Diversity in the workplace by Lee Watson

Diversity in the workplace isn’t just about racial or cultural diversity, and it’s reductive to say that it is. When people hear the word diversity, they often picture a United Colours of Benetton style tableau comprised of people of all colours and ethnicity, but that’s not really the whole story. For example it would be extremely wrong to assume that all people of a certain colour or ethnicity are the same, diversity is not about grouping people into certain labelled boxes and then ticking off a  check list…

Diversity is about far more than just what is skin deep. Sure, your background, your age and your culture are all going to have an impact on who you are, but that’s far from the whole story. Every individual brings their own unique skillset to the table, forged by their own experiences and abilities. What they have to offer might not seem obvious on the surface. It may not even vaguely match the idea of the perfect applicant, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t bring something valuable and, perhaps, entirely unexpected to the workplace dynamic.

I know, that at CORNERSTONE our people are our biggest asset, speaking many languages, being culturally diverse and bringing many varying thinking styles with them is how we have diversity in our workplace. Our people and therefore our company is built on ‘curious people committed to doing things differently; and to revolutionising the relocation world’… to quote our founder!’ but let’s delve a little further and really ask the question:

In what ways can people and therefore the workplace be diverse?

Mixing different age groups to diversify the workplace…

If the advertised job is an entry level position but the advert is asking for 3 years’ experience, the employer is looking for a candidate that simply doesn’t exist. Somebody who has just left school or university can’t possibly be expected to know about the ins and outs of your business, but they might have new ideas and new ways of doing things that they can bring to the table. Whereas, perhaps someone who has been in the job for years might be set in their ways and closed off to changing how things are done.  

The positive of recruiting is that with new blood comes new fresh perspectives that can perhaps constructively question why things are done in a certain way. This different perspective can change the way existing employees view things and help to make them better. Whilst, in training somebody, your main goal is to impart knowledge on the trainee, it’s a poor teacher who feels that they can’t also learn something from their student.  

By the same token, an older, more experienced viewpoint can help bring order to a more chaotic environment. Everyone can benefit from the wisdom of somebody who has lived their life, who has been there and done that. After all, the fundamentals of life, the fundamentals of what people want and need, don’t actually change all that much over time.  

Being from a different country, upbringing, race or religion…

If you grew up with a different colour skin, being from a different city or country, practicing a different religion, you’ll have had to deal with a multitude of different problems and situations that others could not have conceived of. Discounting the lived experience of people different to you entirely excludes people like them from the conversation. How can you possibly reach out to people from different groups if you don’t have representation of those groups within your workplace.  

For example, let’s take two people. One was born in to a life of relative privilege with all the advantages and the head start in life that would confer. The other might have had a more deprived upbringing. Both these people experience life in drastically different ways. Both have had their own unique challenges and problems to face. Both also have a great deal to offer in the workplace, yet people from poorer backgrounds are routinely excluded from higher paying positions. The reasons for this are many. They didn’t go to the right school, they didn’t study the right thing, they aren’t as supposedly well-spoken as their privately educated counterparts in reality, it’s not that they’re any worse, they’re just different. Differences are a positive, a point that can be forgotten by employers who focus too much on ticking the right boxes when they select a candidate.  

Predominantly in Western societies, given that ethnic minorities make up a large percentage of people on low incomes, excluding, or failing to consider people from these backgrounds is a form of gatekeeping which has a disproportionate impact on the non-white members of the community.  

People who have grown up in a different country or region have likely faced and solved challenges, that those who have not moved are unlikely to have encountered. Just learning to speak a second language gives an individual far more of an advantage than simply having the ability to speak English. Being bi-lingual literally changes the way you think in many fundamental ways. 

Not only that, people from other countries and regions have had the courage to up sticks and move to somewhere else, far away from their family and friends. That, in itself, takes courage, something that should be seen as a great attribute. It’s something that should be recognised and rewarded.  

Diversity in working styles in the workplace…

To truly get the benefits of diversity employers should embrace that different people work in different ways. The idea that that there is only one way of doing things is outdated. One can’t expect to get the best out of an employee if a tight framework as to how they have to work is imposed on them. Give them a goal, maybe even give them some criteria that have to be met, but ultimately allow them to work out their own way of getting there (within reason, of course). Let them play to their strengths rather than imprisoning them behind their weaknesses.  

Extroverts & Introverts

Most modern offices tend to play to the strengths of extroverts as their abilities and attributes are more obvious and clearer. They’re sociable, gregarious people who will charm you. As a result, it can be quite easy to recognise their contributions. The introvert however in the background, gets all the work done to a high standard perhaps in a quieter way! For an introvert, and I’d also include some people on the autism spectrum in this, it is literally draining to mix with people. 

Over the pandemic, working from home has allowed the introvert to flourish in an environment where they no longer need be disadvantaged by being in a more draining environment. Some of them have been able to shine because they are finally in an environment that works for them. 

Of course, there are groups who can’t work in an office as well as those who find it very difficult to get there. People with disabilities may find it difficult to navigate public transport to reach an office. People who are on the autistic spectrum may find the hustle and bustle of the office environment quite painful to be in. Startlingly, only 22% of the 700,000 people diagnosed with autism are actually in full time employment in the UK. Whilst some percentage of people on the autistic spectrum could find it difficult to manage certain kinds of work, many could easily do most jobs if only a workplace were able to accommodate their needs.  

Not everybody is neurotypical, so creating an environment in which the neurodiverse can work for you will clearly benefit them and most definitely benefit employers. This is a group of people who, by their very nature, think differently! If this point hasn’t been stressed enough by this stage, people with different ways of thinking can hugely benefit and enrich a company; and bring diversity to the workplace! 

Gender diversity in the workplace…

Sadly, we also still live in a world where your gender, gender identity or sexuality can put you at a disadvantage. Again, people with these differing attributes tend to have lived different lives and can leverage the full richness of their experiences for the benefit of any workplace. 

Whilst this isn’t universal, women can often be disadvantaged by old fashioned ideas of the workplace. They can be subject to discrimination and even harassment in a work environment. Much of this is related to the way workplaces can be biased towards the needs of men whilst disregarding, or paying only lip service, to women’s needs. Part of the change required is for men to treat women with respect. It’s not a big ask, but in some, particularly male dominated work environments it simply isn’t happening. The next part is to realise that women, as with other groups, once again have their own unique perspective to bring to the workplace.  

Women are often put at a disadvantage due to biological reasons. If a woman chooses to have a child, she will likely take some maternity leave and this can often, in some environments, put them at a disadvantage, pushing them down the queue for promotions and opportunities. Additionally, from a man’s perspective, there should be less stigma put on those who seek paternity leave. In both cases, for men and women, more support is required. Becoming a parent is a major life event and is something that certainly changes one’s perspective, just as is the case with choosing not to have them too, the insights of both choices can be of benefit in a work environment. 

As a Caucasian person I can’t really speak to the experiences of those from a BAME background. What I can say is that they would have had a different time and faced diverse challenges growing up and living in the world than I would have. As with every other form of diversity mentioned, if we want to know what people from different ethnic and racial groups can bring to our workplace, we just need to create an environment where all are welcome and all voices are heard.  

Finally…

If we’re looking to progress and move on as companies, institutions and frankly society in general, we need to embrace diversity in the workplace. A workplace where everyone thinks the same is never going to evolve or succeed. It takes different perspectives, different abilities, and an understanding of different needs to be truly successful. The whole world isn’t a homogenous group after all. We, on an individual level, are our own unique proposition, and so is everyone else. It’s well past time that we recognised this.  

 

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