past experiences and notions, employees may not be able to express their ideas freely every time. By creating secure, anonymous, and safe channels, the organization displays its commitment to concerns in action.

It tells the employees that you are interested in listening to their ideas, feedback, and observations, which helps build trust and instill confidence. Dip checks, anonymous pulse surveys spread periodically can be a great way to identify gaps, employee alignment to the practices, and gather candid feedback.

7. Discrimination complaints

An important tool in the diversity enablement process is how companies respond to discrimination complaints. Ensuring that complaints are handled fairly and equitably represents a commitment to equal opportunities and reduces legal costs.

Data shows that almost half of discrimination complaints lead to some form of retaliation, or worse yet, harassment of the employee.

Some sociologists recommend that companies experiment with new ways to deal with discrimination, including creating ombudspersons and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which are run by third parties and provide unbiased advice discriminating against employees.

8. Technology

Technology is the lifeblood of the workplace. It is important to make sure that technology does not exacerbate biases. Sometimes, this can be in the form of technology complexity, which precludes the success of certain individuals who may have more difficulty with newer technology but can bring tremendous value to the company in other areas.

In the end, inclusion and diversity cannot just be a catchphrase or be about checking a box. The data clarifies that greater diversity – both gender and ethnicity – is a gauge of significantly better performance. For leaders in the corporate world, there are few obvious methods to improve profitability. Investing heavily in I&D is one of them.

9. Constant reinforcing

Apart from the daily display of right behaviour and action, planning events that focus on inclusivity, celebrating occasions focused on diversity, driving projects/assignments that require global teams to come together can be fun ways of continually reinforcing the right behaviour required for driving inclusion and promoting diversity. Engaging with communities outside work as part of social responsibility can be another great way to expose employees to diversity and create respect and acceptance.

“Companies with “two-dimensional” diversity are 45% more likely to report that they had captured a larger portion of the market and 70% more likely to have entered into a new market in the past year.” — HBR

10. Encourage knowledge sharing

Having well-defined mentoring, job shadowing, coaching, or a simple buddy system will allow easy assimilation of a new joiner and smooth sharing of ideas and knowledge.

It will also promote the concept of people working together, getting to know each other, respect each other and create acceptance. With further technological advancements and more and more organizations going global, having well functional D&I initiatives have become integral to our success.

As we move from shock to adaptation and eventual emergence from the effects of the pandemic, we will see only the well-designed D&I initiatives yielding results.

But as work from home / virtual working becomes a new normal, diversity will continue to increase. What we do need to watch out for is consistency in driving inclusion. Organizations and their leaders will need to exercise emotional intelligence to drive inclusion effectively.

A sense of trust, a conscious effort to connect with all, an honest, candid, and open discussion, forums for all to connect and be heard will need to become part of our daily efforts.

This pandemic turned out to be an opportunity for the organizations to gauge how truly and deeply their inclusion practices were embedded and sown in their DNA. How we sustain, adapt, grow, and thrive as an organization will surely have D&I as one of the pillars in its foundation.

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Mukul Chopra

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Mukul Chopra is Adjunct Faculty member at Heinz College. Mukul Chopra has served in technology leadership roles for over two decades. He has a passion for business transformation and digital strategy.