Implementing Diversity to Maximize Flexibility, Creativity and Productivity in the Workplace

We are all different, which is great because we are all unique. Without diversity, life would be very boring.”  — Catherine Pulsifer

Diversity at a workplace is a key to improve productivity. A diverse workplace comprises of people with different backgrounds, points of view, broader skill sets and multiple perspectives. The ideas and interpretations in dealing with complex issues generated by diverse companies have a powerful advantage over the homogenous ones. Diversity leads to heterogeneity, making the workforce more innovative and creative (Saxena, 2014).

6 Strategies that every company should adopt to foster a diverse workplace

1. Train and sensitize the management and the employees

2. Boost cultural competency at the workplace 

3. Establish a sense of belonging for everyone 

4. Recruit people from diversified backgrounds

5. Encourage cross transfer skills

6. Resource allocation

Train and sensitize the management and the employees

One of the strategies to promote workplace diversity is to train and sensitize both the managers and frontline workers. In most of the organizations, the higher management sees a diversity “program” or “initiative” as a useless and nonproductive drain on their time, profits, energy and business focus. Thus, training and sensitizing higher management is perhaps the most important element in the diversity strategy of an organization. Organizing cultural and other sensitivity training programs is a great first step. When management is empowered and trained to treat employees as individuals and not the members of any cultural community, the workforce at all levels will acknowledge the importance of diversity and inclusion. This will ensure that the workforce is well educated on the subject matter, and minimize the probability of any unfavorable situations. The management should be trained to learn the recognition and reward preferences for each employee, regardless of their sex, religion, age, gender, and cultural identity.

When workplace diversity is celebrated, both managers and frontline workers see the humanistic qualities in people of different backgrounds. It is relatively easy to lead an increasingly diverse workforce (Shen et al, 2009).

Boost cultural competency at the workplace

Healthy Cross-cultural interactions between individuals from different backgrounds is an invaluable workplace adroitness. Developing a thorough understanding of different cultures, languages, values, beliefs, habits, and practices can inspire creativity and drive innovation. The organizations attract and retain the best talent if they are choosing from a culturally diverse talent pool. The organizations should encourage cultural sensitivity training on how to build mechanisms to compensate and analyze the value of a diverse workplace (Ely & Thomas, 2001).

Establish a sense of belonging for everyone

Diversity and inclusion are critical for promoting innovation and improving employee performance. There is more to the equation. A sense of belonging in the workplace results in not just good vibes and friendships but a greater engagement, greater flexibility, psychological safety, Supportive environments, better collaboration and problem-solving. The good thing is that if the workforce is diverse, inclusion can be worked on too and vice versa. It’s all interconnected. Belonging is what allows the workforce to be their authentic selves without the fear of any discrimination, different treatment or punishment—and it definitely has an impact on performance and retention (Iverson, 2000).

Recruit people from diversified backgrounds

For an organization to have a diversified team, it is important for them to recruit people from diversified backgrounds, beliefs, experience, and knowledge. Such employees work and make a collective effort and develop strategies to find solutions for complex issues and resolve organizational problems with ease. People from diversified backgrounds nurture a vast and diverse network for the company. Ideally, gender diversification should be infused to all levels of corporate entities (Martin, 2014). Successful organizations recruit employees from diversified backgrounds and form teams encouraging them to innovate methodologies ensuring sustainable growth to the organization (Walter, 2014). Growth and success of an organization are directly proportional to its ability to embrace diversity and acknowledge its benefits. Some benefits noted include the ability to adopt, broader servicing, the spectrum of viewpoints and an effective execution at all levels of the organization (Green et al., 2002). Organizations can largely benefit by embracing the diversity at workforce amongst labors, understanding various characteristics, and adopting skills and perceptions via knowledge sharing (Bennett, Aston, & Colquhoun, 2000). This heterogenic labor mix leads to innovation with blooming ideas and creativity at par.

