What Real Organizational Diversity Looks Like (And How to Sustain It): Part 1

November 7, 2018
Blog, Culture
By Paige Douglass

Today’s leading businesses are in pursuit of the ideal culture. Organizations like Google have spent millions of dollars trying to identify the characteristics of a “dream team,” and Gallup offers Strengths Finder services to shift the focus from managing people to developing them.

Strong companies recognize that culture – the imaginary yet real line between the behaviors a group will tolerate and those it rejects – impacts everything from employee retention to the bottom line. As culture emerges as a strategic business topic, efforts around diversity and inclusion are also becoming priorities. But how do these efforts contribute to build a strong organizational culture? And what can you do to achieve a culture of inclusion that values diversity?

Why Does Diversity Matter?

If an organization fails to foster diversity and inclusivity, its culture becomes something restricted and ineffective. Just like monocultures in nature, same-thinking people can limit what is possible, and lead to decline. When companies create teams of all like-minded people with similar backgrounds and experiences, there are few opportunities to hear, honor, and learn from different perspectives.

A recent Harvard Business Review study on venture capital firms sheds insight into the value of diversity. The study reveals that diversity has a significant positive impact on financial performance, including measures such as “profitable investments at the portfolio-company level and overall fund returns.”

In addition, O.C. Tanner’s Global Culture Report, which studied data from 14,000 respondents across 12 countries, revealed that diversity in the workplace allows organizations to better understand customer needs, support their employees, and address social issues. Employees who felt that their employers fostered an inclusive culture reported feeling 3.2 times more likely to perform their best as compared to their counterparts in less-inclusive situations.

Unfortunately, that same study revealed a startling lack of actual diversity in workplace culture. Only 36% of the business professionals who responded felt that their organizations were actively engaged in fostering a diverse culture. This disconnect is significant, and it’s damaging to organizations that want to create peak performance cultures.

What Does True Diversity Look Like in an Organizational Setting?

We often think of diversity as being reflected in demographics like age, race, and gender. While these are important elements of diversity, for the purpose of creating a successful organizational culture, diversity involves many more factors. Examples include:

Skill Sets: Is your workforce made up of people with a variety of skills?

  • Interpersonal
  • Artistic
  • Verbal
  • Analytical

Design-Thinking Capabilities: Does your workforce represent a variety of perspectives?

  • Front-end users
  • Back-end users
  • New users
  • Experienced users

Experience: Is your team composed of individuals with a broad array of experience levels, spanning everything from recent graduates to near-retirees?

When creating an organizational culture of diversity, demographics are important—but diversity of thought is the real objective.

In part two of this series, we will discuss why achieving this objective can be challenging, and how to create and sustain a culture that fosters diversity of thought. In the meantime, reach out to me to continue the conversation around diversity and inclusion.

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