The Increasing Value of Diversity and Inclusion in a Connected Workplace

By Sarah Sorensen
December 6, 2011 | Comments: 3

The global marketplace is filled with both immense possibilities and challenges. To successfully compete, every organization, big and small, needs to be able to quickly identify and respond to changes in needs, preferences and opportunities. This requires creating a workplace that is:

---More diverse than ever to address the changing composition of the available talent pool, which includes more women and a much broader mix of ethnicities and generations.
---Highly adaptable to leverage all the different skill sets and behaviors required to thrive in a work environment that is much more distributed and virtual.
---Supportive of new leadership, management and work styles to get the most out of employees in a hyper-connected and extremely collaborative environment.
---Able to look beyond itself with a broader understanding of different cultures, backgrounds and perspectives to navigate the customer, supplier, partner and ecological interdependencies that influence how things are valued and get done.

To capitalize on ideas, solve problems, and make decisions that will drive success, businesses must ensure they have a workplace that both contains, connects, and VALUES a diverse set of thoughts, perspectives and experiences. This is why many companies are focused on their diversity and inclusion strategies to maximize the contributions of employees (they may not use those exact terms; you may hear them talk about their culture, morale or employee development, but the goal is the same - to make the most of their talent).

When you have a diverse workforce that is connected and inclusive, you have a business accelerator that drives:

Good collaboration to solve the complex problems. You have probably heard of The Medici Effect, which describes how a diverse team can generate unlikely idea combinations that can be truly breakthrough. A study of 28 teams by Henley College found those that were heterogeneous solved complex tasks better than the homogeneous teams. They noted the diverse teams exhibited a higher level of creativity and a broader thought process.

Innovation. Research by the Aberdeen Group found that companies that drive innovation by leveraging employee ideas and knowledge meet product revenue targets 46% more often and product launch dates 47% more often than industry peers.

Employees who are engaged and productive. When employees are engaged - studies show there is an increase in productivity. Diverse work teams properly managed and trained produced results that were six times higher than homogenous teams. Companies with low levels of employee engagement saw operating income drop by more than 32% and earnings per share decline over 11%, while companies with high employee engagement had a 19% increase in operating income and almost 28% growth in earnings per share.

Customer preference. When the workforce is diverse and representative of target customers and partners there is an inherent understanding of the unique requirements of different markets. It has been found that "more than half of all international joint ventures fail within two or three years, due to a lack of cultural competency versus technical or professional expertise." Communities seek out organizations they can identify with or feel supported by - Harris Interactive Witeck-Combs reported that 78% of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community and their friends and relatives would switch brands to companies known to be GLBT-friendly.

Revenue Growth. When individuals are valued and empowered to be their best selves, tangible results can be seen in the bottom line. In a study by the American Sociological Association of 506 U.S. based businesses, each 1% increase in the rate of gender diversity resulted in an approximately 3% increase in sales revenues, up to the rate represented in the relevant population. Top-listed European companies with gender diversity in management achieved higher than average stock performance - 64% versus 47% - according to McKinsey & Co (2005-2007). A 19-year study of 215 Fortune 500 companies by the World Economic Forum found the 25 Fortune 500 firms with the best record of promoting women to high positions are between 18 and 69 percent more profitable than median Fortune 500 firms in their industries.

All of which are good reasons to figure out how you can create a diverse, connected and inclusive environment that will support your long-term competitiveness and success.

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As an IT professional with a disability, I noticed that people with disabilities was no-where in this article. The company I work for is a one-of-a-kind organization, and I'm proud to be a part of it. See

nice post...

I am sorry I didn't specifically call out people with disabilities, but I most certainly include them as a vital part of any diverse employee population. It is estimated that 10% of the population has some type of disability - for instance there are 278 million people worldwide who are deaf or hard of hearing. To be competitive, organizations need to be able to attract and retain people with disabilities; there is also a clear market opportunity for companies that can create solutions that cater to the needs (e.g. assistive and accessibility technologies) of people with disabilities.

I saw the benefits when I consulted with a company who targeted people with disabilities for their internship programs. For starters, it helped them create a more inclusive culture for future employees, as the interns identified ways to establish a better infrastructure of support for people with disabilities. In addition, the interns worked on substantive projects where they could provide their perspective to improve the end product. For example, one intern worked on the development of real time chat applications for tablets and was able to create a more interactive experience that is much more user friendly and productive. Lastly, but probably most importantly, the interns got some great work experience (doing everything from giving presentations and running meetings to attending executive lunch and learns and social mixers) that will help them in the career, and their co-workers were exposed to and gained an understanding of the challenges people with disabilities face on a daily basis in the work place. At the end of the day, everyone was able to see firsthand the amazing things that can be accomplished in a diverse and inclusive environment, which helped them advance their efforts to actively seek out, develop, and better support all their employees.

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