What is Diversity and Inclusivity?
In the 21st century workplace, diversity and inclusivity are increasingly becoming popular organisational values, and ones that predict a healthy organisational culture (Bourke et al., 2017). It may seem intuitive to think of diversity and inclusivity as two interchangeable terms, but in fact, they have different meanings (Schuelka et al., 2019). Practicing diversity in the workplace means to intentionally open up organisational opportunities to individuals of varying identities including: race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation etc. This can also extend into the acceptance of individuals with differing educational backgrounds, personalities , skills sets, experiences and knowledge bases (Mor-Barak, 2016). On the other hand, inclusivity in the workplace means to provide fair and equal opportunities and resources to all individuals within the organisational environment. Individuals are treated with respect, where the workplace becomes a collaborative and supportive space (Marques, 2019).
It is encouraging to see that these values are now regarded as imperative in the success of the organisation; they can also be further enhanced if organisations increase both diversity and inclusivity together. In Singapore, the concepts of multiculturalism and multiracialism have been heavily emphasised in our national narrative, and may be intuitively brought to mind when discussing diversity (Mathews, 2016). However, many other aspects of diversity are commonly masked because of this, and local organisations may overlook representation of social groups such as the LGBTQ+ community and elderly in the workforce. Thus, organisations can be more careful in making sure that they are indeed practicing what they preach. Many organisations may also practice diversity, but unknowingly leave out inclusivity into the mix. Organisations establish new hiring practices, creating employee quotas and perhaps even outsourcing. Yet, the act of inclusivity means to go beyond the mere hiring of diverse people from diverse backgrounds, but to also help these people to integrate together and form a healthy, close-knit community (Riordan, 2014). It means to make sure that everyone is heard and that no one is left out from any opportunities or feel left out from the company. Without inclusivity, diversity can have adverse effects on organisational culture, as employees feel detached from each other and seem to always have opposing views with each other. The majority may still display subtle signs of biasness, resistance, and exclusivity, and the minority may struggle to conform (Aquino & Robertson, 2018). In view of these, organisations can consider enhancing existing organizational diversity with more inclusivity such as connecting employees by building mutual understanding and empathy
Effects of Diversity
The concept of diversity may be more familiar to organisations, with effects that are visible in the short-term as compared to inclusivity. Diversity allows for greater innovation and creativity, as more perspectives and range of talents are provided in dealing with work-related problems (Chidiac, 2018). Furthermore, increased levels of representation across different identities can allow for deeper insights into social problems that the organisation can help to alleviate (Chidiac, 2018). By having employees from diverse backgrounds, it also visually places the organisation in a better light for being more fair, unbiased, and socially responsible (CCH Australia Limited, 2010).
Effects of Inclusivity
On the other hand, inclusivity and its benefits may appear in more subtle ways over a longer, gradual period of time. The benefits of inclusivity are rooted in reducing common workplace biases such as discrimination, stereotypes, promotion barriers, and in reducing workplace tensions and intolerance (Tan, 2019). The fostering of an inclusive environment makes sure that each individual is treated with mutual respect, and that all conflicts are resolved in a timely and appropriate manner (Vohra et al., 2015). Additionally, this sets the foundation for a healthy workplace environment, where all employees are equally heard and feel comfortable in expressing their professional views. This promotes employee’s individual self-esteem and high-quality work relationships (Vohra et al., 2015). Over time, employees will go beyond merely being tolerant of each other’s backgrounds, to being appreciative and understanding of each other, where healthy and productive communication patterns can be seen in the organisation (CBC News, 2016).
The benefits of having a diverse and inclusive organisational environment are numerous, which leads to many organisations aiming to incorporate these values.
When organisations have a diverse pool of talents, they are also expanding their reach and ability to retain the best talents, as compared to organisations who narrow their search down to a particular group (Herring & Henderson, 2014). Organisations can ensure that they cast their nets wide enough in order to recruit the most suitable candidates for their business. Furthermore, having a diverse skill base also allows the organisation to offer a wider, and more adaptable range of products and services to the masses (George & Jones, 2010). Having a diverse and integrated team can also help boost local market knowledge and insights in making the business more competitive and profitable. This can then translate into targeted marketing to audiences of various backgrounds (George & Jones, 2010).
Diversity and inclusivity can also work together to promote a healthier organisational culture by enhancing employees’ work satisfaction, happiness, and engagement, leading to increased organisational commitment, which in turn reduces employee turnover. Dynamic interaction between employees of different backgrounds can also help them to positively influence each other’s self-image, work values, and expectations (Hubbard, 2004).
