Diversity in business

A pat on the back for embracing diversity. But are you failing at inclusion?

Here is where you might be going wrong with your organisation’s diversity efforts

Read several job posts and you will notice a common set of wording. Many hiring businesses will include a statement encouraging a diverse demographic of individuals to apply. 

Is this an indication that the business is sold on the benefits of diversity? 


Here are a five diversity benefits that a business has likely been sold on:

  • Diverse organisations are more creative

According to research by Harvard professor Roy Y.J. Chua, “The more your network includes individuals from different cultural backgrounds, the more you will be creatively stimulated by different ideas and perspectives”. Diverse teams can generate fresh solutions and ideas driven by previously untapped thoughts and experiences.

  • Diverse organisations are more aware of their customer needs

Ask a busy millennial parent how they want a business to communicate with them and they will probably elect live chat or a direct messaging application. Ask a retired aged care resident the same question and they might ask that the business pick up the phone and let them talk to a real person. Diverse businesses bring different points of view to policy making which in turn can ensure similarly diverse customer needs are being considered.

  • Diverse organisations solve problems quickly

Research by Alison Reynolds and David Lewis published in the Harvard Business Review shows that teams that are cognitively diverse tend to solve problems the fastest. A considered amount of cognitive diversity can ensure a problem is dealt with using a wide variety of viewpoints and experiences, which in turn can reach an outcome faster.

  • Diverse organisations break through unconscious bias 

Leaders can unknowingly hire in their own image, particularly personality types. The term is “affinity bias”. Leanin.org explains it as “Affinity bias is what it sounds like: we gravitate toward people like ourselves in appearance, beliefs, and background. And we may avoid or even dislike people who are different from us”. Diversity policies help leaders to cut through this bias. 

  • Diverse organisations are more adaptable

A diverse team means a greater range of skills and ideas are brought to the innovation table. Research by Cloverpopshows diverse teams make better decisions up to 87% of the time. As business environments inevitably change, a diverse workforce collectively has a greater set of skills and lived experiences to draw on, to help bring good decisions to life. This allows for faster adaption to unexpected issues.

“In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed… It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” 

~ Charles Darwin ~

The diversity box is ticked. But there can be consequences

Workplace diversity has been receiving time in the spotlight. Government parties are being challenged to diversify their representation. There is even a diversity index composed by global financial data provider Refinitiv. It ranks over 11,000 companies, measured by 24 metrics, on diversity of their workforce. 

Whilst this spotlight is welcomed, the notion of diversity could be misleading and nothing more than a box ticking exercise if not equitable and coupled with inclusion.      

A definition lesson. Diversity v’s Equity v’s Inclusion

Dr. Robert Sellers is Professor of Psychology and Education at University of Michigan. He provides a relatable, light-hearted definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion:

  • Diversity is where everyone is invited to the party
  • Equity means that everyone gets to contribute to the playlist
  • Inclusion means that everyone has the opportunity to dance

Diversity means a workforce is made up of people from all backgrounds, with varied perspectives. It spans age, gender, culture, religion, sexual orientation, physical disability, neurodiversity, socio-economic status and more. It represents a spectrum of human differences.

Equity focuses on making sure the workforce receives opportunities to put forward their contribution without bias, harassment, discrimination, or threat of any kind.

Inclusion takes steps to embrace all that diversity brings, and create an environment where thoughts, ideas and experiences can be safely shared and put into action.

Psychological safety is the key to diversity working

In conducting their research into Work Group Diversity, Daan van Knippenberg and Michaela C Schippers found that creativity and innovation, shown to be a benefit of hiring a diverse workforce, only occurs when psychological empowerment is high. Also known as psychological safety.

Psychological safety “is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes” (Reynolds and Lewis in the Harvard Business Review.

Psychological safety comes from inclusion

Inclusion is not the same as diversity. Simply hiring a broad demographic of characteristics will make little difference to outcomes if any or all demographics don’t feel safe to contribute.

Inclusion is a feeling of belonging both in culture and environment. 

Inclusion is ensuring people are valued, respected, and encouraged to participate. 

Inclusion has no room for tokenism.

Truly inclusive organisations ensure their people feel appreciated and valued for their unique characteristics. They have a culture of idea sharing with authenticity. Contributions are not only heard but acted upon.  

Diversity without inclusion is a story of missed opportunities

A 2017 Harvard Business Review publication “Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion” summarises the interwoven relationship of diversity and inclusion best: 

“Diversity without inclusion is a story of missed opportunities, of employees so used to being overlooked that they no longer share ideas and insights. But diversity with inclusion provides a potent mix of talent retention and engagement”.

An organisation with an understanding that diversity and inclusion are not the same is on the right track. 

An organisation that addresses diversity and inclusion separately and with equal importance can truly pat themselves on the back. 

With focus on both diversity and inclusion, people benefit and so do businesses.

Over to you. What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion? Leave a comment.

Loren Turnbull is the owner of The Specialists – In Business.

When not indulging in her love of travel, motorbikes or food, she is passionate about helping small business owners. Using the resources of her amazing Specialists team, Loren’s mission is to help clients kick butt in the business world.

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