Diversity is key for organisations looking to improve productivity or drive greater business success in an increasingly competitive and fast-paced environment.
In a globalised world, focusing on diversity can translate into real business results because diverse cultures where employees feel valued and part of the solution can be a breeding ground for new ideas and a hothouse of innovation.
Globalisation and diversity
As the effects of globalisation become more dominant, organisations need to adapt and position themselves to effectively compete in this new environment. For this reason, it is not surprising that global companies commonly cite diversity as a competitive advantage. However, very few realise that apart from access to a broader talent pool and improving corporate reputation, diversity can unlock significant productivity gains from within their organisation.
A focus on diversity can translate into real business results through creating and sustaining a culture of innovation, where employees feel they are part of the solution as their ideas get heard. Organisations topping Fortune magazine’s World’s Most Admired Companies list and Hay Group’s Best Companies for Leadership research have built and maintained a diverse culture. They are able to measure the benefits that flow from this through:
- Higher engagement.
- Increased levels of creativity.
- Increased innovation.
Creating a diversified culture
Creating a culture of diversity isn’t easy, but the returns can be significant — the companies featured in both these surveys consistently outperform their peers in terms of total shareholder returns.
The picture that emerged in 2011’s Best Companies for Leadership is of a group of companies moving more quickly than others to flatten their business structures and diversify their workforces, with the goal of improving their efficiency.
Understanding workforce culture
- Westpac has recently announced employee action forums to better understand their employees from different cultural backgrounds.
- Traditionally male-dominated companies such as BHP Billiton are working to move women into executive positions as well as increasing the percentage of new female graduates coming into the workforce from a current level of 12 per cent to 25 per cent.
Ultimately, a diverse culture is one where all employees:
- Feel accepted.
- Are encouraged to meet their performance and potential objectives.
Leaders in these organisations live by these values, therefore individuals in their interactions with their managers will primarily experience a culture that embraces diversity.
Organisations that have embraced this agenda are:
- Helping leaders master collaborative strategies that harness resources throughout the company.
- Adapting development tools and reward structures.
- Equipping managers with the leadership skills that their changing environments demand.
- Incentivising managers to use these skills effectively.
Culture always begins at the top
Hay Group research shows that 70 per cent of the beliefs (and hence the behaviours) of managers and employees alike come from observing the individuals to whom they directly report.
Organisations that actively manage their culture:
- Conduct audits of their current culture.
- Seek to uncover the impact it is having on diversity.
- Understand the components of their ‘as is’ culture.
- Create a blueprint for their ‘to be’ model.
- Once the future culture is defined, they implement processes to embed the new culture.
A diversity council concept
In Australia, the concept of a diversity council has been used to set and align diversity policies with business strategies and objectives. For example, ANZ chief executive Mike Smith is the chair of the bank’s
diversity council and it is the business leaders, not human resources, that are accountable for the delivery of this strategy. Its charter is to leverage employee diversity to increase business outcomes.
At a time when organisations face an uncertain future in an increasingly fast-paced environment, now is the time for all organisations looking to improve productivity to put tackling diversity near the top of their to-do list.