How should companies prioritise diversity and inclusion?
Charlotte Woodward

4 minutes

How should companies prioritise diversity and inclusion?

In the past few years, the topic of diversity and inclusion has been at the forefront of an increasing number of minds in the business community. But thoughtful consideration has not always led to action.

Expanding talent pools, a more desirable employer brand, greater innovation. A diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace are not only the right things to do, but they are also good for business. Diversity matters. Still, despite the research and statistical analyses which demonstrate this, not every business is actively prioritising diversity and inclusion.

First, let’s take a look at the situation. We know that creating a more inclusive environment and hiring more diverse candidates is, morally speaking, right. But we also know that businesses are under increasing pressure to reduce costs, optimise workflows, and ensure every investment counts. 

For this reason, business leaders and shareholders need to know that promoting diversity in the workforce and creating a more inclusive working environment will lead to better financial outcomes.

The business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I)

The good news is that studies suggest that a D&I strategy is one of the greatest investments a business can make. 

According to a Glassdoor survey, 67% of candidates said that they want to join a diverse team. Furthermore, 57% of existing employees want their company to do more to increase diversity.

From a candidate attraction perspective, having more diverse teams enables a business to attract top talent from a wider range of sources. Those that don’t are essentially chalking off over two-thirds of the market. With existing employees requesting a push towards greater diversity, businesses who fail to invest in D&I programs could also accelerate the loss of existing talent.

Though people are one of the greatest, if not the greatest driver of a businesses success, the impact of diversity and inclusion stretches beyond the workforce. 

McKinsey research suggests that companies with greater ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to outperform those that are less ethnically diverse. A recently published Harvard Business Review report suggests that greater diversity leads to faster and greater innovation. Meanwhile, a study from the American Sociological Review shows that greater gender diversity leads to more customers. Diversity wins.


Diversity or inclusion: which is more important?

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance” 
- Vernā Myers

So how should companies prioritise diversity and inclusion? Should they focus on attracting more diverse candidates, or should they ready their place of work to become a more inclusive environment? These are tough questions that need to be answered, especially if businesses want to both attract and retain the very best people in an increasingly competitive market. But the answer is simple. Businesses need to address both simultaneously.

A business can make great strides to build a diverse workforce by attracting candidates from underrepresented groups (such as people with disabilities or ex-offenders), but if the workplace isn’t inclusive, people arriving into the business are unlikely to feel at home.

Diverse employees that aren’t fully integrated within a business are not only less productive (which could exacerbate existing prejudices if they already exist) but also less likely to stay. 

On the other hand, creating an inclusive place to work, without diversity efforts, will not harbour the advantages that come with a diverse workforce: an increase in productivity, greater innovation, and better financial outcomes. In this scenario, though retention may develop amongst the current workforce, there’s little chance of it making that big of a difference.

For a diversity and inclusion program to work, businesses need to place equal focus on both diversity and inclusion. Without such an approach, metaphorically speaking, you’ll be stockpiling fresh food for a restaurant yet to rent a building or buy plates, pans and cutlery. 

Building a diverse and inclusive workforce culture

One of the most important aspects of embedding diversity and inclusion within an organisation is to get leadership to live and breathe D&I. With a large percentage of the working population craving a more inclusive workplace, getting buy-in from staff is seldom a problem. But for D&I to work, everyone from the CEO down to managers needs to set the example by faithfully committing to creating an inclusive environment.

To attract a more diverse pool of candidates, hiring requirements also need assessing. Job descriptions, for example, often list requirements that aren’t really necessary for the role. Job websites need to be accessible for all. For HR teams, it is important to assess whether a university education is really going to have an impact. Likewise, does the ideal candidate actually need ten years experience for a mid-level role? Often, marginalised groups have not had the chance to prove themselves. Overstating a role can lead to these people feeling like they aren’t up to the job, even though they are often the best-suited candidate.

The vocabulary used in job adverts also needs to be assessed. In 2016, the tech platform Textio published research analysing how language patterns influence the chances of women applying for, and been accepted for jobs. Words such as ‘exhaustive’, ‘enforcement’ and ‘fearless’ reduce the number of female applicants. In a study with tech company Atlassian, removing male-centric language from their job ads increased the number of women applying for roles by 80%. 

Internally, it’s also important to really listen to your people. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with implementing an inclusion policy from the top down, if your people aren’t actively engaged with the changes necessary to create a truly inclusive workplace, there’s less chance of change sticking. At Guidant Global, for example, we spoke to our people to ask what matters to them. From this, we learnt that flexible working was the key change our people wanted. 

Through addressing this, 82% of our workforce now works flexibly. Not only has this gone some way to shattering the glass ceiling, but it has also given people with disabilities and people who are neurodivergent the chance to work in an environment that is more akin to their needs than the traditional office environment.


The bottom line

Ultimately, creating a diverse, inclusive business demands considerable time and effort. It’s by no means an easy endeavour, but the benefits to business are huge. By prioritising diversity and inclusion today, a business can ensure that it is fit for the future.

From creating teams that are more innovative, to standing a better chance of success when expanding into foreign markets, diversity and inclusion facilitate company growth. Likewise, setting yourself apart from industry competition as a company that truly embraces diversity and inclusion increases staff retention while also strengthening your employer brand – increasing the chances of attracting the best talent.

Diversity and inclusion may be a topic on the lips of every HR professional, but it’s time for businesses to plunge headfirst into meaningful diversity and inclusion. Yes, it’s the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, but it’s also good for business. Failing to authentically embrace D&I increases the risk of hindering a business’ long-term success.

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