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How to make diversity work for your business

One of the hot topics of the moment, diversity is an issue that tends to polarise people

A lot of the diversity discussion seems to revolve around appearance, race or cultural background; however, the valuable part of diversity in the business is derived from the diversity of thinking and ideas.

It is thought that diversity leads to a range of opinions and some innovative and more creative ideas. With more of this ‘out of the box’ and left-field thinking, a business is surely going to come up with great stuff that will translate into market-shaking action; however, diversity does not come for free. Costs are associated with it, and these need to be considered to ensure the success of making this part of your business strategy.

Research conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that diversity in the workplace could boost performance; however, it could also lead to increased unhappiness amongst employees. This study indicated that employees who were more similar, or homogenous, had more of what is known as social capital. Social capital could be explained as a friendlier atmosphere and being more cooperative and even more comfortable together; however, this did not lead to improved performance.

Teams that were too similar tended to echo each other and were less able to come up with innovation. With teams that are extremely diverse, there could be issues with integrating their ideas into action by the rest of the business. Coordinating the diverse teams could also be difficult at times due to conflict and lack of harmony, which has a negative impact on achievement.

Another study, carried out by researchers at The Wharton School (the business school at the University of Pennsylvania) and INSEAD (one of the world’s leading business schools), found that there was a point where the cost of maintaining diverse teams of employees was balanced against the gains for the greatest pay-off and results.

More research from the Columbia Business School says that diversity has its benefits in bringing together people who have lived different lives and had a huge range of experiences. This study demonstrated that diverse teams brought many different perspectives to solving problems, which enabled more innovative solutions and improved decision making.

This study also indicated that diversity affects the individuals who make up the team, leading to better decisions as a group and boosting economic results. Diversity appears to encourage learning, which leads to more creative thinking.

To achieve more diversity in your workplace, there are a number of actions that can be taken. Firstly, fully assess the skills you already have and what your employees can do. Take on new recruits who are not like you or the employees already in the organisation.

Secondly, make it possible for younger people to keep older employees informed of new technology and trends. Encourage an atmosphere in which people can speak out and not be nervous about sharing new ideas or ways of doing things.

Finally, when given innovative propositions, the business leaders must be receptive to new opinions. Consider doing things differently and your business could really thrive.

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