embracing diversity in the workplace

embracing diversity in the workplace
In our ever-changing world, diversity in the workplace is the new reality; and with this comes an exciting opportunity to embrace new ideas and different ways of thinking.

Essentially diversity in the workplace means having employees from a wide range of backgrounds, but it’s not just about employing people of different ages and gender. It’s about embracing employees of different ethnicities, and different physical abilities, religious beliefs, work experience, educational backgrounds, and employees of diverse gender identity and sexual orientation.

If you have a diverse workforce in your business you can benefit from the different talents, skills, experiences and perspectives of your employees. Experts argue that diverse teams leads to higher employee engagement that ultimately leads to more innovative work behaviour, better decision making and increased productivity and performance.

An organisation known for its ethics, fair employment practices and appreciation for diverse talent is better able to attract a wider pool of qualified applicants. Other advantages include loyalty from customers who prefer to do business with companies whose business practices are socially responsible. Businesses that embrace diversity certainly have a more solid footing in the marketplace than others.

Doing business in New Zealand provides fertile ground for increasing workplace diversity given our proud history of embracing change and promoting equality, which also extends to our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community, for example.

The Randstad Workmonitor research found that 73% of New Zealanders said they believe someone’s sexual orientation is not an issue in the workplace and only 9% of LGBT workers had faced discrimination at work in New Zealand, compared to the global average of 15%.

The research also revealed that most Kiwi workers believe New Zealand society is more tolerant of people with diverse backgrounds. Up to 78% of Kiwi workers believe their company has an open and inclusive culture and 88% value diversity in the workplace. This openness provides employers with the ideal platform from which to further develop diversity and leverage its benefits within their organisation.

However, diversity and tolerance in the workplace doesn’t just happen, it needs to be cultivated and protected. To be effective, as an employer, you’ll need to implement strategies and policies to produce this outcome for the benefit of your employees and your bottom line. These policies should be over and above your obligations and commitment to New Zealand’s equal employment opportunities (EEO) legislation.

Importantly, it’s also about recognising that it can be incredibly challenging for employees to share their personal story with both prospective and current employers. For example, an LGBT employee (or potential employee) may feel uncomfortable discussing their situation with colleagues or a hiring manager, as they may be afraid it could cause them to feel excluded or worse, marginalised. So it is key for managers and teams to create a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment in order for diversity to truly flourish.

One way to demonstrate to employees and potential employees that your organisation is committed to creating a safe, inclusive workforce is by seeking external endorsement of your diversity policies. For example, in New Zealand, Rainbow Tick provides support and recognition to businesses wanting to create a workplace that is more inclusive of LGBT workers. Their quality improvement cycle - called Rainbow Tick – has already been implemented by companies like ASB, Coca-Cola New Zealand and Sky City.

Some other tips for increasing and embracing diversity in your business includes:
  • Looking at research about what attributes different employee groups find attractive in an employer when looking for work, like Randstad’s employer branding research and building your attraction communication around these attributes and the candidates you’re looking to attract. Find out more at randstadaward.co.nz
  • Implementing recruitment and selection policies that ensure unbiased evaluation criteria and committing to key performance attributes of the role before interviewing potential candidates. 
  • Report hiring and promotion rates of all demographic groups within your organisation to increase transparency and accountability around diversity.
  • Establish mentorship programmes that support the personal and career development of underrepresented groups within your organisation.
  • Create opportunities for your people to learn about other perspectives and cultures. This could be through a simple, ‘lunch and learn’ session run informally by staff but supported by leadership.
While research shows that New Zealand provides a more open and accepting working environment for people with diverse backgrounds, making diversity work for your organisation will of course, take time and investment in your employees.

Effectively integrating people into teams requires all employees to understand and embrace the opportunities people with diverse backgrounds can bring to the organisation. It will also recognise that you need to take time with potentially ‘vulnerable’ employees to foster and grow their capabilities in a supportive and welcoming work environment.

The benefits of operating with a diverse workforce certainly outweigh any investment and provides an opportunity to stimulate your team with new opinions and ideas which ultimately will have a positive effect on your bottom line.

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Posted: Monday, 4 April 2016 - 4:40 PM