While it may seem easier for homogenous teams to work together and communicate together, as people from similar backgrounds are likely to relate more to each other, such teams can cause progress to stagnate (Rock et al., 2016). When teams are diverse and integrated, healthy competition can be created as different perspectives are discussed. This atmosphere can optimise organisational efficiency and promote employee stimulation. Employees can also leave with a deeper knowledge of the problem they were facing and learn from each other’s work approaches (Rock et al., 2016). As Harvard Business Review suggests, working on diverse teams leads to better work outcomes because it is harder. Although there is an element of competition, this does not mean that diversity would lead to unresolved workplace conflict and tension (Overton & Lowry, 2013). Professional competition should not be confused with personal biases. Inclusivity can help employees with differing views to manage conflict in a healthy manner (Overton & Lowry, 2013). When employees treat each other as equals, healthy communication can be fostered, and workplace tension can be reduced. When employees see each other through unbiased lenses, interaction becomes natural and leads to professional engagement (Romme, 2020).
After having seen the positive effects of diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, organisations may be curious to know how to properly implement relevant practices. In the next article, we will explore some ways in which organisations can go beyond current practices and effectively incorporate diversity and inclusivity into the workplace.
Camellia Wong (MA), Jasmine Low (PhD.), Kam Wing Shan
Aquino, C. T. E. D., & Robertson, R. W. (2018). Diversity and Inclusion in the Global Workplace: Aligning Initiatives with Strategic Business Goals (Softcover reprint of the original 1st ed. 2018 ed.). Palgrave Macmillan.
Bourke, J., Berkel, A., & Wang, D. W. (2017, February 28). Diversity and inclusion: The reality gap. Deloitte Insights. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2017/diversity-and-inclusion-at-the-workplace.html
CBC News. (2016, March 20). Jennifer Newman: Embracing diversity in the workplace requires understanding, not just tolerance. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/jennifer-newman-embracing-diversity-in-the-workplace-requires-understanding-not-just-tolerance-1.3499182
CCH Australia Limited. (2010). Australian Master Human Resources Guide 2010. CCH Australia.
Chidiac, E. (2018). Strategic Management of Diversity in the Workplace: An Australian Case (Routledge Research in Employment Relations) (1st ed.). Routledge.
George, J., & Jones, G. (2010). Understanding and Managing Organizational Behavior (6th ed.). Pearson.
Herring, C., & Henderson, L. (2014). Diversity in Organizations: A Critical Examination (1st ed.). Routledge.
Hubbard, E. E. (2004). The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Diversity Management. H R D Press.
Marques, J. (2019). The Routledge Companion to Management and Workplace Spirituality (Routledge Companions in Business, Management and Marketing) (1st ed.). Routledge.
Mathews, M. (2016, August 11). Managing Singapore’s new diversities. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/managing-singapores-new-diversities
Mor-Barak, M. E. (2016). Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace (4th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.
Overton, A., & Lowry, A. (2013). Conflict Management: Difficult Conversations with Difficult People. Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery, 26(04), 259–264. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0033-1356728
Riordan, C. (2014). Diversity is useless without inclusivity. Harvard Business Review, 1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276275382_Diversity_is_useless_without_inclusivity
Rock, D., Grant, H., & Grey, J. (2016, September 22). Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable — and That’s Why They Perform Better. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/09/diverse-teams-feel-less-comfortable-and-thats-why-they-perform-better
Romme, G. (2020). The Quest for Professionalism: The Case of Management and Entrepreneurship. Oxford University Press.
Schuelka, M. J., Johnstone, C. J., Thomas, G., & Artiles, A. J. (2019). The SAGE Handbook of Inclusion and Diversity in Education (1st ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.
Tan, T. Q. (2019). Principles of Inclusion, Diversity, Access, and Equity. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 220(Supplement_2), S30–S32. https://doi.org/10.1093/infdis/jiz198
Vohra, N., Chari, V., Mathur, P., Sudarshan, P., Verma, N., Mathur, N., Thakur, P., Chopra, T., Srivastava, Y., Gupta, S., Dasmahapatra, V., Fonia, S., & Gandhi, H. K. (2015). Inclusive Workplaces: Lessons from Theory and Practice. Vikalpa: The Journal for Decision Makers, 40(3), 324–362. https://doi.org/10.1177/0256090915601515