“Diversity” and “Inclusion” are popular buzzwords in corporate boardrooms today, but what do these mean within the 21st century workplace? When we think of workforce diversity, gender is often the predominant factor and the proverbial glass ceiling is a vivid association. This, however, is not sufficient to take a view of the tangible ways in which diversity has trickled into our workspaces. For example, we are working with a much more varied set of racial and ethnic groups today. Studies show that most organisations employ a mix of four to five generations of people, from “baby boomers” and “traditionalists” to Gen X and Y.
Such varied talent brings a variety of perspectives and expertise to the table, which is imperative for companies to innovate and grow in the modern business landscape. The nature of work itself is changing, and diverse thinking will be critical to face the challenges of tomorrow. Several studies have shown that diverse sets of people effectively translate to more innovative thinking and problem solving, which are integral to adapt to change. Leveraging the diversity of talent can thus help companies innovate and improve performance even through challenging times, and consistently drive the bottom line.
Look at the increasing purchasing power amongst women. From mothers to urban professional women, these are the decision makers that businesses are directly talking to and it is important that they find representation in the workforce. Our biggest asset, our talent, leaves the company each day and is part of the very society we serve. Companies who recognize this have strong resonance with the marketplace, which is key to building goodwill and reputation.
The irony of the situation, however, is that while diverting all our energies into building this diverse mix, we often miss out on the engine that is necessary to drive it – inclusivity. Embracing these differences in thought, action, opinions and approaches is where the rubber meets the road. Inclusivity opens the stage for open interactions, exchange of ideas and knowledge, and assimilation of differences, the imperatives that drive innovation and creativity.
The emerging class of workers are not just looking for a job to pay bills; they are searching for meaning and self-realisation from their work. None of this is possible without an inclusive work culture, which gives them the space to derive that meaning. Inclusivity embraces individual differences in a way that each employee comes to work with a feeling of being free to bring their complete self. Not just the acceptable part, not just the professional side, not sans the quirks and characteristics that create their individuality. Organisations go about doing this in different ways – by fostering transparency, higher engagement, improving recognition and encouraging communication. These are all ways to say, “We value the individual you are and we want to hear your unique story”.
Whether it is increasing profitability, building powerful products, enhancing local connect or expanding your global footprint, every business need is rooted in the capabilities of the workforce. In order to bring alive these capabilities, employees need to feel valued and appreciated. Diversity injects the work culture with the very basic framework for individual talent to shine through – dissimilarities. And inclusivity ensures that these dissimilarities are recognised and celebrated. At the end of the day, diversity and inclusivity are about valuing human differences. Conflicts and arguments, debates and disagreements; these are the roots of new ideas. We need to respect and embrace the power of every individual to truly give power to the whole.