If you want to build a company that attracts and retains top talent, drives innovation, and consistently outperforms the competition, there’s arguably no hiring and HR strategy more important than workplace diversity.
Diversity in the workplace can lead to a host of benefits for your organization and your employees. But what exactly is diversity in the workplace? Why is it so important? And how can you put it into practice and make your workplace more diverse?
Below, we take a look at how to define diversity in the workplace and why workplace diversity is such a critical part of building a successful and sustainable organization — as well as actionable steps you can take to make workplace diversity a priority within your organization.
What Is Workplace Diversity?
As the name implies, workplace diversity is a term related to the variation of people that are employed within an organization.
“Workplace diversity is terminology used to describe organizations that have employees with a wide range of unique characteristics…[including] race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age...and other areas,” explained Alicia Reece, executive coach, corporate consultant, and talent strategist with experience partnering with organizations to implement and enhance their diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs.
An organization that embraces workplace diversity will have people from a wide variety of groups and backgrounds represented in their workforce; differences in things like race, gender, or sexual orientation across team members are the norm. On the flip side, an organization lacking in workplace diversity will seem like they only employ one or two types of people, with the majority of people coming from a similar group or background. For example, this could look like an organization with a staff that’s 90% white or male or under the age of 35.
Why Workplace Diversity Is So Important
Diversity in the workplace can drive a variety of benefits for your organization, including:
- Better Performance: One of the strongest arguments for building a more diverse workplace is that diverse companies simply perform better than their less diverse counterparts. According to McKinsey's 2018 Delivering Through Diversity report, companies in the top quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to experience industry-leading profitability. Similarly, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior longer-term value creation when compared to companies with less gender diverse executive teams.
- Talent Attraction: Diversity in the workplace is important to employees. So if you want to attract top talent, workplace diversity is a must. According to Glassdoor’s 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Workplace Survey, 76% of US employees and job seekers said that a diverse workforce is an important factor they consider when evaluating companies and job offers.
- Stronger Teams: When you hire a diverse group of people, each employee brings different perspectives and ideas to the table, which can lead to stronger, more effective teams. “Diverse teams are more collaborative, make better decisions, [and] are more innovative,” said Jess Wass, an organizational development consultant who also specializes in D&I consulting. Reece echoed this sentiment: “Having a diverse set of people solving a problem will bring a broad view of ideas that will bring debate, ultimately landing with the most innovative solution possible,” she said.
- Stronger Customer Connections: Chances are, your organization serves a diverse customer base. And the more diverse your workforce, the more likely it is that customers will have employees to identify with, which can create a stronger sense of connection with and loyalty to your organization. “Having an employee base that represents the customers they serve will create more connectivity [between the customer and the company],” Reece noted.
How to Make Your Workplace More Diverse
Prioritizing workplace diversity is a critical part of building a thriving organization. But even with the best of intentions, it’s not always easy to translate this concept into actionable steps that will have a lasting impact on your organization. If you want to put workplace diversity into practice at your company, here are four concrete steps you can take right now to make it happen.
1. Make diversity a priority in your hiring processes.
Workplace diversity starts with who you hire. If you want to build a more diverse organization, you need to begin by taking a look at your hiring practices.
When you’re hiring for a position, it’s important to make sure hiring managers have a diverse set of candidates to choose from and interview. So part of your procedure for sourcing candidates should be to “ensure that at least 50% of the interview candidate slate is diverse,” Reece said.
Getting more diverse candidates into your candidate pool could take a variety of forms. For example, you might give your recruiters clear metrics on how many diversity candidates to source on LinkedIn or other recruiting platforms, or you could focus your recruiting efforts in places where you’re likely (or guaranteed) to gain exposure to more diverse candidates.
“Consider building relationships with universities and other professional associations that are diverse in nature, such as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the Society of Women Engineers, [or ] Prospanica (formerly the National Society of Hispanic MBAs),” Reece recommended.
Once you have a diverse set of candidates you’re considering for the position, it’s also important to “implement diverse interview panels,” said Reece. For example, if your interview panel is all men, chances are, they’re likely to gravitate toward male candidates — and a male candidate may be more likely to land the positions as a result. Conversely, if your interview panel has all genders and gender identities equally represented, it will help to mitigate gender-related biases in the interview process, which could ultimately lead to more diversity in your hiring practices.
