We live in an increasingly cosmopolitan world, where people from different cultures and backgrounds live, learn, work and play together every day. According to the 2016 Canadian census, more than 20 percent of people living in Canada were born elsewhere, with the top countries of origin for recent immigrants being the Philippines, India and China.1 And visible minorities might comprise one-third of Canadians by the year 2036.2 In the United States, about 13 percent of residents are foreign-born, with most new immigrants coming from India, China and Mexico. 3
Workplaces, to some extent, mirror the diversity in our culture. Diversity can mean different things to different people: there’s diversity of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, education, age and ability. And it’s something that more and more companies are paying attention to these days.
One basic reason why diversity has become such a popular workplace topic is that research consistently shows that the more diverse a workplace is, the better the outcomes will be for that company or organization.
For instance, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation found that every one-percent increase in diversity in Canadian workplaces produced an average of 2.4 percent increase in revenue.4 For a company with annual revenues of $10 million, that would mean an extra $240,000 per year!
And research from global consulting firm McKinsey and Company shows that American workplaces with more women in top roles were 15 percent more likely to have above-average profitability.5 The same study found that companies with more visible minorities in executive positions were 33 percent more likely to have higher profits than their peers.6
How does diversity lead to value creation?
“The largest benefit in diversity is the diversity of thought and perspective when you have people coming together from different countries, where they look at the world differently and solve problems differently,” says Tina Varughese, a professional speaker and trainer who specializes in diversity training. “Quite simply, diversity spurs creativity.”
So, there are obvious benefits to diverse, rather than homogenous, workplaces, but these environments need to be built with care and understanding.
Zakeana Reid, senior director of special projects at the Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, cautions that leaders need to engage on diversity and make sure their workplace is reaping the benefits. “If you don’t prepare the environment, it’s a little bit like taking a saltwater fish and dumping him a freshwater tank and just hoping for the best,” she says.
“The best thing that organizations can do is to understand who they have working for them and how those people feel,” Reid says. “When you understand your gaps, you can think about how you’re willing to address them.”
For instance, employers may recognize that an LGBTQ-friendly office would benefit from gender-neutral washrooms, that Muslim employees might need to make time for prayers during the work day or that nursing mothers need privacy a few times a day.
Even if you’re not in a management position, there are lots of things you can do to make sure your workplace is welcoming to a diverse range of people and benefits from everyone’s contributions:
- Acknowledge that we all have unconscious biases. The way you were raised and your life experiences are powerful forces. They can make you think that a person with a certain accent is smarter than a person with a different accent, or that a woman is better suited to one particular job than another. Think about what your biases are, and then work to counteract them.
- Include diversity in your daily work. If you’re illustrating a presentation with pictures of people, use people of different races, genders and physical appearances. If you’re talking about hypothetical situations, use the words “she” and “her” as much as you use “he” and “him.”
- Think outside the box. Title, rank and position are just words on paper. If you’re looking for creative input to help solve a difficult problem, seek out the views and opinions of people in your workplace who have diverse experiences. Ask a colleague from another country how certain things were done there, or invite a variety of people – different ages, backgrounds and abilities – to be part of a product testing session.
We’re all diverse – in our thoughts, backgrounds, appearances and abilities. When we harness the positive force behind those differences, we all succeed.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policies or position of Foresters Financial.
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