Intertwine the threads of diversity and inclusion with those of innovation and effectiveness, embed that in the foundations of your company. And don’t tell me it’s because if your daughter were in my shoes you’d be different than you are.

When it comes to workplace diversity and inclusion we need to cut the, ‘Well I have a daughter and I want her to see herself on our board someday’ or the  ‘I want to raise my son to see women at the same table that he is’ clichés. Typically, these foreshadow an emotional segment with some cherry picked anecdotes for a feel-good, pat on the back. This often comes from a good place, and in some cases is the first time people have truly considered diversity. But what is there, above a moral duty for equality, to actually makes a candidate feel like their diversity truly benefits the bottom line? Because it does.

Empathy is not always our ally

The problem with hearing these words, as someone who might be the target for one of the, ‘Look! We have all sorts of different people here’ campaigns, is that it smacks of pity. It says ‘getting hired into this workplace would currently suck for someone like you, so lets protect you as we shoehorn you in’. It takes the value away from the candidate, reducing them to a symbol of box ticking or a placeholder for some better future where biases aren’t so systemic. Nothing in there says, ‘I value you for who you are and need you to make my company better’. In the long history of the corporate world, sentimentality has never ranked higher than quality or revenue. What quality does achieving a diverse workforce bring? Does my gender/race/sexuality in and of itself add to my value? I won’t be defined as someone needing a crutch to get through the door, before being seen as someone who is the next high-value team member. As someone who is an asset just by being all of me.

Leading with our empathetic foot first is the surest way to allow critics to trip us up. If someone wants to rail against it by attacking positive discrimination or mandatory quotas in candidate selections, they will first lash out with, ‘they only got there because they are female/BAME/LGBTQ etc.’ And if all our arguments are solely founded in morally superior quotas, they could be right. (Side note: positive discrimination is not always bad, but if this is the centrepiece of your ‘valuing diversity’ display, then I take umbrage). I have a right to doubt those good intentions given that we’re still finding that over half of senior management believes diversity efforts are motivated by ‘political correctness’, and we’re suffering from what the Harvard Business Review calls ‘Diversity Fatigue’. The endless flipchart of proud diversity initiatives, pasted across every company newsletter and HR report rings hollow without a quantifiable ‘why’. I yawn in agreement with these shareholders If all they were told was that we need 10 more women, 5 more of this race, 3 of this non-cis/hetero group. Why? Because we look and feel good? Because the Press said we need more of this group? Roll on next year’s diverse quotas. 

A box full of one tool, does not a toolkit make

What I want to hear is ‘our company is modern, it’s global, and a diverse team is what we need to build the future’. To show me that they have actually invested in the prolific research out there to show this is true. There are innumerable research papers, articles and opinion pieces on why diversity in a company is vital to success. But, let’s check out some choice samples. How about leading a hiring campaign for a management track role with “female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value” (Columbia University study of US equity markets). Now that makes a girl feel wanted.

On top of these stats, what really matters is why these benefits materialise. Researchers for the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that, out of over 2000 companies around the world, gender diversity alone significantly impacted corporate management boards and financial performance. 

In her article ‘How Diversity makes us Smarter’, Katherine Phillips proved that there is power in diversity. By challenging the group thinking abilities of 216 undergraduate business students, she found that diverse groups were just better at problem solving. That groups who had a lot of similar external traits to each other viewed their input as ‘less unique’ and would share less personal insight with each other, and so do worse than the externally diverse group. You can see why, in a group of people entirely used to being defined by being defined as some kind of ‘other’, they were conscious of this in themselves and it made them more likely to raise their own viewpoints on the scenario. 

Bottom line… Difference makes a difference

Diversity in and of itself ensures there is a rich pool of ideas and experiences at the drawing board, so how could it not materially benefit a world focussed on rapid innovation. In their review of international research around diversity and inclusion, Emily Nyanchama Ayega and Stephen Muathe called  ‘cultural diversity in the workplace[..] a formidable competitive weapon in an organization’. Again, being called a company’s ‘competitive weapon’ is infinitely more exciting than ‘you remind me of my little girl’. This paper brings together studies from around the world which evaluated the complexity of managing diverse workforces, the reasons why they work best and are worth the commitment. High performance, increased skill and knowledge bases, all showed as key success indicators from more diverse workplaces than not. The trend seems to be, diverse workplaces are better at thinking broadly and knowledge sharing, pretty much the pillar stones of innovation.

On a fascinating note for the medical folk (or prospective patients), Medical care has been seen to significantly improve for the same reasons. This study reviewed 16 different research pieces focussed on findings in the medical field and concluded that patients saw better outcomes when treated by a more diverse team. Reasons for this were, ‘improvements to innovation, team communications and improved risk assessment’. They also saw that more diverse teams were better at handling change. If the resounding theme here is communication, it makes sense that in a world entirely focussed on fast paced problem solving and intense team work, the benefits of diversity directly feed into the positive outcomes.

My point is, sentimentality finds very few other alignments with value in the workplace, but we have empirical fact standing behind why you need to ensure your workplace has diverse voices. It is a wasted opportunity to segregate the conversations between hiring and diversity, when they are stronger as one story. The narrative around how you view your people is vital to truly practice what you want to preach, rather than making a superficial show for the PR teams to write about. If you want me to believe you actually value any prospective employee; intertwine the threads of diversity and inclusion with those of innovation and effectiveness, embed that in the foundations of your company. And don’t tell me it’s because if your daughter were in my shoes you’d be different than you are.

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