Encourage cross transfer skills

Another game-changing strategy that managers could consider is creating a rotational workflow for rostered employees to cross transfer skills. In this method, they could rotate the workforce from diverse backgrounds for a certain period to work and provide their innovation to the nature of work. This could be a good way to scramble their creativity and identifying methods to enhance the workflow management within an organization. In this way, individuals will be able to adopt different skill sets and accomplish tasks within the given period. Many western countries are embracing the secondment culture wherein individuals with specific skill sets are assigned to departments within the organization for a certain period with increased rewards and essential training. In this process, their talents are shared with the broader organization and different departments are able to harness benefits out of it. This sort of a rotational work culture enhances the understanding level of the employees who are involved in creating a product or delivering services. The efforts of such diverse groups would influence the efficacy and quality of a product or a service (Huang, 1999). Hence, this practice encourages individuals to attain a level of proficiency within their area of delivery and exhibit their skills and innovation to a wider business group boosting their competency and enhancing their creativity and innovation (Beatty, Schneier & McEvoy, 1987).

An example to cite this is an IT innovator, Intel who created a ‘Rotation Engineers Program’ to attract diversified individuals. Started in 1987, this program aimed at gathering growing talents from diverse paths and instigate a wave of innovation amongst them. Through means of campus placements, fresh graduates are hired as fresh engineers from diverse fields and are placed for a term of few months’ rotations within the organization to gain a technical insight from different departments within the organization. This program enables fresh minds to create networks across a varied range of people and teams and carve their career paths with Intel. This method has helped Intel attract fresh talents with burning ideas, innovations and creativity and also in strengthening the top line managers within the organization (Forbes, 2011).

Resource allocation

Another theory that could make a difference is resource allocation – enabling the senior leadership team to organize their team based on key priorities of the organization. They need to support their commitments for creativity with available resources against funding availability (Gate, 2010). This is vital to eliminate risks, especially in an unstable economy where recession and financial degradation are pivotal in the economic arena. This could help them to recover faster post-recession phase. The key to this is identifying and innovating routes for investment, even if that means cutting down on projects and focusing on promising avenues.

A classic example of this is Hewlett Packard, Spain – developing Latex Printing Technology that was driven by the fact that they embrace diversity and encourage creativity and innovation from their employees to formulate better problem-solving capabilities. With the viewpoint and feedback from the diversified individuals within the organization, HP developed this revolutionary, environment-friendly, huge sized printing technology. It was developed encompassing brains of 120 engineers from varying nationalities. The whole technology was assembled using state of the art techniques including the ink cartridges from the United States, systems developed in Spain and integrating operations from Singapore. With an overwhelmingly positive customer feedback, Hewlett Packard was even awarded for its innovative contribution in the print industry (European Commission, 2013).

The bottom line is that when employees possess diverse skill sets and backgrounds, the team is more engaged, and each individual performs at a higher level.

6 Benefits of having a diverse workforce

1. Diversity fosters innovation

2. Positive Reputation

3. Language skills can open doors for more business

4. Diversity brings a boost to profitability

5. Diversity builds synergy in teams and improves communication skills

6. Diverse workforce saves money on litigation expenses generated by discriminatory lawsuits

Diverse teams are more creative, more productive, and more innovative than teams comprising of individuals with similar background, culture, and demography. Encouraging diversity at workplace helps in establishing an organization with a competitive edge and in building a great reputation for the organization. Diverse workforce ensures increased profitability and opportunities for employees.

1. Diversity Fosters Innovation

Birds of a feather flock together – aka a bunch of people having the same background will do the same thing and will likely come up with similar ideas to approach a problem. A diverse and inclusive workforce is important to foster innovation, encourage creativity, and guide business strategies. Multiple talents lead to novel ideas, creative thoughts and services, and new products, and stimulate out-of-the-box thinking. In present times, organizations no longer consider diversity and inclusion endeavors as separate from their other business activities and acknowledge that a diverse workforce can help them stand different from their rivals by attracting top talent and capturing more business and new clients (Hayashi, 2015).

Let us discuss one example which stands as a testimony to how crucial and significant a diverse workforce is.  The king of retail- Walmart takes pride in their diversity and inclusion. The ‘big-box’ retailers have been making continuous efforts to build a diverse global workforce by hiring world-class talent through innovative approaches, such as the Women in Retail initiative, and through increased campus outreach efforts.

