Workforce Diversity as a Competitive Advantage

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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace have been a hot topic in the business world for a few years now, especially as it pertains to business sustainability through ESG strategies. Workforce diversity means hiring and retaining employees who are diverse in race, culture, gender, beliefs, age, ability, and sexual orientation.

Here’s the good news, there’s more to gain than to lose from hiring employees from different backgrounds. One of the key benefits of a diverse team is the competitive advantage it grants the business on many levels. As a CEO, HR manager or leader in your organization, don’t make the mistake of being resistant to the very necessary transformation which includes becoming more mindful in your hiring process and building a work culture and environment that are inclusive.

These are the 5 ways diversity gives businesses a powerful competitive advantage:

1

Attracts a more diverse customer base which increases profit

When the individuals in your workforce have a range of experiences and characteristics, they will be able to create products for and tap into more diverse target markets. Think about it, your employees are also consumers. So, even before technical research comes into play, they know what people with similar characteristics and backgrounds as them in the market for your offering need and crave.

Let’s use Netflix as an example. From the market share this streaming site has gained since its launch in 2007, it’s obvious the workforce has expansive insight into a variety of markets. To create and upload entertaining content for audiences with different interests, beliefs and worldviews, the brand has had to hire a diverse pool of employees.

2

Increases creativity and innovation through collaboration

When your workforce is made up of people from different backgrounds with unique skills, combining these minds brings about the most creative ideas and innovative strategies. Everyone contributes something different, and with some teamwork and a common goal, great ideas are bound to surface.

The more creative and innovative your offerings are, the more effectively your brand will satisfy the needs of your target audience. In business, satisfying your target customer’s needs is key.

3

Improves decision-making and leads to faster problem-solving

Decision-making is easier when decisions are made by people with insight and know-how in a space. A diverse team of employees, with different backgrounds and experiences, can solve problems quickly and find a wider range of solutions. The conflicts, debates and disagreements that occur within the team lead to discovering key issues and finding solutions to those issues that competitors haven’t considered.

In today’s ever-evolving markets, your workforce needs to be solutions driven, and act quickly. Competitors continue to introduce new and improved products to the market, and your company needs to keep up. If you want to be an industry leader, there’s even more pressure to act decisively while continuing to bring innovation.

4

Helps businesses attract and retain talent – better reputation as an employer

When your workforce is diverse, and the environment is inclusive, your company will retain its people. Your employees spend so much of their time at work, when they know the things that make them unique are celebrated and encouraged, it makes their work life easier and more pleasant.

Having a diverse workforce also attracts unique employees rich in experience and skills. For today’s talent, especially Gen Z, fair pay alone is not enough. The younger generation is more socially conscious and wants to associate with brands and businesses whose values mirror their own.

Being able to attract, retain and keep talent engaged and loyal to your company in the era of ‘the great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ is a competitive advantage.

5

Improves customer experience and customer service

A culturally diverse team has individuals with different religious beliefs, cultures, languages, and ethnicity. This kind of team is equipped to serve your customers at the highest standard. The nuances that should be considered when communicating with, creating products for, and serving customers from different backgrounds can only be understood by a diverse workforce.

When your clients feel seen, understood, and respected by your brand, they vouch for you. Word of mouth is still one of the best forms of marketing, and diversity can help you get those ratings and positive feedback from your clients.

In this new digital age, reviews are a currency for businesses in highly competitive markets. Stay one step ahead of your competitors by diversifying your staff and training them on how to provide the most professional level of customer service.

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What are the next steps?

Now that you understand exactly how your competitive advantage will improve, you need to take practical steps to enhance not only the diversity in your business but also to make the environment and culture more inclusive.

Hiring a diversity manager or consulting with a diversity and inclusion professional can be helpful, especially if you don’t have the capacity to dedicate as much time as required for this transformation. There are some best practices that you, as a business owner or leader, can implement to start seeing improvement.

Diversity and Inclusion Best Practices

  • Audit your company and know where you stand right now in terms of diversity. What are the predominant demographics of your team? Some industries are more behind than others when it comes to having a diverse team of talent. Understand who your target audience is and see whether the diversity of your workforce matches this target audience. Keep empowerment in mind. As a tech firm in the US or UK, you should offer skills training to demographic groups who need it the most.
  • Educate your current workforce on the importance of diversity and inclusion. For your employees to work well together, and accept each other’s differences, they need to learn more about diversity. Workforce Campaigns offers a professionally designed Gender and Diversity Campaign that speaks up for gender diversity and inclusivity in the workplace and its benefits. You can use this internal communication campaign which includes posters, a video, social media posts, a toolbox talk and more, to educate your staff and raise awareness.
  • Intentionally hire diverse talent. This means you might need to have a larger pool of shortlisted candidates to find employees from different backgrounds, and with different worldviews, and experiences. Adjust your entire recruitment process to increase the chances of hiring candidates from different backgrounds. Your HR team also needs to adjust how they disqualify some candidates. A gap in a candidate’s resume might be because of pregnancy, or not having the resources to complete their studies. This doesn’t mean a candidate isn’t capable of excelling in the job you’re hiring for. Your hiring manager needs to be more open-minded, and socially conscious for your company to become more diverse.
  • Build a company culture that accepts and celebrates people’s differences. With South Africa celebrating its Heritage Month in September, companies in the country often celebrate Heritage Day by encouraging their staff to dress up in their traditional attire to work – or even host a culture day to educate the team on the variety of cultures in the country. You need to get creative and find ways to make your staff feel seen, understood, and valued. Your company’s internal communication initiatives need to reflect the culture you’re trying to build.
  • Focus on employee retention through inclusion. It’s not enough to hire more women if the current work environment is not conducive for those women to thrive. How are you ensuring women don’t get sexually harassed by the male leaders in your organisation? Do you offer flexible working hours for new moms? What about childcare, do you have an aftercare facility in your office? How do you deal with bullying, harmful stereotypes and victimisation in your office?

"Understand who your target audience is and see whether the diversity of your workforce matches this target audience."

"You need to get creative and find ways to make your staff feel seen, understood, and valued."

Prioritise workforce health

The health of your employees directly affects their performance which affects the company’s productivity and profit level. Raising health awareness, educating your staff on health matters, and making the work environment and culture healthier are in the best interests of your organisation.

Ideas on how you can improve the health and overall well-being of your workforce:

  • Hire enough people for the productivity you expect. Highly stressed employees are bound to experience more health issues from that stress
  • Invite health professionals to educate your workforce and encourage them to make better choices when it comes to their overall health
  • Create and run communication campaigns that raise awareness on common health conditions and that encourage prevention

As much as a workforce that’s rich in culture, gender, age, and experience is a competitive advantage, business leaders need to think beyond that fact alone. For your organisation to become sustainable in the long-term, diversity needs to be prioritised because of reasons outside of profit and competing in the market. Your business needs to hire diverse because the world is diverse.

If the organisation you lead is global, you need to be as diverse as the countries you hire from. If you have offices in the UK and South Africa, your South African team needs to represent how multicultural South Africa is as a country. And remember, don’t take shortcuts – your organisation needs diverse leadership too. If your decision makers still represent the unevolved, outdated culture and standards you’re trying to transform from, your reputation will remain as it is.

As a leader, your company’s transformation starts with you.

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