It’s well known that having a diverse and inclusive workforce can yield significant benefits. So why are companies still struggling with diversity?
Establishing an inclusive culture is the baseline, according to Paul Wolfe, SVP of Human Resources at Indeed, in order to develop a diverse workplace.
“In order to source a variety of candidates from different backgrounds and with different world views, it’s important to build a more inclusive environment, so that you can attract and retain a diverse workforce,” said Wolfe.
“We recently conducted a study of 1002 people currently employed in the technology industry, and 77 per cent of respondents say it is very or quite important to have a diverse company, yet nearly a quarter (24 per cent) felt that they had been personally discriminated against.”
(Want to know more about the state of diversity in Australia? Read our review of AHRI’s inclusion and diversity survey).
Trouble in paradise
The technology sector has come under scrutiny because it is characterised as being populated by young, mainly white males, with little sign of progress. Google and Amazon, the US’s biggest tech giants, have been spectacular failures when it comes to increasing the diversity of their employees.
Despite investing $2.65 million into a diversity program, Google has failed to show any significant change in the composition of its workforce.
The company’s first diversity report revealed that 61% of their staff were white, and only 30% of their workforce were female, which was only a 1% growth over the last two years. Likewise, the number of African American employees hasn’t increased at all, sitting at a dismal 2%. Amazon wasn’t much better, with only 18 out of its 120 senior managers being women.
The problem with diversity
Diversity is a celebration of all the great things that make us all different. The flipside of that in a workplace setting is that inclusion and diversity policies can be seen as an opportunity to treat people differently and many employees don’t want to be treated differently to their coworkers, they want to be treated equally.
Diversity programs are thus sometimes viewed as fostering division and actually fail to reach those who can most benefit from their message.
Speaking about diversity programs, Erica Joy Baker, an African American former engineer at Google says: “The only people who show up are the people who are already thinking about and working on those biases, and the people who really need it aren’t going.”
(Case study: read our story about how The Star refocused their recruitment and training programs to achieve management diversity)
So what’s the solution?
According to Belinda Parmar, Founder and CEO of The Empathy Business, we need to avoid focusing on differences, and instead focus on improving outcomes for everyone.
“The answer is to avoid binaries, whether racial, ethnic or gender-based, as they only go to reinforce the sense of self vs other,” she said.
Parmer says that the programmes that were most effective at improving outcomes for women also improved conditions for men.
“Instead of making a corporation more female-friendly we helped it become more human-friendly. These were changes that were neither targeted nor driven explicitly by gender or racial concerns.”
A focus on fostering workplaces that see beyond the differences and create a positive space for all people might just be the secret to a creating truly diverse workplace.