Making the wrong moves on diversity can damage performance

Ignoring diversity can reduce productivity and performance, but badly managed efforts to introduce diversity run the risk of creating conflict and doing just as much to undermine business performance, according to research.

A report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says managers need to work to ensure that diversity drives inclusiveness and co-operation, and is about more than just box-ticking and employment quotas.

Dianah Worman, CIPD diversity adviser, said: “A diverse workforce bringing different people together, with different views, ideas, experiences and perspectives, can bring real benefits for business performance.

“But managed badly, efforts to improve diversity can have the opposite effect – creating conflict and tension in the workplace.”

According to the report, Managing diversity: linking theory and practice to business performance, the benefits of a diverse workforce include:

  • Customer focus – matching internal employee diversity to population diversity can provide performance benefits which enhance employees’ awareness of consumer needs
  • Business process – recruiting diverse talent will help to inject new ideas and challenge the ways of doing things that can hinder change and progress
  • Innovation – flexibility, creativity and ability to innovate are enhanced by the existence of dissimilar mindsets (constructive conflict supports ‘out of the box’ thinking)
  • Learning – employers have more choice from a greater skills base, improved employee satisfaction, reduced internal disputes, greater workplace harmony, improved retention and more effective and fairer promotion of talent. Knowledge is retained in the business and shared more effectively.

Managing diversity is about achieving a balance between different forces and challenges, the report says, so employers should also monitor areas that can prevent diversity generating benefits to the organisation, such as making sure it is not blocked by rigid systems or regulations and avoiding the just-in-time approach, which allows little opportunity to change team structures without opposing existing structures.

Dianah Worman, CIPD Diversity Adviser, says, “Measuring diversity will help employers to gain a genuine understanding of their staff, enabling them to understand the problems diversity can trigger, and look at ways to prevent problems from occurring.

“Measurement will allow employers to make full use of their assets and motivating them to apply their abilities in the interest of the business.”

The CIPD’s Annual Employment Law Conference takes place 28-29 June 2005.

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