What is workplace diversity? Ask it to anyone and you’re likely to get a different answer each time. The lack of a widely agreed-on understanding of workplace diversity often means that companies fall short of taking meaningful action within their ranks to be a truly inclusive and diverse organisation. But doing so is not only logical, it also makes business sense.
We catch up with Marion Gamel, a certified Executive Coach and public speaker who specialises in C-suite performance in digital companies, and begin by simply asking: how would you define diversity at work?
“For me, diversity at work is about understanding that there is immense value in having people with various backgrounds and outlooks join forces to solve problems. In the same way that when you encounter a challenge in life you may seek advice from a wide range of friends – some risk averse, some adventurous, some in your situation, some with completely different lives, some your age, some much older or younger – companies too have a lot to gain in gathering various profiles and uniting them around issues as well as opportunities. It’s common sense, really!”
Drawing on her experience, Marion says that most companies get into diversity following the path set by others, the ‘safe’ entry path, focusing on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, “which is a good start but far from sufficient. For me, real diversity and inclusion should also focus on social class and disability.”
“I find that the disabled are still under-represented in companies, especially at leadership level. If you consider how much harder it is to study when you’re blind or in a wheelchair – you know that a disabled lawyer is likely to be outstandingly resilient and brave,” she explains.
There’s no doubt that, in order for such meaningful change to be achieved and for words to be translated into actions, it needs to be driven by those at the top.
“The call to action should come from leadership as this is the group of people who is most influential and will demand results and accountability. If the CEO does not believe in diversity, it won’t happen in the company.”
The business coach understands that CEOs have a tall order to carry out – they need to deliver on revenue, quality and efficiency. “They have made a commitment to investors, customers and their workforce, so I recommend they adopt an agile approach where they start by running a diversity test in one team or one department, assess the results and then roll out what worked to the entire company,” says Marion.
“I don’t blame CEOs for wanting to focus on ‘what works’, it’s their job. So run tests, agree on the key metrics for success and monitor the impact on revenue, margin, customer satisfaction, innovation, employee retention, etc. Basically, apply the same business metrics to diversity that you would to any other change or investment. Diversity brings business results that speak for themselves!”
Marion suggests that, first and foremost, leaders should publicly declare that discrimination will not be tolerated. “I see companies who ‘say’ they are pro-diversity, but where you still hear jokes about homosexuality or women in meetings.”
“Another way is to aim at quotas and to make these quotas the responsibility of each head of department. Diversity and inclusion are not an ‘HR thing’ – it’s a pan-company thing!” she asserts.
“Another action HR departments are starting to take is to remove names and photos from applications so there is no bias towards gender or cultural background. I like that as a first step.”
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