A culture of diversity and inclusion (DE&I) isn’t just a feel-good initiative for organizations. DE&I values are strongly correlated with organizational health, performance, resilience, and are a worthy business investment with tangible returns.
A study carried out by McKinsey suggests that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability. This data indicates a trend that is too important to ignore – diversity & inclusion is vital for your company to succeed in the modern market environment, particularly during and after a crisis period.
COVID-19 is opening the door to a more diverse workforce by redesigning jobs and introducing new practices. Multiple biases are being diminished in favor of a more balanced workforce, enabling previously untapped talent to contribute to the economy and allowing organizations to tap into a broader range of potential candidate pools.
Understanding the definition of diversity, beyond gender
Conversations around diversity in the workplace traditionally tend to revolve around gender equality. There are two reasons for this – first, gender is easier to measure, requiring lesser efforts from an organization when conducting surveys and internal assessments. Also, gender inequality in the workplace has long been recognized as a pernicious issue, meriting the attention of corporates, activist groups, and governmental bodies.
However, in 2021, the conversation needs to go beyond gender to cover other vulnerable groups. The employee experience in the workplace can be influenced by as many as 34 parameters, meaning that there are 34 possible types of diversity you need to consider. From cognitive disabilities to neurodiversity, from cultural backgrounds to age and upbringing, from gender expression to biological sex – the definition of DE&I must factor in all the myriad nuances of the employee experience.
Legislation around gender equality already exists, e.g., wage equality laws in different parts of the world. In other areas of possible discrimination, companies must step up with internal governance policies, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination norms, and awareness training.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on DE&I
The values of DE&I were already inconsistently enforced before the pandemic. Some sectors like technology or the armed forces had a disproportionately low representation of women, employment of people of color rarely reflected the local demographic composition, and unconscious biases like confirmation bias or similarity bias still overwhelmingly shaped workplace decisions.
While companies and their leaders thought they were doing well, employees disagreed. PwC found that 63 percent of business leaders felt they were regularly speaking about DE&I and sharing DE&I-related information, but just 42 percent of employees agreed with this statement.
The pandemic has widened this gap even further. Companies are looking for experienced leaders to guide them in a crisis, and the experienced tend to look the same. In the search for experienced leaders, it is easy to fall back on the assessment parameters you have traditionally preferred, like an Ivy League education, aggressiveness/confidence, a history of working in developed economies. In other words, parameters associated with some sort of privilege. The number of women appointed to CEO positions during this time dipped from 12 percent to five percent. In many ways, the pandemic might have undone several years of progress towards diversity & inclusion in the workplace, which requires significant course correction in 2021.
DE&I is central to organizational growth during the rebound
Making DE&I part of your workplace culture could provide your company with a competitive advantage in 2021. To begin with, the top talents now look for a diverse, inclusive, non-discriminatory, and zero-tolerance workplace as a necessary trait when choosing an employer. 90 percent of millennials and Gen-X professionals say that a commitment to DE&I will affect their decision to work for a company. For this reason, job aggregator Glassdoor even introduced DE&I ratings for job listing last year.
Further, a diverse team is likely to encourage creativity, foster innovation, and drive overall performance. Academic research finds concrete evidence that culturally-diverse teams have greater potential for creativity than culturally homogeneous teams. Similarly, 85 percent of business leaders in a Forbes Insights survey agreed or strongly agreed that a diverse and inclusive workforce was central to cultivating different perspectives and ideas for meaningful innovation.
As a result, without prioritizing DE&I, you are unlikely to acquire the quality of talent you need to maximize the upcoming rebound stage. And even if you do, it will be next to impossible to create a workplace conducive to productivity and realizing their full potential. Finally, no matter your internal success, more than 1 in 3 consumers will factor in your commitment to DE&I when making a purchasing decision.
Clearly, there are ample pull and push forces that make it crucial to imbibe the values of DE&I in 2021.
Driving change through transparency and open communication
To drive a successful DE&I strategy, you need buy-in from every stakeholder – from the newest frontline employee to the most loyal C-level leader. Today, 1 in 3 employees still believe that diversity could block their progression in the company indicating a chronic lack of effective two-way communication. Only 22 percent of them say that they are aware of any efforts currently being undertaken by the company to drive a more inclusive culture.
2021 must be all about addressing these missing pieces, advocating for DE&I within the workforce, transparently speaking about the drivers for transformation, and gathering inputs from employees – who are, after all, the intended beneficiaries of DE&I initiatives – on what can be done better. This will ensure that achieving a culture of diversity is a truly organic process, designed for the long-term and not skewed by short-term goals, hype, or compliance enforcement.