Due to a diverse workforce, Walmart stands number one in bringing up more intelligence, insight, ideas, imagination, and intuition to address complex business problems and to serve customers more efficiently. This inclusive work environment serves as an incubator for innovations. Walmart follows below-given thumb rules for its success:

– Developing Mavericks (Freedom of Thought)

– Advocating Collaboration (Cross-Pollination)

– Swimming Upstream (Ingenuity)

– Strengthening Cultural Intelligence (Competency)

– Enabling New Ideas (Outcome)

Today, Walmart ranks number one in the retail industry in the US due to its most diverse employees. 57% of the workforce are women and 37% are people of color. 24% of the executives and 28% of the corporate managers are women. This diversity makes Walmart, an excellent place for everyone to work around the world. By giving every employee the opportunity to become a leader, Walmart is transforming lives and making the world a better place (Paul et al, 2011).

Steve Jobs said, “The source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things … it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination and our faith in the future.” When the workforce is enlightened and inspired to harness their creativity to bring value in an inclusive culture, they nurture fertile soil where seeds of creativity and novel thought processing can blossom into opportunities of sustained future growth.

2. Positive Reputation

Job seekers are attracted to organizations with diverse workforces because such entities do not practice employment discrimination. Such companies treat their employees fairly regardless of sex, color, race, gender, and ethnicity and usually gain a reputation for being a good employer. Potential clients often feel more valued and as a result, give more business to these entities. A diverse collection of expertise and knowledge allows an organization to offer service to customers and clients on a global basis since the entity relates and understands their customers better.

Specific examples of brand companies who have gained a positive reputation because of diverse and inclusive culture include:

  1. Novartis
  2. Johnson & Johnson
  3. Ernst & Young
  4. Procter & Gamble

These entities acknowledge that embracing diversity is not just the thing to do – it is perhaps a critical element in brand perception (Roberson & Park, 2007).

3. Language Skills Can Open Doors for More Business

Language skills can make a world of difference. Embracing diverse languages and learning foreign literature in a practical sense can be mutually reinforcing. Language barriers act as a huge obstacle for entities who wish to expand their business activities to foreign countries. By recruiting employees who speak and understand different languages, companies can work over shores and capture talent pool at a global level and interact with a broader client base. Representing diverse nationalities within your organization can also help to make it more relatable (Welch & Piekkari, 2006).

4. Diversity Brings a Boost to Profitability

There exists a significant and positive relation between diversity and profits. In the U.S, every 10% increase in diversity results in 0.8% growth in earnings. Recent studies have highlighted that increased cultural diversity in the workplace can result in increased profits for the organization.

A 2013 survey carried out by think tank, Center for Talent Innovation, reported that forty percent of business entities in the United Nations with more diversity at senior executive level improved their earnings percentage and profit graph, while only thirty-three per cent business entities with less diverse workforce reported similar growth (Grant et al, 1988).

5. Diversity Builds Synergy in Teams and Improves Communication Skills

Communications that involve multiple perspectives generate optimized results. There would be a difference of opinions because of diverse individuals coming together in discussion. But well-coached teams working in a supportive environment and within an organization that values inclusion and diversity, can sort the complex problems and amicably arrive at some mutual agreement.  They will bring some novel ideas and processes that will profit the entire team (Jayne & Dipboye, 2004).

6. Diverse Workforce Saves Money on Litigation Expenses Generated by Discriminatory Lawsuits

Robust diversity and inclusion management strategies in place not only saves monetarily on litigation expenditures caused by discrimination litigation but is the right thing to do for the betterment of the company. Having a diverse workforce effectively results in lesser lawsuits filed by workers for infringement of basic civil rectitude.

Organizations who do not have training on diversity in place are at a higher risk. Coca-Cola had to spend around $220 million in discrimination settlements back in 2005. The company learned this lesson and now has a diverse workforce which is honest and committed to recruiting more minorities in the management. Some entities still think that diversity training is very pricey and is not required at all. But discrimination litigations make diversity training look like peanuts after all the legal expenditures are factored in (Robinson & Dechant, 1997).

The bottom line is that a diverse workforce is a must for present entities to maximize flexibility, creativity, and productivity at a workplace.

Dr Amita F. – Technical Research/Academic Consultant and Writer

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