Businesses that lead their market sectors all have one thing in common: they all practice diversity. Diversity is not merely based on gender, but also personality and participation. A diverse workforce equals agility, productivity and innovation. Anna Budde discusses how you could practise diversity in all its forms and transform your organisation into a leading company that understands the human element in success.
01 October 2020 • 4 min read
The ways in which companies make strategic decisions which lead to world-class innovation are manifold, but the foundation of all these decisions is the human resources that all businesses have available.
The people in your company are an asset that can transform every aspect of your business. The data you collect and analyse is, of course, part of your strategic planning, but the human component is more potent.
Businesses that want to remain successful have understood they must embrace new technologies which have brought, in some cases, massive change. Technology though, can’t be used in isolation. A simple application of new technology won’t deliver the innovative services or products your company needs – people will.
Leaders must nurture the people in their business: their innate curiosity, ideas, perceptions and unique perspectives should be the cornerstone of every process and action across your organisation. And for a broad range of these ideas, perceptions and unique perspectives, a diverse workforce is a prerequisite.
Leaders must nurture the people in their business: their innate curiosity, ideas, perceptions and unique perspectives should be the cornerstone of every process and action across your organisation.
According to McKinsey & Company, diverse organisations are 33% more likely to outperform industry norms. When diversity is discussed commonly, the conversation can focus primarily on gender and race only. Diversity is much more than these simple labels: diversity encompasses the unique personalities of each individual in your business. Alone they can deliver a level of input your enterprise can use and learn from; but when brought together by inspirational leaders, the diverse nature of these groups can be a powerhouse for change. It’s more complex than achieving a mix of genders in your company, and instead involves the creation of a complete culture within your enterprise.
Also, it’s vital to understand that diversity and participation are not the same and are not interchangeable. Diversity is about the differences that people bring. By contrast, participation refers to the efforts used to embrace those differences. It describes how much each person feels welcomed, respected, supported and valued. In short, while diversity is about recruitment, participation is about the culture of a business.
Embracing diversity and participation are now critical for all businesses. Leaders must understand how the culture they are fostering across their organisations must be protected and expanded. As the landscape enterprises now find themselves trading within has radically altered, developing a culture of diversity and involvement should be a vital part of your business’s strategic planning.
Often, leaders will be fearful of opening their companies to possible claims of discrimination. The reality is that when diversity and participation are clearly understood, they can be implemented without any potential negative impacts. But beginning a diversity programme across your business just for PR reasons is highly damaging and can undermine any cultural change you are trying to bring about.
Diversity and participation are not business processes your company can buy, or perform a check-box exercise against. Leaders need to understand the subtleties of implementing a diversity and involvement programme and how a shift in business-wide culture can achieve this.
Diversity encompasses the unique personalities of each individual in your business. Alone they can deliver a level of input your enterprise can use and learn from; but when brought together by inspirational leaders, the diverse nature of these groups can be a powerhouse
I have spoken a great deal so far about business culture, but how do we define this? And how do we make practical changes to evolve a business’s culture to become more diverse and ensure participation is available to all?
Culture is the product of more engagement and communication. The inclusion of a workforce in the strategic planning they often just see at a distance but have little or no input into, creates a culture of participation – what Slack called in their report into the state of work, ‘aligned’ employees who agreed with this statement: “I feel aligned with my company’s vision, values and operating principles.”
For business leaders, the critical question is how to develop a culture of participation and diversity. The answer is to practice more transparency and collaboration with individuals and teams. The interconnected nature of businesses today requires dynamic teams moving towards a common purpose. But culture is more than just employees feeling included in the strategic planning of their company.
According to Saadia Zahidi, the managing director and head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society at the World Economic Forum, this new era of work “is about being able to work and relate with your teams in a different way.” She goes on to say that active listening and flatter team structures are crucial to building a culture of participation.
Culture also comes from an appreciation that every person in the business is different. They bring unique perspectives that can be harnessed by enlightened leaders – and note that I said leaders and not managers. Leadership and management are very different approaches that may result in similar results, but the journey to those outcomes is very different.
Aligning each individual to well-defined objectives across your organisation is how diversity and participation begins. Communicating your company’s vision and development strategy is vital, as workers who don’t have a clear understanding of what their businesses are trying to achieve will never feel they are a vital part of your business.
This communication begins with leaders who have high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence – as well as a well-defined appreciation of diversity and participation which, importantly, also includes a detailed understanding of the personal goals of each employee. Plus, how these can be nurtured as part of the broader drive to create an all-encompassing and diverse culture that delivers stated goals.
Workers who don’t have a clear understanding of what their businesses are trying to achieve will never feel they are a vital part of your business.
As Simon Williams, CEO at NTT DATA UK, explains: “Psychological safety is one of the most powerful enablers of effective teams. It’s important for us at NTT DATA to create an open environment where people can really be their authentic selves, and where feedback and ideas can be raised comfortably by everyone in the organisation – no matter their position.”
Building a comprehensive and diverse culture within your business begins by an understanding that the trinity of authenticity, values and attitude drives a company to become unique. All of these components are supported by diversity. As a business leader, if you are not building a diverse workforce right now, why not?
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