Last August, I had an illuminating conversation with an equal rights activist working in the hub of Toronto, Ontario. During this conversation, I spoke about the LGBT workforce and what could be done to ameliorate company cultures, making them more inclusive of the LGBT community. The activist turned to me and said “Have you heard of TD bank? They have phenomenal initiatives prioritising LGBT inclusivity at work. All of my LGBT friends who work at TD bank are filled with praise when it comes to inclusivity there.” Interesting; I was captivated. What made this company so appealing?
Inspired by TD Bank’s efforts of promoting LGBT inclusion, I began to consider effective strategies for inclusion, for organisations seeking to attract diverse candidates. I decided that it would be interesting to examine whether or not different approaches to diversity statements could influence how inclusive a company feels to prospective LGBT employees. In my research, I observed two ways in which diversity statements can be constructed:
- Through a focus on differences (you provide a unique and diverse contribution to the company)
- Through a focus on similarities (we value you equally to any other employee, everyone is valuable in the same way).
Interestingly, the results of the study (including over 200 participants) indicated that a value in differences approach was far more favourable than one with a value in similarities, for LGBT respondents. This is because, a value in similarities approach deemphasizes the group identity (being LGBT) for the individual, conveying intolerance of group member differences (Levy et al., 2005). In turn, valuing differences can reduce anticipated scrutiny and stereotyping. The language used in the value in differences approach emphasizes notions of valuing differences and mutual respect. In doing so, it acts as a cue to refute threatening identity contingencies associated with sexual orientation, developed through numeric underrepresentation, social hierarchies and stereotypes.
As such, in addition to mentioning LGBT members in a company’s diversity statement – which is practiced at TD Bank and many other companies – the approach taken in the statement itself, also plays a significant role in whether or not prospective employees feel comfortable joining a company. In fact, my research showed that highlighting a value for differences, improves prospective LGBT employees’ perception of trust, comfort, belonging and ability to express their sexual orientation in the workplace.
When people feel comfortable and can express themselves authentically at work, they perform better, have increased engagement and increased productivity. Having a diverse and inclusive culture at work can also promote better employee satisfaction, talent management, corporate reputation and collaboration. As such, fostering a culture of inclusivity, should be a top priority for companies today.
All of the outcomes mentioned above have serious practical implications for a company’s success. Specifically, an increase in LGBT employee members coming out, for example, is crucial as currently over half of LGBT employees choose not to even disclose their sexual orientation at work. In turn, research has shown that coming out to colleagues decreases distraction, depression, exhaustion, anxiety and stress at work. As ‘coming out’ is often held back because of perceived negative social identity contingencies, diversity statements catered towards reducing such negative social identity contingencies are crucial.
The research outlined above illustrates one approach companies can take to promote an inclusive company culture to prospective employees. By articulating inclusive cues, such as through the approach taken in a diversity statement, companies can best prepare themselves for the future by attracting and retaining the best talent from the LGBT community, and other minority groups.
If you would like to share your own thoughts or questions about company culture and inclusivity, contact Raphael Korine, a member of our research team, here.
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’.
Henrik Ibsen’s play, Master Builder, tells the story of a self-made architect, Halvard Solness, who is increasingly afraid of the young displacing him. As I was watching the piece in the Old Vic Theatre a few weeks ago, one of Halvard’s lines caught my attention: “The young are waiting. In all their power. Knocking on the door.” This made me wonder whether Halvard’s fear is actually real. Will older workers be made redundant by young upstarts? Does the mature workforce need to step out of the young’s way and give them space? And what are the implications – positive and negative – for organisations?
It turned out Halvard was worried about a myth. The reality is that your organisation will see teams in which employees like Halvard and the young will work together. The young were not knocking on Halvard’s door to take his job. Quite the contrary, the young showed up to take jobs his activity created. So how exactly can employing older workers help your organisation grow and create more jobs in the process?
Age diversity provides you with the opportunity to combine skills and characteristics unique to different groups and thus create an effective and efficient organisation:
- The equivalent to Halvard in your organisation has been building their network for more than 40 years. The young know well that they cannot compete with that. Instead, on one hand, their ambition and determination can keep Halvard motivated. On the other hand, Halvard can transfer his network to the young, so your organisation has access to it when he retires.
- Younger workers are often still trying to define their mission and passion, which can translate into higher turnover. Indeed, according to one recent study, Millennials expect to change jobs every three years. Chances are Halvard has worked for you for a while and he has stayed with the organisation through thick and thin. This means he has a deep understanding of the history and culture of your company that cannot be easily emulated by new entrants.
