It makes sense to us that having diversity in an organisation is a good thing and there is a growing body of research to back up this common sense.
Diversity impacts hard business outcomes; research by McKinsey (McKinsey analysis, reproduced in Why Diversity Matters, by Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton and Sara Prince, Feb 2015) found that more diverse workforces perform better financially. Softer aspects are also impacted positively, such as increased employee commitment, sense of well-being and the ability of organisations to innovate and respond flexibly to change. Although for this to happen research demonstrates that it is essential for diversity to be well managed. “Any time you bring together diverse perspectives, it just creates a bunch of potential that you weren’t really expecting.” — Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter
Diversity can also provide a source of competitive advantage. Top talent is attracted to more diverse companies, as revealed by research by the recruiter Glassdoor. In this, 67% of jobseekers say they evaluate a company on its level of diversity. These talented recruits then go on to further enhance the performance of the diverse organisation and so the cycle continues.
Creating a diverse workforce is not as simple as recruiting more diversely, the social context is very important for the benefits of diversity to flourish. There needs to be a positive commitment and consciousness to diversity by leadership and within the system and structures organisation-wide. Sometimes, despite commitment and financial investment by a company into fairness, inequality can persist.
One of the flies in the ointment is by its very nature something that we may have no awareness of and that is our own unconscious bias. This is the preference or favouring towards particular groups of people. It is a normal part of our human psychology and interestingly, it can exist even in opposition to our conscious beliefs. More than that, it can even exist against our own group.
For example, a person might believe consciously that women and men are equally capable of leadership, but at the same time unconsciously believe that men are better leaders. This person might also be a woman, as research has shown that the less-dominant group might also hold the same bias towards the dominant group.
The effect of these biases are likely to unknowingly spill out into decisions and judgements made on a daily basis: Who gets a job, what ratings are given in 360 degree feedback, what judgements or comments are made about someone taking their first steps in a leadership role, who is viewed as high potential and so on. If we don’t even know about our own unconscious biases, nothing changes and inequalities are perpetuated.
Awareness is the key. The ability to acknowledge that we all may hold biases, even against our own self. To be able to consider the consequences of these is very important. We need to consciously take a moment to check ourselves when making decisions, being more certain that we are making judgements on the basis of objective reality.