Employee diversity is key driver of innovation

As companies are increasingly faced with fierce competition at a global level, diversity of thought and dynamic teams have become paramount for success. Teams consisting of individuals that don’t think the same, with different backgrounds, ideals, experiences and personalities almost always outperform homogeneous teams.

Take for example, a small tech team without a dominant majority. Faced with a problem, each of these individuals draws upon past experiences — conscious or unconscious — that lead to unique decisions and actions based on their varied backgrounds.

The diversity of experiences, values and backgrounds force the team to dig in and debate risks, opportunities and outcomes. Conversations take longer and they are harder. But the outcomes are always better for it.

If all the individuals in a team have similar experiences and viewpoints, the range of possible outcomes will be limited.

But, if the combined experiences are vast, the range of decision-options will be much larger. It can be said with great certainty that when men and women with diverse experiences in their lives constitute a team, the inevitable result is alternate — and when put together, potentially more innovative — viewpoints on things like organisational models, IT solutions, client relationships and sales strategies.

Gender inequality index

This diversity of thought is the holy grail for any organisation and while it is important not to limit workforce strategy to the gender metric, it is a great place to start.

The case for gender diversity in India is particularly compelling as the country becomes an increasingly important player in the global economy. India is ranked 127th on the gender inequality index and 108th on the global gender gap index. Not that the scenario is vastly different among western countries.

A recent McKinsey report points to the fact that only 17% of women in Western Europe and 18% of women in the United States, are part of the corporate boards of listed companies. This means that globally, we continue to function in workplaces where gender parity is a far cry from what we preach.

In India, many women take a career break when they are midway up their career path to handle domestic responsibilities around children and elders. A recent study by CTI showed that 91 per cent of women in India who take a break from work to handle childcare, would like to come back to work, but only 72 per cent of women want to go back to their previous employer, citing reasons including lack of clarity around expectations, performance bias and a lack of mentoring. In fact, only 26 per cent of companies have an effective returnee programme to reintegrate women into the workplace after a career break.

In addition to this, gender biases, work-life balance issues and the lack of learning and development opportunities are all factors that cause women to leave their jobs early on or create reluctance to get back after a break.

The crux of the problem therefore lies not only in ensuring robust representation of women across levels, but also understanding the deeper aspects around leadership accountability, enabling policies and programmes that support an inclusive environment for all workers as well as creating an open communication channel between employees and company leaders. It cannot be said enough that across the board –- whether for women or men – company leaders should spend time focusing on ensuring that employees feel that their work and contribution has measurable impact and that they feel supported by higher management in their growth aspirations. The idea that ‘one size fits all’ does not work anymore and as our cultures evolve, workplace and career flexibility options need to be incorporated into the foundation of HR policies.

Change programme

Three key game changers that have helped transform companies are firstly an early acceptance of the problem; next, a sustained effort to change the norm; and lastly a top-down approach where the CEO and other leaders demonstrate commitment to the initiative and a holistic change programme across the board to entrench the value of diversity throughout the company.

Diversity champions

But policies are not the only intervention required. Work culture and our mindsets need to evolve.

Time and resources must be invested towards ensuring that all employees feel that they are provided with the resources they need to succeed, whether they are a new mother taking time off to care for a baby or an incoming millennial and generation ‘Z’ worker who expects a clear growth path. Companies that have gotten it right are those where an ecosystem exists where leaders, line managers and employees embrace the role of diversity champions and drive the transformation initiative. Here in fact, it is the CEO of the company who is pivotal to driving effective change through personal commitment.

The business world has come a long way in realising and capitalising on the value of having a diverse workforce. It is nothing short of a cultural revolution and change can come only if its concerted, committed and sustained.

(Jordan Cram is CEO at Enstoa.)

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 2:31:27 AM |

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