Weekly Editorial

Embracing Diversity in the Workplace

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • December 4, 2023

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What defines a company extends beyond the products it sells, services it offers, or the profits it generates. A company is ultimately defined by the individuals it employs. Those employees and managers reflect the organization, its ideals and objectives.

This underscores the importance of cultural diversity in the workplace. Managers who prioritize the recruitment of employees from diverse economic and sociopolitical backgrounds introduce unique viewpoints and perspectives to the company. Embracing cultural diversity not only provides individuals from diverse backgrounds with opportunities for a fulfilling career but also fosters an environment where employees can approach conflicts and decisions with a global and holistic mindset.

Cultural diversity is critical when fostering a thriving workplace, but it isn’t easy. Some companies do not give cultural diversity the priority and importance it deserves. They might not make the necessary financial investments to hire a diverse workforce or fail to recognize the numerous benefits that come with creating a culturally diverse workplace.

I think most good business leaders understand instinctively that diversity is important. It is becoming increasingly evident that diversity is not only valuable from a moral standpoint but also makes practical business sense. According to McKinsey & Co. research, companies that excel in gender, racial, and ethnic diversity — those in the top quartile — are more likely to achieve financial returns better than the median average of their respective industries. Conversely, those in the bottom quartile are statistically less likely to attain returns above the industry average. Diversity, the study found, is a competitive advantage, influencing market share in favor of more diverse companies over time.

While it’s crucial to note that correlation does not imply causation (an increase in gender and ethnic diversity in corporate leadership doesn’t guarantee increased profits), the observed correlation suggests that companies dedicated to diverse leadership tend to be more successful. McKinsey found that more diverse companies are better equipped to attract top talent, enhance customer service, boost employee satisfaction, and improve decision-making processes, creating a positive cycle of increasing returns. This implies that other forms of diversity, such as age, sexual orientation, and varied experiences (such as a global mindset and cultural fluency), are also likely to give a competitive advantage to companies that can attract and retain diverse talent.

Leadership is important as well. According to an article in Harvard Business Review, without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of color are 24% less likely; and LGBTs are 21% less likely. This costs their companies crucial market opportunities, because inherently diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets. When at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end user, the entire team better understands that user. A team with a member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152% likelier than another team to understand that client.

Until recently, the commercial interiors industry has done a poor job attracting a diverse group of people. But that seems to be changing, at least anecdotally. Next time you attend an industry event, take a look around. You will find the room will still be predominantly white, but that people of color are beginning to work in the industry as well, including in leadership roles, which is critically important, especially since we are in the business of creating spaces that need to work for everyone.

This column is not meant to be a scolding. You don’t need a white male to tell you your company needs to be more diverse. But I would invite you to take a look at your own company and honestly evaluate whether or not diversity is increasing, decreasing or is stagnant. If it’s not part of your strategy, you may be operating at half speed.

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