Why diversity is good for business

It is time to kick up a new storm around inclusion, and constantly evolve recruiting practices to mitigate biases

Published: 03, Jun 2019

Abdul Jaleel is Vice President- Employee Experience at Adobe India.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Back in the 90s as a newly minted HR graduate beginning my career journey, I didn’t realise that I was in the eye of a storm so massive that it would redefine the Indian business landscape forever. Globalisation was marching forward, the MNC corporate culture was spreading fast, drawing young professionals to be a part of India’s corporate transformation.

Multinationals were in a rush to discover the wonder called ‘India’ and there was a heady feeling all around. IT was 'the' sector to be in. Business focus at that point was largely on operational efficiency and maximising returns. The corporate sector had not yet put its mind to employee experiences that complement workforce productivity, creativity, and diversity.

Over the past two decades, I have had the privilege of working with some of the most progressive corporations. I must admit that in this time, my own thought processes and perspectives have evolved immensely. One big evolution I am seeing and experiencing to the day is the concept of ‘unconscious bias’. Having seen the evidentiary body of work around this topic, today I am a strong advocate for making workplaces free of (unconscious) bias.

Even to this day, the industry at large is still struggling with the idea of making workplaces diverse and inclusive, although a few organisations have fast-tracked related efforts.

Here is why I think it is time to kick up a new storm around Diversity and Inclusion, that I believe would transform and improve the way we do business.

Why diversity matters
As a customer, I often take my varying needs into account while making a buying decision. More so while making it on behalf of, or with, family and friends. I’m often surprised by how differently even my loved ones look at a decision from how I do. Our decisions are always, without fail, made better by the exchange of these contrasting views. This experience often makes me think of the importance of having a diverse team at work.

The best way to create an innovative product that serves the diverse customers of today is to think through the customer’s lens. The best way to achieve that is to have their diversity represented  in the workforce. This can help cover the blind spots that a uniform team is more likely to miss.

As explained by Margaret Ann Neale, professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business, there are two types of teams in an organisation; those that innovate and those that implement. With the implementation teams, chances of finding benefits of uniformity in the team are greater because these teams are compelled to prioritise their ‘similarity’ for “smooth” task execution. And while these teams have more similarities than differences,they fall short on innovation. A study confirms that the teams with diversity in terms of age and geographic locations are 87 percent more likely to make better business decisions.

It’s important for leaders and managers to recognise that while teams with similar dynamics may be of benefit for speedy project execution, focusing the company culture on avoiding differences and conflict can make it harder or impossible to build a culture of innovation.

As simple or complex as it may sound, the challenge of improving diversity requires a multidimensional approach. To advance an industry vision of building workplaces for all, the following areas can help drive diversity for businesses and beyond.

Building a talent pipeline
The future of tech industry depends on our collective ability to attract and hire the most innovative people of diverse perspectives. One of the issues most corporations are facing today is the low supply pipeline of diverse talent in technology space. It is critical, therefore, to encourage a diverse population to develop interests and careers in science and technology.

Bias-free hiring
In order to attract, hire and develop candidates of varying backgrounds, it’s important to constantly evolve recruiting practices for mitigating bias. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only 57 percent of recruiters say their talent acquisition strategies are designed to attract diverse candidates. Gender neutral job descriptions, diverse interview panels, blind resumes, are some of the ways to achieve this.

Enhancing employee experience
Employees are the most productive and innovative when they feel valued and included. Free lunches and wellness studios are great, but businesses must devise strategies that have a real impact on the lives of employees. Holistic physical and mental well-being, work and life support initiatives, employee assistance programs, etc, amongst other efforts, may help in this direction. Initiatives focused at integrating work and life, encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work. That is the first spark needed to light the fire of diversity.

Collaborating across
Ensuring diversity is not just essential to the health of the tech and creative industries, but to the economy at large. That’s why we must actively support our customers, suppliers, partners and peers as they work to improve their own workplaces, policies, and practices. It is time to make this a broader conversation leading to active collaboration.

The author is vice president- employee experience at Adobe India.

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