- In the past decades, work became part of Halvard’s daily routine, and all of a sudden he has 8 hours on his hands to kill. Flexible working is a good way of helping people like Halvard transition to retirement. In fact, there has been a 140% increase in over-65s running their own business in the last decade, revealing the many new ways in which organisations can engage with more mature workers. It’s a win-win as the organisation retains Halvard’s critical skills at a reduced cost, and he gets some help with his pension too.
So what can you and your organisation do to avoid a Master Builder-like frustration?
- Help the Halvards in your organisations continually update their skills to stay relevant in a new day and age. Organisations such as GE and HP use reverse mentoring to help different generations learn from one another and to enhance generational cohesion.
- Sense check the signals you are sending to older workers. Do your people processes and practices signal that mature workers are valued? Or do pension arrangements, performance processes and training budgets signal that careers have a hard stop at 65 in your company?
- Break the perceived link between age and stage in your organisation. Retaining older workers will mean people may be managed by someone younger than them. This can create conflict in organisations in which progression and seniority are strongly linked to age and tenure. Creating more flexibility in career ladders is one way to ensure that age and seniority are no longer considered one and the same.
So, what’s the conclusion? Yes, the young are coming and knocking on the door in all their power. Halvard however still has a great deal to offer. As his good friend and counsel, Dr. Herdal, tells him, “You are not laid on the shelf yet, I should hope. Oh no—your position here is probably firmer now than it has ever been.”
Find out more about the challenges and opportunities of longevity by pre-ordering your copy of Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s upcoming book, The Hundred-Year Life at www.100yearlife.com or contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org
 As written on the Old Vic Theatre’s website.
 Milligan, B. Older workers create extra jobs for young people – report, BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation 2015
 Meister, J. Job Hopping is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials, Forbes, 2012
 Trends and Drivers of Workforce Turnover. Mercer Workforce Metrics Survey, 2014
 Altman, Dr. R. A New Vision for Older Workers: Retain, Retrain, Recruit, A Report to Government 2015
 Steimle, J. Reverse Mentoring – Investing in Tomorrow’s Business Strategy, Forbes, 2015
I asked Mandisi about the local talent pool in South Africa and his view on the education system: “I feel that the quality of students matriculating now is actually falling below previous generations. We still have a way to go in terms of equipping people with the skills they need to join the workforce ready-to-go,” he said. I asked what Ricoh was doing to solve the skills gap for its new graduates, “We take great care in on-boarding our new hires and have put in place a highly effective one-year programme. The first three months of the scheme are focussed on ensuring our hires have the foundation skills and capabilities they will need in order to unleash their potential here at Ricoh. They spend the remaining nine months in Ricoh offices, getting to know the team, the culture and effective ways of working.” Mandisi was enthusiastic about the ability of companies operating in South Africa to take on and train up local talent to become future leaders with valuable insight and connections in the region.
Finally we spoke about the great diversity in South Africa and the opportunities this presented for collaboration, “There are 11 national languages in South Africa, of which I speak 7,” Mandisi told me, having just taken a phone call in Xhosa (the language recognised for its distinctive use of clicks). “This reflects the great cultural variety in the region, and is just one of the many beautiful aspects of South Africa.” I had to agree. During my two week trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town I experienced the true warmth of this growing economy. What struck me most about South Africa and the many people I met, was the capacity for transformation. This vibrant country has emerged from a very recent and troubled past with an unmistakable desire for progress and a remarkable ability to make change happen. For businesses operating in the region, this capacity is perhaps the most alluring factor. Indeed, in South Africa, anything is possible.
by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
Roger Trapp has just published a great article referencing our recent inclusion and Diversity and events on the Forbes blog. Entitled Four Ways Leaders Can Energize their Employees, it covers issues of life stage diversity and career customisation that are facing all workers and employers today. As Roger points out, although often clustered under the diversity category, these challenges are actually about collaboration: “Suddenly, fostering collaboration and engineering serendipity are the watchwords for organizations looking for a competitive edge over their rivals.” It’s true that most organisations now recognise that collaboration is key to their success – but they are coming to this knowledge at the same time that their workforce is starting to diversify in ways they simply never imagined. As a result, there are still a lot of questions around these issues waiting to be answered. Business leaders may be the ones urgently looking for solutions, but it’s up to all of us to ponder them and come up with answers.
We’re always interested in the latest game-changing research, which is why we were so excited to have Hans-Joachim Wolfram, Lecturer in Occupational Psychology and Research Methods at Kingston University to speak at our recent workshop. Hans-Joachim turned many of the diversity field’s most familiar hypotheses on their head with some surprising findings from his research of surface- and deep-level diversity.
According to Hans-Joachim, when it comes to the work-family interplay, it is in fact job role importance rather than family life importance which increases the propensity to take up flexible working options, and it is those who place greater importance on their job role who experience greater positive spillover between their work and family life.
If you’d like to discover more about this fascinating area of research, watch the video online.