Diversity Myth #1 - ‘‘We have more pressing business priorities than Diversity & Inclusion right now.’’
After more than 20 years of working in the field of Diversity and Inclusion, I have come across a whole range of preconceived, often implicit, ideas which stand in the way of making progress towards more inclusive workplaces and societies. An important part of my role is to try to debunk them.
These “myths” may be just that - erroneous ideas and misconceptions - but their effect on individuals, communities and organisations is very real, and detrimental. The more that all of us make a concerted effort to understand our assumptions in relation to Diversity & Inclusion, the greater the likelihood that genuine inclusion for everyone will become a reality.
I have selected a few of the most frequent and harmful ‘diversity myths’ for this article. I expect that some of you might recognise a couple, or even understand some of your own preconceived ideas. If so, I hope that analysis of these commonly held but inaccurate beliefs will help to explain where your assumptions might come from, why they are not backed by evidence, and why it is important for all of us to challenge ourselves on the ideas we perpetuate.
Ultimately, I hope that by surfacing these myths you will be inspired to, with confidence and genuine commitment, promote Diversity & Inclusion.
Myth #1: ‘‘We have more pressing business priorities than Diversity & Inclusion right now.’’
In complex and volatile times, when change is chronic but largely unpredictable, it might be tempting to think that Diversity & Inclusion is a ‘nice to have’ luxury that can be dealt with later, rather than a fundamental ingredient for business success now.
This, however, is to misunderstand what Diversity & Inclusion is all about. It’s not just an issue for human resources, or a good thing to do as part of your corporate social responsibility, or a clever new marketing strategy to attract new consumers. Diversity & Inclusion is an essential strategy to capitalise on uncertain times and to future-proof businesses so you can take on global challenges.
The simple and increasingly well-documented truth is that Diversity & Inclusion is positively correlated with business performance. Diverse organisations attract, retain and progress talent from a wider pool. Indeed, research by Glassdoor shows that 2/3 of people consider workplace diversity to be a major factor in choosing a place of work. So corporate performance on Diversity & Inclusion is essential to attract and retain the best talent. This is especially the case among Millenials, for whom Diversity & Inclusion is interpreted as a shorthand for ‘respect’ and ‘modernity’.
Diverse and inclusive organisations inspire creativity, drive innovation and make better decisions. This stands to reason, as having a variety of opinions, based on different life and professional experiences, should lead to more considered decisions and more innovative ideas. A study conducted by people at Stanford University looked at 600 decisions made by 200 teams over a period of time to assess the impact of team diversity on decision making. It found that all-men teams make ‘good decisions’ 58% of the time, while teams that include both men and women make good decisions 73% of the time. In fact, the more you increase the diversity of the team composition, the better the decisions get so that age and gender diverse make ‘good’ decisions 80%. And if you add geographical diversity to the team mix, then ‘good’ decisions are made a whopping 87% of the time. What surprised me about this research, though, is that diverse teams were found to make decisions twice as fast as homogeneous teams. Fascinating.
And while you might think that working in a diverse environment and make decisions with people who are different from yourself is quite stressful, the evidence points to the contrary: diverse workplaces are also happier workplaces. When people feel that they belong, they are more committed and they enjoy work better.
Diverse and inclusive organisations also connect better with a wider range of customers. They have staff members who understand different needs and experiences, who can ‘speak the language’ of their customers, who can spot business opportunities that would not have occurred to existing teams, etc.
For all these reasons, diverse and inclusive organisations are more competitive and profitable. A landmark study by McKinsey found that for every 10% increase in gender diversity, corporate Earnings Before Interests and Taxes (EBIT) rise by 3.5%. Another way of looking at this is to say that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers, while ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their peers - by which we mean the national median performance of their industry sector.
Once the critical role of Diversity & Inclusion for business success is understood, there can hardly be more pressing priorities than to get this right. Seen from this perspective, Diversity & Inclusion is not a problem that can be dealt with later; it’s a business opportunity and a strategy to capture competitive advantage now.
Keep following for more myths on our blog in the coming weeks.