Managing Surface-Level Diversity

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The Case for Diversity in the Workplace

There are huge benefits to increasing an organization’s surface-level diversity. A 2009 study found that teams with gender and ethnic diversity reported higher sales numbers than their less diverse counterparts. According to a 2011 survey, furthermore, a majority of top CEOs value diversity as a driving force of innovation.

Placing value on diversity will only become more important in the coming years; according to United States Census data, in a just few decades Caucasians will no longer be the demographic majority.

The Dangers of Haphazard Implementation

Implementing programs that increase diversity makes good business sense. But when businesses do not meaningfully engage their underrepresented employees, the result is often the dreaded “revolving door” syndrome.

Even worse, businesses that implement diversity programs without cultivating the workplace climate necessary for those programs to succeed can inadvertently create a culture of bullying. A 2014 survey found that 69% of people who bully are men, and 57% of those who report being bullied are women. Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans all reported a higher degree of bullying than their white counterparts.

Bullying is an extreme example, but the same trends hold true for incivility, or “workplace barbs.” Employees who are members of minority racial groups report greater incivility in the office than their white counterparts and women report greater incivility than men. Uncivil treatment can lead to absenteeism, turnover, and poor productivity. Leadership may inadvertently foster this destructive environment by allowing toxic behaviors to go unchecked.

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Creating a Culture Change

Diversity programs that start and end at hiring don’t lead to an inclusive workplace. The most successful diversity programs start at the top. In firms where managing diversity is truly a priority, CEOs and managers lead the effort to change by modifying mission statements, communicating the importance of inclusion, and holding themselves accountable with follow-up surveys to assess the effectiveness of their efforts. They train employees on diversity, inclusion, cross-cultural communication and more.

Above all, inclusive leaders recognize that embracing diversity is more than changing policy—it’s a change of mind. In order to reap the benefits of a diverse workplace, managers must sow the seeds of a healthy workplace culture that discourages incivility and encourages inclusivity.

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