What comes to your mind as soon as you hear “diversity in the workplace”? And what are the benefits and challenges of diversity in the workplace?
Most of the people often relate workplace diversity to variance in different groups of people on the basis of sex, caste, nationality and religion. Sadly, This is just an incomplete statement. Diversity in the workplace is not limited to just these dimensions. It is a much more complex term.
I am not a workforce diversity expert. So, I took to Google to learn why is diversity so complex. I did some research online, read several articles, research papers and many other resources before coming to a conclusion that “Workplace Diversity” is perceived differently by different individuals which makes it super complex to understand.
Let’s dive in to understand what exactly does diversity mean and what are the benefits and challenges of diversity in the workplace.
We asked Harlina Sodhi, Diversity Evangelist, TEDx speaker and Senior Executive, Vice President – HR at IDFC Bank on her thoughts, and here’s what she says:
What is Diversity?
Technically, Diversity is defined as all characteristics and experiences that define each of us as individuals. At the workplace, diversity encompasses numerous elements such as differences in nationality, native language, social status, religious origins and beliefs, life experiences, political beliefs, Sexual orientation, educational degrees and the most common gender based diversity.
There is a common misconception prevailing among many people at workplace that they often relate diversity to certain persons or groups, which is not true. In fact it is exactly opposite. Often I see people concluding the topic of diversity with the ratio of men and women workforce within the company. It is much more and beyond men-women ratios.
Diversity not only involves how people perceive themselves, but how they perceive others
Whether it is gender diversity or age or any other type of diversity, it can benefit as well as impose certain challenges within organizations. However managing diversity strategically and minimizing the challenges, you can leverage the overall benefits that it offers to every organization.
History of Diversity in the Workplace
Although racial and sexual orientation based diversities had their roots since the ancient India, other dimensions of diversity were discovered after the British colonized us. In the US, similar workplace discrimination issues were prevailing in early 1940s. Following an increase in discrimination issues, the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the US made it illegal for organizations to engage in employment practices that discriminated against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability.
Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace
In today’s era of entrepreneurship and massive industrial expansion, success and competitiveness of most of the organizations depends upon its ability to embrace diversity and how they minimize its negative effects.
Dr. Tanvi Gautam, Top 10 Social media HR influencer, TEDx speaker, and Founder at LeaderShift Inc says:
Upon careful observation of various workplace diversity strategies and implementation plans of some of the most successful organizations, I was able to find the following benefits of diversity at workplace:
1. Increased level of adaptability
One of the important benefits of diversity at workplace is that it allows employees from diverse backgrounds bring individual skills and talent across the table. They are able to suggest ideas that are flexible in adapting to ever fluctuating markets and customer demand channels. Organizations that employ a diverse workforce are seen to provide better solutions to frequent problems in sourcing, and allocation of resources.
2. Numerous viewpoints
Companies having diverse workforce find it easy when to work upon various points of view which ultimately helps provide a larger pool of ideas and experiences. The organizations can then draw value from that pool to meet business goals and the needs of customers more effectively.
3. Effective implementation
Companies that encourage diversity in the workplace play an important role in inspiring all of their employees to perform to their best abilities. Nowadays, companies have started adopting Diversity Training programs and centers that train industry leaders how to implement various diversity strategies within their teams. Such Company-wide strategies can then be implemented easily resulting in higher productivity, more revenues, and ROI.
4. Broader Skill Set and Experiences
A diverse collection of skills and experiences (e.g. languages, industry level experiences) allows a company to assign different goals to different employees with specific skill sets. It helps in distribution of work and helps in improving productivity.
Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace
It is very rarely seen that the implementation of diversity causes serious problems to any organisation. Diversity brings far more positive outcomes than the negatives. However, at the minimum diversity in the workplace can pose the following challenges, which can easily be controlled using strategic steps taken by the top level management:
- Integration Issues: A culturally diverse workforce sometimes faces integration issues and can end up with high levels of dissatisfaction. For instance, When several workers from a culturally diverse background are placed in a group to achieve a common goal with mutual effort and collaboration, their differences of opinions and other variables can hinder the development of unity.
- Communication Issues: Diversity in workplace tends to increase the chances of employees being dissatisfied and often creates miscommunication issues. Groups with different nationality and native languages are the ones most affected at workplace due to these differences.
- Performance Issues: Diversity can sometimes be linked with conflict, lower group adhesiveness, increase employee turnover and absenteeism and lower quality of performance. Team members with high level of dissatisfaction tend to react by lowering their performance which ultimately hinders the company’s progress.
The overall impact of diversity in the workplace is highly favourable to any organization. Despite the lack of unity, harmony and increased level of dissatisfaction among different groups at work, organizations with great leaders and in-house diversity training centers are easily able to reduce the negatives and reap the positive effects that workplace diversity offers.
Want to increase workplace diversity? Check out our guide on employer branding!
[BONUS] – Infographic
We built this infographic to summarize the benefits and challenges of diversity in workplace. Feel free to share it with credits and link back to this article if you find it useful.