For all the hullaballoo about diversity, what do we know about it and is it needed? Let’s start by exploring some facts about the case for diversity:
In the UK, the Women and Work Commission found that better use of women’s skills in work could be worth between £15 – 23bn for the economy each year.
The spending power of people over 65 i.e. the grey pound is set to hit the £100bn mark.
Recent surveys in the USA show that 70% of all consumer spending is made by women.
It is expected that ethnic minority spending power will soon top £300bn.
Despite clear evidence that diversity is especially crucial in today’s global marketplace, businesses are still very slow and sometimes reluctant to embrace this change. This is because diversity as a concept sounds simple in theory, however in practice it is rather difficult. The first challenge is the heavily entrenched and archaic recruitment processes/graduate schemes in most organisations. For example, a recent article in The Guardian reports that the UK’s top professions are terribly skewed towards privately educated people compared to the general profile of the UK population.
Furthermore, when we generally speak about the positive impact of diversity we assume that everyone gets on or will get on. This is simply not true as workplaces today are riddled with biases. Bias in today’s workplace is largely implicit, making it ambiguous and often very difficult to prove. One of the common misconceptions about biases is that only the so-called ‘majority’ population holds them. In fact, members of any group are capable of holding stereotypes about particular categories of people. Unconscious behavior is not just individual; it influences organisational culture as well. Unconscious organisational patterns exert an enormous influence over organisational decisions, choices and behaviours. These deep-seated company characteristics are often the reason that despite our best conscious efforts, the ‘organisational unconscious’ perpetuates the status quo and keeps old patterns and norms firmly rooted.
Finally, most organisations tend to think of diversity in terms of the ‘visible differences’ between people, such as gender, age and race. Diversity is about these differences, but this narrow focus ultimately falls short of what it really means. For diversity to deliver on its promise, organisations should harness a more powerful and nuanced kind of diversity: diversity of thought. This broader view is encapsulated by the idea that different perspectives and heuristics are the real point of difference, rather than our visible differences.
In spite of these dreary facts, there are glimmers of hope as some companies are beginning to realise the potential for diversity and what it means for creativity, productivity and innovation. For example, companies like Gen Mills, HP Inc. and Verizon have demanded their Ad Agencies to shed the “mad men like reputation” and recruit a more diverse workforce. In fact, back in August, Gen Mills insisted on its Ad Agency’s’ creative departments to be staffed with 50% women and 20% blacks. Similarly, John Lewis recently promoted Paula Nickolds to the role of MD – the first female MD in its 152 year history.
It is time to make diversity a top priority and the businesses that fail to see the importance of this, according to Sahar Andrade, ’might find themselves unable to attract and retain the kinds of customers, employees, and business partners that constitute our changing world in 5 to 10 years’.