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Diversity In The Workplace Is Now More Critical Than Ever

It’s been over 50 years since the Civil Rights Act made discrimination in the workplace illegal. During that period, equality acts around the world have been updated and implemented, yet problems relating to diversity and inclusivity (D&I) in the workplace persist. The broad-reaching ramifications of the global pandemic are the latest challenge. 

Global Pandemic Poses Risk To Diversity And Inclusivity Efforts

The economic consequences of the pandemic will disproportionately impact minorities unless urgent steps are taken. Mckinsey data for the US shows that 39% of all jobs held by black Americans—compared with 34% held by white Americans—are now threatened by reductions in hours or pay, temporary furloughs, or permanent layoffs, totalling 7 million jobs.

Research on organisational behaviour has revealed that during disruption and crisis, we instinctively focus on survival. In this mindset, we tend to make more unconsciously biased decisions. We err on the side of caution, reverting to what has worked in the past; making the scaling back of diversity and inclusivity (D&I) efforts a genuine possibility. Indeed, a survey of D&I leaders in March revealed 27% of initiatives were on hold, and it’s likely this number has increased since.

The seismic shift to remote working presents additional challenges. If not monitored or managed carefully, communication can break down, and feelings of isolation can intensify. Such factors can breed a non-inclusive environment. Other factors could place women and minorities at a disadvantage, such as broadband access, the availability (or lack) of home-office space, and childcare and home-schooling duties.

Now Is The Time For Bold D&I Actions

A recent study by Great Place to Work assessed hundreds of publicly-traded companies before, during, and after the 2009 Great Recession. The findings were striking. While the S&P 500 saw a 35.5% decline in stock performance between 2007 and 2009, companies that remained highly diverse and inclusive experienced a 14.4% gain. Further studies have reiterated this point, particularly those relating to the banking industry where those with higher shares of female board members were less vulnerable during the crisis.

How D&I Could Be A Competitive Advantage

For highly complex organisations, success can only occur when mistakes are confronted, and winners are analysed. Those that flourished during the last recession commonly emphasised the importance of leadership teams and the ability to define a clear direction going forward. Diversity plays a vital role in both of these realms.

1. Improved Decision Making

Research by Cloverpop has shown that diverse and inclusive teams bring a border perspective, identify new choices, reduce bias and strengthen accountability, leading to better decisions compared to individuals by 87%.

2. Increased Wellbeing

The power of collaboration and belonging should not be understated. People working in inclusive workplaces tend to have better physical and mental health. They are less stressed, less anxious and take less leave for health issues.

3. Elevated Creativity And innovation

Recent events have drastically altered consumer behaviour across almost every vertical. To stay competitive during severe market conditions research suggests diverse teams are better at innovating, whether by identifying new market segments or creating products and services that meet changing customer needs. 

Given the competitive edge diversity offers, it’s perhaps unsurprising that businesses with diverse workforces consistently outperform the competition. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to earn more revenue. 

Adversity so often creates opportunities to drive positive change. Smart businesses should be looking to diversify their workforce and leadership to thrive in these uncertain times.

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