Diversity & Inclusion

Employers urged to make diversity a business strategy, not just an obligation

As human resources teams strive to attract and retain top talent, they often turn their focus to the strengths that come from having a diverse workforce. But a new study suggests that a focus on diversity alone may come up short if companies aren’t also thinking about inclusion. The recently released Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report shows that most of the organizations participating in the study say their organizations promote diversity, but not nearly so many see the full business benefits of a diverse workforce. The study report states that leading companies are doing more than just building a diverse workforce; they’re building inclusive workplaces, “enabling them to transform diversity programs from a compliance obligation to a business strategy.”  ThoughtDiversity

The Deloitte study included the views of more than 2,500 business and HR leaders in 94 countries. The survey shows that just 20 percent of the companies participating in the study believe that they are fully realizing all the benefits of diversity.

Going beyond requirements

“Why are so many companies falling short?” the report asks. “One view is that many companies still treat diversity primarily as a matter of compliance—a regulatory box to be checked.”

The study identifies two themes to help companies “transition from simply meeting minimum regulatory requirements for diversity to building an inclusive workplace that inspires all employees to perform at their highest level. Those themes are:

  • Diversity of thinking as a business imperative.
  • A focus on inclusion as well as diversity itself.

The study advises employers to broaden their understanding of diversity beyond what’s visible—race, gender, age, and physical ability—and also focus on diversity of thinking. “This means deriving value from people’s different perspectives on problems and different ways to address solutions,” the report states. “It’s a complex world, it’s a global world, and maximal participation is required from every workplace participant from the bottom to the top.”

Don’t downplay differences

The study also speaks of the importance of “uncovering talent” and cites research from Kenji Yoshino at New York University Law School and Christie Smith of Deloitte University’s Leadership Center for Inclusion that suggests inclusion initiatives often don’t recognize how inclusion is predicated on assimilation. “In response to pressures to assimilate, individuals downplay their differences,” the study states.

Employers should pay attention to that downplaying, or “covering,” of differences “not because they are ‘playing defense’ against lawsuits, but because they are ‘playing offense’ to create a more inclusive culture over and above legal compliance,” the study says.

The report advocates connecting diversity of thinking with inclusion for best results in accessing top talent, improving performance and innovation, retention, and even understanding customers.

“Companies that build diversity and inclusion into their teams reap the benefits of new ideas, more debate, and, ultimately, better business decisions,” the study states. In addition, “a diverse workforce creates opportunities to appeal to a more diverse customer base.”

Expanding the idea of diversity into a focus on inclusion requires employers to consider how willing they are to embrace new ideas and accept different styles of thinking, such as whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert, the research says. It also allows a more flexible work environment, encourages collaboration, and allows for different kinds of leaders.

The report calls a diverse workforce “a company’s lifeblood” and points to diverse perspectives and approaches as the “only means of solving complex and challenging business issues.”

“Deriving the value of diversity means uncovering all talent, and that means creating a workplace characterized by inclusion,” the report states. “Our research shows that most organizations are not there yet, but change is in the wind, and market leaders are starting to move from compliance to inclusion as a business strategy.”