Diversity makes sound business sense
Research shows companies with diverse and inclusive teams can generate up to 30 per cent higher revenue per employee
Companies with diversity and inclusion teams tend to outperform their peers.
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace isn’t just a moral imperative – it’s smart business sense.
Much has been made of how advances in technology and communication have transformed workplace culture in the last decade or so, and how the rise of AI and millennial work habits have led to a new era of disruption. To thrive and prosper in this environment, Irish companies need fresh perspectives, and that requires shedding some entrenched ways of thinking. One thing research has shown is that companies with diverse and inclusive teams tend to outperform peers and can generate up to 30 per cent higher revenue per employee.
Research by Deloitte has demonstrated such teams are more innovative, engaged and creative in their work. Valarie Daunt, partner, human capital, at Deloitte says: “Businesses benefit from being able to access a wider talent pool rather than being restricted to a sub-section if they are consciously or unconsciously excluding people from their recruitment process or losing people through an exclusionary culture.”
Having a diverse team is one thing, but they need to feel valued if they’re to do their best work. “It is not enough to just have a diverse workforce though, the benefits only accrue when the culture is inclusive enough to empower people to bring their whole selves to work and share their perspectives and ideas.”
“Businesses benefit in numerous ways from fostering a diverse workforce,” says Anne Coleman, founder and director of Diversity Search. “Commercially, those with diverse boards and leadership teams tend to make more innovative business decisions due to the mindsets and backgrounds involved in the decision-making. Often, if an organisation is not focusing on diversity and inclusion, they are not considered an attractive employer.”
While there’s a wealth of research that an inclusive workforce helps drive innovation and creative thinking, some Irish companies have been slow to adjust to this concept. In fact, many don’t even know where to begin when it comes to implementing such policies.
“It requires a real commitment and investment of time and resources to foster this kind of culture, and sometimes this can get lost amongst all the other business priorities, explains Dr Michelle Cullen, managing director and head of inclusion and diversity at Accenture Ireland. “We’re all at a point where organisations must reinvent themselves to be relevant for the future. We’re all experiencing a wave of disruption and a diverse mix of people is what will make us successful.”
For a diversity and inclusion policy to take root within a company, there needs to be a commitment from the top down. Paying lip service to the concept isn’t enough to make it work. Valarie Daunt says: “Any company needs to understand the policy is just the starting point and like all policies, unless it is lived and breathed, it isn’t worth much. People at all levels need to be aware of and understand the policy and what it means for them in their role. This can be achieved through positive role-modelling from senior leaders, including storytelling such as giving examples of where they have been successful due to the diversity of their team. If introducing the policy, an organisation might need a strong symbolic move to emphasise this is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ policy but is ‘the way we do things around here’.”
Michelle Cullen agrees: “My advice would be, ‘Win hearts first’. To create and sustain an inclusive culture, you need a commitment from leadership to really own their diversity and inclusion policy and to make it a priority. Once you have shared beliefs and agreed values, everything flows from there. This commitment from the top down has been critical to our success at Accenture, where our collective goal is to create a truly human environment where people have a sense of belonging, where they can show up every day, be who they are and be their best professionally and personally.”
Using one of Accenture’s own campaigns as an example, Dr Cullen elaborates: “This was the thinking behind Women on Walls – to make women leaders visible, to recognise their accomplishments and inspire the next generation. The campaign began in 2016 when Accenture partnered with the Royal Irish Academy to recognise the achievements of leading women academics. The partnership produced the first portraits of women to grace the walls in the RIA’s 230-year history. The under-representation of women in public life has been hundreds of years in the making. If we want to change that, we have to relook at all of the structures that support the inequality.”
Critical to growth
While studies have found many business leaders believe an inclusive environment is critical to growth, there remains a lack of gender, LGBTI and ethnicity representation at senior management levels. “There is significantly more awareness and focus on this topic now than a few years ago,” says Valarie Daunt. “Diversity and inclusion has become an agenda item at executive level and improved enterprise systems that provide better data to leaders are being utilised to help inform companies to their potential barriers. Increased focus in the media and changes to legislation are also driving change. Many companies have also implemented targeted leadership development programmes with mentoring and sponsorship of minority groups to support them in progressing to more senior levels.”
Cognitive diversity is rapidly becoming a factor in corporate innovation, and if there’s a recurring message surrounding the benefits of an inclusive workplace, it’s that it helps people from different backgrounds overcome stale ways of thinking. “When companies bring together people of different genders, races, cultures and perspectives, we are smarter, more creative, more innovative and more relevant,” says Dr Cullen. “It sharpens our performance, it drives innovation and stops us conforming to the old ways of doing things.”