Embracing Diversity in the Workplace

The workforce is changing, growing more diverse is many areas. In The Top 10 Economic Facts of Diversity in the Workplace, Sophia Kerby and Crosby Burns note that according to a study by McKinsey & Company:

“The increase in women’s overall share of labor in the United States—women went from holding 37 percent of all jobs to 47 percent over the past 40 years—has accounted for about a quarter of current GDP.”

This change to balance out gender according to the population has taken time to happen, but new changes are underway with other minority groups pushing for acceptance and balancing of the scales “as more women, racial and ethnic minorities, and gay and transgender individuals enter the workforce.”

Effective Teams Require Mutual Respect

This increase in diversity raises a significant challenge. Employees must learn to work with people with different backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. Lacking respect for co-workers leads to a loss of team cohesion, and prevents us from all working together in an effective manner. Our society has made some significant strides in this regard, but we still have a long way to go as far as reaching true equality.

In order for a company to succeed, mutual respect between coworkers is necessary so that we can work together efficiently to conquer the many challenges we face in day-to-day activities. We can have our own beliefs, but we can’t exclude nor avoid those that do not share our beliefs… even if our beliefs collide.

Diversity Fuels Creativity

Diversity in a workplace allows ideas to cater to a much larger customer base, by incorporating differing viewpoints. Mary O’Neill reviewed a book by Steve Denning, and highlights points that Denning makes on the creative fuel that diversity provides.

If software development and/or engineering and user-experience work was all done by white heterosexual males, the result would almost inevitably fit a narrow customer base and hurt the applicability of a company’s products. Having gender, sexual, racial, and religious diversity in a workplace will aid our understanding and tolerance of these differences. Not to mention the more general applicability of product development.

The Kerby/Burns article notes that:

According to a  Forbes study in 2011, 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.

Having differing viewpoints, including sorting through disagreements, allows the catering to a much wider gamut and leads to a significantly healthier environment for creativity and happiness.

Openness and Acceptance Reduces Turnover

A study by the Center for American Progress shows that companies that foster openness and acceptance of diversity have lower turnover rates. Turnover is an expensive problem, causing lost productivity and high costs in needing to replace workers who have left due to feeling they have been discriminated against.

For instance, replacing an hourly worker typically costs $5k-$10k. Whereas replacing executives making around $100k costs a whopping $75k to over $200k to replace!

Diversity is Reality

Disagreement with another individual or group is a reality. There is no avoiding it. As the Kerby/Burns article notes:

Census data shows diversity is growing and that by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in our country. Further, between 2000 and 2050 new immigrants and their children will account for 83 percent of the growth in the working-age population.

People of color own 22.1 percent of U.S. businesses. Moreover, women own 28.8 percent of U.S. businesses, and Latina-owned businesses in particular are the fastest-growing segment of the women-owned business market.

Furthermore, openness about sexual orientation is growing rapidly, as laws change to prevent this realm of discrimination and foster acceptance:

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, gay or transgender individuals own approximately 1.4 million (or approximately 5 percent) of U.S. businesses.

We all have to learn how to accept and deal with our own shortcomings, prejudices and differences. Letting extraneous issues compound the complexities of working with others can only make things worse. We need to accept and embrace our differences and all work together. In doing so, the resultant outcome is a much healthier and enjoyable environment which will allow us ALL to thrive and be successful together.