Supporting diversity in the workplace is the right thing to do.
Promoting workplace diversity contributes to more equitable — and ultimately more successful — professional environments. Managers who foster inclusive environments build more effective teams, boost employee engagement, and improve organizational performance.
The Value of Diverse Teams
Diversity can refer to racial and ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, religion, citizenship status, language proficiency, education, or age.
The value of diverse teams can be found in the countless differences — and different viewpoints — that individual employees bring to the table. Unique backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives provide numerous benefits:
- Greater creativity and innovation
- More effective problem-solving
- Better decision-making
Such benefits are largely self-evident, but experts have quantified the advantages associated with diversity. For example, a Boston Consulting Group study found a link between more diverse leadership teams and high levels of innovation and revenue. Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams reported innovation revenue (defined as revenue from new products and services launched over the past three years) that was 19% higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity.
How to Support a Diverse Workforce
Managers can support diverse workforces with numerous practices and measures.
1. Prioritize Diversity in Hiring
Making diversity a focus of the hiring process can start with changes as simple as revising job listings to include clear statements of support for diversity and inclusion. Hiring managers can help build diverse workforces by actively recruiting people from marginalized groups. Those efforts may entail extending candidate searches to outreach programs that promote historically marginalized groups; creating an internship program that targets underrepresented or marginalized groups; or participating in job fairs at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions, or women’s colleges.
Forming diverse search committees increases the likelihood of recognizing talent in a broader range of candidates; it also promotes transparency and demonstrates to job candidates the organization’s commitment to diversity. Growth in diversity, particularly within an organization’s management ranks, can stimulate employee engagement. Employees who see diverse representation at all levels of their companies naturally feel more comfortable communicating ideas and concerns with managers.
2. Review Policies and Procedures
Thorough assessments of existing policies and procedures can uncover systemic issues that contribute to workplace inequity. An audit of benefits may reveal an exclusive family leave policy that fails to support LGBTQ parents; an examination of work environments may uncover failures to fully provide for the needs of disabled workers; a review of work procedures may show that limits on remote work and flexible schedules put undue strain on single parents; a hiring retrospective may highlight a tendency among managers to recruit friends and acquaintances.
Identifying such issues is a crucial first step, but those efforts only promote inclusiveness if they result in substantive change, which typically requires cross-departmental cooperation and executive-level support. Though challenging, the implementation of more equitable policies provides organizations with a powerful opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to diversity. By acknowledging shortcomings in existing policies and taking action to create more equitable rules, companies communicate to employees that diversity initiatives are more than pro forma gestures.
3. Look Inward, Learn, and Solicit Feedback
Managers who are serious about supporting a diverse workforce should examine their own practices. Reviewing their role and thought process in areas such as employee evaluations, promotions, and succession planning can reveal telling trends, such as a tendency to support and advance workers with similar backgrounds and traits as their own. Learning more about not just diversity but also implicit bias and systemic racism can make managers more aware of such tendencies and more sensitive to disparities in the way different employees are treated. Soliciting feedback from employees and colleagues can also bring issues to light; for example, managers may learn that they’ve been using outdated terms when referring to race or ethnicity, that they’ve been treating male and female employees differently, or that they’ve been using the wrong pronoun when addressing or referring to a colleague.
Engaging in meaningful introspection and being open to constructive feedback about issues such as bias and discrimination can be deeply discomforting, but any distress it causes should be weighed against the pain and damage caused by (even unconscious) discriminatory behavior. Managers who take steps to identify and address their own biases become better managers, benefiting their employees and themselves.
4. Invest in Diversity Training
Diversity training can provide managers and their employees with a broader understanding of diverse groups. It can also help them learn practical ways for treating people in ways that respect their differences. For example, managers can learn how different management styles can be more effective for interacting with different employees. What one employee might find motivating could make another feel antagonized; what one might see as autonomy or latitude might feel like neglect to another.
How different people perceive these things depends largely on their cultural background and experiences. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training can build empathy and awareness. Training that is conducted at a department or company level also provides participants with a shared understanding and language for discussing diversity issues.
5. Foster a Culture of Inclusion
Just as employees can be diverse in countless ways, managers and companies can foster inclusion in countless ways. Examples of actions an organization may take include offering on-site day care, allowing employees to take time off for religious holidays, or forming partnerships with community organizations that serve marginalized populations.
Because the goal is to better serve the needs of employees, employees should participate in efforts to foster an inclusive culture. A diversity team comprising workers from different departments can guide candidate recruitment and training, lead diversity initiatives inside the company, and identify outside causes that provide opportunities for all employees to learn about different perspectives and challenges. When managers empower their employees to make positive organizational change, they promote diversity and leadership.
Promoting Diversity as an Organizational Leader
Promoting workplace diversity requires continual action, constant reflection, and a commitment to doing what’s right. St. Catherine University produces compassionate, ethical leaders who act with intention to support justice and bring about organizational change.
Our Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL) program prepares students to take on greater responsibilities, advance their careers, and bring an informed perspective to organizations that help them succeed. Students can choose from various concentrations:
- Dispute resolution
- Ethics and leadership
- Healthcare leadership
- Information services and technology
- Nonprofit and public leadership
- Spirituality and leadership
- Strategic leadership
The MAOL program emphasizes collaboration, interpersonal connections, and a holistic view of personal and professional growth in its leadership training. It also demonstrates a commitment to diversity with a curriculum that integrates multicultural and global perspectives in every course. Visit St. Catherine University’s MAOL program to learn more.
Boston Consulting Group, “How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation”
World Economic Forum, “The Business Case for Diversity in the Workplace Is Now Overwhelming”