We previously explored how people often struggle to be heard in the workplace, hit upon the notion that stifling conditions aren’t just a problem for employees, but impact business too, all the way to the bottom line.
A workforce that includes people who don’t feel comfortable making their voice heard, for whatever reason, be it personality specific or related to company culture, is a workforce not operating at full capacity, leaving value untapped, innovations missed and even an underachieving bottom line.
Extroverts vs introverts
Caroline Holt, founder of Attitude Coach, talks about how the extrovert nature of business muffles quieter, more introvert voices, to the detriment of business.
“In rooms with lots of people talking, often it’s the quiet one who has the best idea, if they’re given the space. If the majority white middle-aged male business leaders realised how much value is contained within every single employee in their company, they would do more to illicit that value. They would see it add to their bottom line, it would make their business better and more effective.”
The need for more variety
As Holt more than hints at in that statement, ethnicity and gender are key to the proliferation and amplification of voices in the workplace. Indeed, a McKinsey report using 2017 data shows that companies in the top 25% for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Meanwhile, executive teams with greater ethnic and cultural diversity were 33% more likely of outperform on earnings before interest and taxes.
“Businesses are becoming more and more aware that an inclusive workforce isn’t just a legal or moral imperative; it directly improves the bottom line,” says Sonya Veerasamy, Client Manager at diversity and inclusion consultancy EW Group. “There’s a large and growing body of evidence around the business benefits: when you get it right, your teams perform better, are more innovative, make better decisions, and stay with you for longer. As one example, research this year by BCG has shown that companies with above-average diversity at management level can boost revenue from innovation by 19%.”
The danger is your managers end up hiring staff who are just like them, and so you miss out on the benefits
Encouraging and developing a diverse and inclusive workforce is a delicate matter. Firstly, D&I are not one and the same and improving one will not automatically solve issues in the other. Additionally, some feel the very notion of a business case for diversity is an affront to people – arguing a business case for employing genders, ethnicities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ sounds like a business saying: “Convince why we should employ such candidates?”.
“Recruiting a diverse workforce doesn’t happen overnight,” says Veerasamy. “It requires careful planning around the fundamentals of your recruitment and selection processes, and consideration of the audiences that you’re recruiting from. It all starts with the job description. Make sure it’s jargon-free and can be easily understood by someone outside your organisation, so you’re not excluding anyone at the very first stage. Be imaginative about how you spread the word outside your traditional networks. Make the application process as user-friendly as possible, and don’t forget to communicate your commitment to workplace diversity. This really matters to applicants. In PwC’s 2017 Inclusive Recruitment Survey, for instance, 54% of women (and 45% of men) said they had researched a company’s diversity and inclusion policy as part of their decision to apply for a role.”
Another key point to be aware of as an employer are unconscious biases, which we all have and which historically have lead to the “old, white and male” and “old boys club” image that business is trying to shake off.
“Unconscious biases are the shortcuts hardwired into our brains that allow us to make quick judgements with minimal effort,” says Veerasamy. “But sometimes these judgements can narrow our thinking and impact our decision-making. Let’s take a job interview as an example. The danger is your managers end up hiring staff who are just like them, and so you miss out on the benefits that spring from embracing difference. It all comes down to how you design your practices and processes in advance, because managing bias isn’t something that can be done in the moment.”
Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.