You’d think that to encourage diversity at work, you simply have to hire a more diverse palette of employees from different backgrounds. However, race and gender heterogeneity in organizations require more than that. To fully benefit from diversity’s advantages in an organization’s growth, you have to be willing to change the corporate culture and power structure.
The key to this change is empathy. Empathy leaves room for a fair workspace with equal opportunities for everyone. Otherwise, how are you supposed to collaborate with a group of people with entirely different backgrounds if you don’t understand where they’re coming from? With social empathy, you learn to listen and adapt.
Think of it like this; Let’s say your organization decides to hire more women or people of color. The initial intentions are good, aiming to create a multicultural work environment where different ideas are heard. However, without empathy and actual steps toward corporate culture changes, this ship will sink as the confusion and frustration will come to the surface.
In this article, we’ll explore the diversity and inclusivity meaning at work and how empathetic leadership can harness them to increase effectiveness. So, let’s get down to business!
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Diversity in the workplace refers to combining multiple people with different backgrounds under the same corporate umbrella. This includes all the different elements that make people unique, such as age, gender, color, race, style of work, and more. There are trends emerging as from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which enforces laws against discrimination to protect specific social categories.
On the other hand, inclusion refers to embracing diversity by providing equal access and resources to all employees. The goal is for everyone to be treated fairly so that the work environment is inviting. Many people confuse the diversity and inclusivity meaning at work. However, diversity refers to the presence of mixed employees, while inclusivity refers to the practices for ensuring the proper support within a diverse organization.
Benefits of diversity in the workplace
Diversity is neither charity nor a politically correct fad. On the contrary, organizations get a significant competitive advantage and a chance to outperform their competitors by achieving greater profits. Here are some of the most important benefits:
- Variety of perspectives. Employees with different backgrounds bring new ideas, skills, and experience to the table. This can be highly beneficial for business innovation.
- Reduced employee turnover. Diversity and inclusion create a work environment where employees feel valued and respected. As a result, they stay longer in the company and reduce turnover rates.
- Positive company reputation. Companies that promote diversity are perceived as more socially responsible and intriguing. Additionally, it’s easier for customers to relate with them, which opens doors to new markets and business partners.
- Higher employee engagement. When employees feel like belonging and are part of a bigger team, they’re more likely to engage in the workplace. Engaged employees equal stronger teams with higher efficiency.
- Increased profits. Organizations with a diverse workforce are able to make decisions faster and therefore achieve more significant results in terms of profit. For example, companies in the US achieve a 0.8% increase in earnings just from supporting racial and ethnic diversity.
- Improved hiring results. Diversity attracts talent. Therefore, companies who promote it get better candidate options from hiring pools. In fact, 67% of job seekers point out that diversity is an essential factor when considering taking a job.
- Increased creativity. Putting together a mix of people who see things from their own perspectives gives organizations various ideas to choose from. Therefore, creativity levels are high, and brainstorming is on another level.
How to promote diversity at work?
By now, it’s clear that companies who actively pursue diversity enjoy multiple benefits of engaged employees and overall higher profits. However, it’s the empathy mindset that helps diversity grow roots in a company. Specifically, empathetic leadership translates to the ability to understand the feelings of others and respect their thoughts.
Science study like from Decety & Lamm, 2006, has proven that empathy is the muscle to train to step out of our survival mechanism and be able to connect with people. Therefore, self-awareness is critical. This makes sense because working, let alone thriving with other people that have an entirely different upbringing, can be challenging. However, as empathetic leaders, it’s essential to listen first and act later. So here are a few things you can do to promote diversity at work:
- Build trust. Your starting point to promote diversity is to create a safe environment where employees can feel like themselves. This requires setting a tone of vulnerability and honesty and fostering conversations that create connections.
- Make diversity a source of learning. For businesses shifting to the learning and effectiveness paradigm, learning to be open to discussions on diversity matters is vital. That’s because diversity is an endless source of valuable information about how people collaborate, grow, and approach situations.
- Hold leaders accountable. Having a group of dedicated leaders encouraging empathy and, consequently, accountability can influence workers to make it part of their ethics. Empathetic leaders are responsible for guiding people to growth and inclusion away from bias.
- Eliminate bias and behaviors. Before encouraging employees to get familiar with diversity and inclusiveness, make sure that you first eliminate any bias rooted in discrimination. Especially our unconscious bias can often create unsafe environments. Open conversations and training self-awareness can help cultivate an environment of trust to avoid marginalization.
- Value your employees’ individual skills. Being aware of the qualities and benefits each employee brings can add significantly to the company’s growth. For example, having employees specializing in specific markets could help your company expand into those.
- Shift your mindset to co-creation. Co-creation is critical for future-proofing your business. It essentially allows you to take full ownership of your ideas and actions and feel confident sharing your truth with others. It’s all about allowing the combined knowledge, experience, and expertise of a team to flow together. As a leader, your job is to encourage the co-creation mindset as the foundation of diversity.
Increasing diversity does not guarantee increased efficiency. Unless an organization is ready to change its corporate culture and power structure, it won’t be able to grow. The foundation of any healthy work relationship is empathy. Remember that empathy doesn’t mean agreeing or debating with a person about their feelings. It’s about listening and connecting.