Diversity matters to a 21st century workforce

Diversity is a term that has become ubiquitous in the business lexicon in recent years – so much so that there is sometimes the temptation to dismiss it as little more than a checklist item, a piece of corporate window dressing. This would be a mistake, however, according to executives at some of the world’s biggest companies.

Demographics in 21st century business have flipped. Women and minority groups are now recognised as a critical part of the workforce mix. Personal empowerment and a greater acceptance of difference have meant a rise in recognition for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. In addition, today’s workforce is made up of four different generations – “traditionalists”, “boomers”, “generation-Xers” and “millennials” – all with their own ways of working, living and looking at the world.

Keeping such a varied workforce actively engaged is key to ensuring high levels of productivity, innovation and service. And, as a result, companies are holistically involving their HR departments to secure a future that has diversity embedded into the culture.

Ben Thompson, managing editor, GDS International

Kellie Chapman, Microsoft’s director of diversity recruiting, describes the process of nurturing diversity as being centered around three key pillars. “The first pillar is representation, and that’s about increasing the diversity pipeline,” she explains. “Next is inclusion, which is all about supporting the cultivation of an inclusive workforce, ensuring that everyone’s ideas are valued and included. And the last piece is market innovation – understanding that the marketplace is changing and we have to be prepared as a company to sell to and represent the global communities that we serve.

“By focusing on innovation and having diversity,” she continues, “we’re able to build diverse products that meet the needs of very diverse customers, and that in turn helps us grow our business. Ultimately, it’s going to spur creativity.”

Indeed, the business proposition for diversity and inclusion is that it really improves the bottom line. If a company’s talent base is reflective of the marketplace itself, it can better understand and sell products and services to a more diverse customer base – which explains why so many firms are placing diversity at the heart of their people management efforts.

“Diversity is at the centre of everything we do,” says Ceree Eberly, chief people officer at Coca-Cola. “And we have a very simple definition of it: to be as inclusive as our brand. If you look at that, the definition goes across gender, race, everything. And by focusing on diversity as a business advantage, I actually think that we are benefiting everyone.”

As global leaders such as Microsoft, Coca-Cola and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) have discovered, a successful diversity program is about learning how to work across differences in order to unlock true business value. “Diversity, ultimately, is about how we build an organization with talented individuals from very different backgrounds,” confirms PwC’s chief diversity officer, Niloufar Molavi. “I don’t think diversity is ever going to become passé – unless we believe that managing talent is no longer relevant.”

Ben Thompson, managing editor, GDS International

XpertHR has a range of good practice resources on equal opportunities.

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