2. Set clear, measurable diversity goals.
If you truly want to build a more diverse organization, workplace diversity can’t just be a concept or an idea. There needs to be a clear path from where you are now to where you want to go. In other words, you need clear, measurable diversity goals.
“There’s the old saying, ‘What gets measured gets done,’” Wass said. “Diversity goals should be treated like any other goal set within the company — which means...setting a goal, measuring the baseline, measuring progress, and reviewing results.”
When setting your diversity initiatives, use the SMART goal framework, and make sure that every goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. For instance, a vague goal like “Make the workplace more diverse” doesn’t lay the foundation for real change. Instead, a SMART goal like “Increase minority representation on the engineering team by 25% by the end of the quarter” will be much more likely to drive real results, and actually help you build a more diverse workforce.
3. Focus on management.
When it comes to building a more diverse workplace, there are few people more important than leaders, and if you want to make workplace diversity a priority within your organization, it’s essential to get all the people in leadership positions (i.e. managers) on board.
“Managers will make or break an employee experience,” said Reece. “[So you need to] ensure that managers share in the commitment to cultivate a diverse and inclusive work environment for [everyone].”
In addition to ensuring that your current managers are invested in D&I, it’s also important to make sure any new managers, whether hired externally or promoted from within, also have the same commitment to building a diverse workplace.
“When you are considering people for manager roles, evaluate them on their diversity and inclusive mindset — and, more importantly, what they have done to cultivate this type of culture [within the organization],” Reece advised.
And the final — and arguably most important — element in leveraging management to create more diversity within your organization is to prioritize placing diverse candidates into leadership positions.
“Emphasis must be placed on people with underserved and minoritized identities...being leaders at every level of the workplace,” said Kimya Nuru Dennis, PhD, founder of 365 Diversity, a consultancy that offers a variety of diversity-focused services including workshops, evaluations, and trainings. “Being diverse is tokenism if there are numbers without voices, without input, without inclusion, and without equity.”
4. Build workplace diversity into your company culture.
There are plenty of things you can do to cultivate diversity in the workplace. For example, you could coordinate a diversity training for your existing employees, host a diversity hiring event, or send your executive leadership team to a workshop on D&I-focused leadership.
And all of those things are great efforts — but they’re not enough. “One-time activities and events like a one-hour diversity training are nice, but won't change anything unless they are coupled with an actual DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) strategy,” Wass said.
If workplace diversity is truly a priority, you need to go beyond any single training, event, or workshop. You need to make workplace diversity and inclusion a foundational element of your organizational strategy and company culture.
If you haven’t already done so, consider creating a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) policy that outlines your company’s commitment to ensure a supportive, fair, and inclusive work environment. Explore our DEIB policy template for an example policy framework to help get you started.
“Make diversity and inclusion common language and actions that become a part of the fabric of the organization,” said Reece. “[Workplace diversity] is not an initiative; it’s a cultural set of values that permeates through everything and everybody in the organization.”
For example, instead of hosting a once-a-year diversity training, work diversity training into your existing organizational structure: You could incorporate diversity training into your onboarding program and host regular lunch-and-learns on things like better diversity hiring practices or how to foster more effective collaboration on diverse teams, for instance. Or, instead of hosting a one-time diversity hiring event, have a clear diversity hiring strategy that touches each part of your hiring process and consistently brings new, diverse talent into your organization. Or, rather than having a speaker come in to talk about diversity in the workplace once per quarter, create space for ongoing diversity-based conversations, and continually ask your team for feedback about how to improve D&I initiatives within your company.
Creating a truly diverse workplace is about more than a training or event — it’s about working diversity into your company culture in a meaningful and lasting way.
Understanding workplace diversity — and taking the necessary steps to provide a diverse, inclusive, and safe work environment for all employees — is a critical part of building a successful organization. And while the steps we’ve covered here are a great place to start, it’s important to remember that workplace diversity isn’t about embracing a temporary trend; it’s about creating real, lasting, and meaningful change.
“[Workplace diversity] is beyond catchwords, catchphrases, ideas, concepts, theories, research citations, news stories, and Internet hashtags,” said Dennis. “This is about measurable and lasting changes and outcomes.”