The Power of Diversity in the Future of Work

Inclusivity is key to long-term success

May 29, 2020 | By Shannon Helton-Amos
Inclusive leader running a virtual meeting with diverse team

No longer limited to the most progressive and forward-thinking companies, diversity, equity and inclusion have become key drivers of growth across industries.

Diversity, as the representation of different ethnicities, ages, races, genders, backgrounds and orientations, fosters innovation and ingenuity. However, it doesn't happen organically. Without systematic inclusivity, the actualization of diversity and its benefits is unattainable.

Evidence built over years proves that a more diverse and inclusive workplace is not merely a good idea, but that it can also have a significant positive impact on a business's bottom-line.

A report by McKinsey shows that companies with more ethnic, cultural, and gender diversity on their executive teams were 35% more likely to experience above-average profits. Diversity also drives resourcefulness and promotes employee engagement.

Even with these compelling factors, organizations across the globe continue to throttle their success by allowing homogeneity to rule, effectively suppressing the practice of equity and inclusion from its rightful place in business operations.

Progress is Possible

While most organizations would say they value diversity, the problem, more often, is a combination of our neurological tendency to be biased toward the familiar, along with a lack of understanding about what can help facilitate the desired change. This is particularly problematic with important operational decisions like recruitment, hiring, project assignments and promotions.

Now more than ever, with the coronavirus outbreak pushing companies across the globe to work remotely, to be an effective leader, it is essential to proactively engage with every member of your team and intentionally solicit varying perspectives

In can be particularly easy for alternate viewpoints to get lost in the noise when you are working and meeting virtually. Straightforward process changes like consistently sending meeting agendas ahead of time not only allows your team time to prepare, it also helps create an environment where feedback is welcomed.

You should also purposefully solicit dissenting opinions, not only to expose alternative viewpoints, but to limit group-think. These may feel like extra steps, but they ensure that you are taking full advantage of your teams' brainpower, which is a considerable return-on-investment.

Additionally, when building teams, one should intentionally include members that inherently challenge one another. It may feel counterintuitive, but contrasting perspectives are a mechanism for more creativity and productivity.

These are consequential attributes for success, considering employees at companies with greater levels of diversity are 75% more likely to see the implementation of a marketable idea.

The Repercussions of Inattention

While challenges still exist, there has been some progress. The number of Fortune 500 companies with greater than 40% board diversity has more than doubled since 2012, but it’s been at a slow pace and not reflective of our actual social structure.

When last reported, women and minorities accounted for just 34% of board seats overall and executive leadership looked even more grim. Only 33 of Fortune's top 500 companies have female CEOs and shockingly fewer are people of color.

"How can we solve the world's problems when 50% of the population is not at the table?" says Clara Piloto, director of Global Programs and Digital Plus Programs with MIT Professional Education.

This is at their own detriment considering that a higher representation of women in C-suite level positions results in 34% greater returns to shareholders. This breakdown has dramatic implications.

"We are in a crisis right now. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is looming and we don't have enough diverse people upskilled, ready to take on new jobs,” says Piloto. “Besides changing minds, I think it's a systemic problem, it's bias, it's policy issues, and it's also gender stereotypes."

Shifting the Mindset

Making progress is achievable, but it will require questioning your initial inclinations and utilizing new decision-making processes. This is a necessary and fundamental shift not only at the leadership level but for individuals across the organization as well. A willingness to embrace the power of inclusion will position one to lead by example and create positive change for their organization, no matter their position or title.

Making this vital adjustment in thinking not only generates greater employee satisfaction and retention, but also pays off financially. Reports show that companies with a higher level of diversity in management earned 38% more of their revenues, on average, from innovative products and services in the last three years than companies with lower diversity.

"With increased global competition it is inherent that companies make racial, ethnic and gender diversity a priority," says Nelson Baker, dean of Georgia Tech Professional Education. "Taking full advantage of your creative potential is essential in order to thrive."

As members of an organization become more attuned to including all voices in the workplace, the benefits will also become more apparent. "It's about changing mindsets and getting people to believe that diversity in the workforce is a good thing," says Lien Diaz, director of educational innovation and leadership at the Constellations Center for Equity in Computing.

With the recent disruption of a global pandemic shaking up workflows across industries, all previously held viewpoints on productivity, communication, and workplace values have come into question.

Now more than ever, it is critical to push our boundaries and reset our mentalities. It is important to make a personal commitment to be more conscious of our own biases and take responsibility for them. It is vital, however, to identify and address systemic inequities that disenfranchise minorities.

Individuals and leaders must analyze how their actions hinder an equitable and open workplace culture and instead create opportunities to ensure inclusivity. Full integration and acceptance of the power of diversity is the key to success in a global economy, now, and during the future of work.