Does diversity really matter?
By Yvette Sweringa, CSR Europe

Before diving into the business case for diversity, it is good to understand what diversity management actually means: ‘management philosophy of recognising and valuing heterogeneity in organisations with a view to improve organisational performance’.[1] To have this definition applied to the workplace, the European Union currently has 14 Diversity Charters united under the EU platform of Diversity Charters. These charters are “short documents voluntarily signed by companies or public institutions. By signing the charter they commit to promoting diversity and equal opportunities in the workplace regardless of, for example, age, disability, gender, race/ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation” (EU Platform for Diversity Charters, 2014).

According to research from 366 companies, the positive relation between diversity and financial business performance is clear. It was found that enterprises with good gender diversity have 15% increased likelihood of having financial performance above the industry average. Furthermore, having good ethnic/racial diversity increases this chance to 35%. The research found that the reverse is also true, a lack of diversity makes companies underperform.[2]

To grasp how diversity benefits a company, it is helpful to distinguish between internal and external benefits as used in a meta-research undertaken by the UK government. Internal benefits relate to employee satisfaction and performance. External benefits are related to customer relations and market reach. [3]

With regards to internal performance, diversity spurs creativity, helps to recruit talent and improves individual satisfaction and performance. Having a diverse team means that there are people from different backgrounds who will have different ideas and perspectives. Bringing these ideas together will improve innovation and creativity. Nevertheless, having different ideas is not sufficient, it is important that employees work in a safe and open environment where they are encouraged to voice their ideas. It has been shown that minorities feel and work better in diverse teams.

A company can furthermore reap external benefits from having a diverse workforce. Globalisation has opened up many new markets across the world and more and more companies are now working internationally. This means that they serve a wide range of customers who come from different cultures, have different sexual preferences, religions and customs. Diversity in the organisation can help in several ways. First of all, having a workforce that represents the society in which it operates will create greater customer trust due to more cultural sensitivity. Secondly, different people think and act differently and having employees from these groups will give the company tailored information that will help to reach new markets successfully. Minority groups make up a large part of the population and have a big purchasing power. Failing to reach these groups would thus be a significant loss to the company.

Furthermore, diversity also goes beyond the borders of the company. Several enterprises integrate diversity as part of their supply chain. Manufacturers implement supplier diversity programs to meet customer expectations or to attract investment groups’ attention. 

By now it should be clear that diversity at the workplace is not just a matter of morals and doing the right thing, but it makes good business sense. It will improve your financial performance, increase innovation and help you meet your customers’ expectations.

Has your company already taken the first step to stay ahead? Join the European diversity movement and sign a Diversity Charter.

 


[1] Ozbilgin, M.F. and Tatli, A. (2011), ‘Mapping out the field of equality and diversity: the rise of individualism and volunteerism’

[2] Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, Sara Prince (2014) Diversity Matters. McKinsey & Company

[3] Department for Business Innovation & Skills (2013), The business case for equality and diversity, a survey of the academic literature. UK Government Equalities Office
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