Workplace Diversity: A new norm

Team IIBP Anveshan, Business Psychology, Employee Health, Employee wellbeing, Issue 42, Organizational Culture, Organizational Development, Team Effectiveness, Training and Development, Volume 4

Audre Lorde once said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences”. One can view diversity as putting together different pieces of fabric. As unpleasant as it might seem to look, it has its own charm and is worth embracing and fostering in the workplace, despite the intricacies. Diversity can no longer be seen as a box to tick.

Diversity as was earlier seen, limited in its scope, has evolved in accepting beyond just race, gender, ethnicity, and religion, not to say that they are no longer relevant. It’s just that, as society gains more and more access to resources, that perhaps were not at our disposal in the past, we become more informed. Now, when speaking of diversity, we are also reminded of age, sexual orientation, culture, body and size inclusivity, disability-friendly, neurodiverse, queer-informed and queer-affirmative, and caste-informed and caste-affirmative. The list does not end there. Given the population that the world houses, the scope of diversity is beyond what one can imagine, meaning to say that it’s limitless. Regardless, in any sphere of life, diversity begins with recognition and acknowledgment.

In recent years, the world witnessed a rise in diversity which is a complex phenomenon with multiple contributing factors. Globalization, technological advancements, social movements, demographic changes, and economic benefits have all played a role in this trend.

Globalization has led to increased migration and cultural exchange, which has exposed people to a wider range of cultures and perspectives. This increased exposure has led to a greater understanding and appreciation of diversity. For instance, the rise of international travel and communication has made it easier for people from different cultures to interact and learn from each other.

Additionally, the growth of multinational corporations has led to more diverse workplaces, which has further fostered understanding and acceptance of different cultures. Social movements, such as the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the LGBTQ+ rights movement, have raised awareness of discrimination and inequality. These movements have also advocated for policies that promote diversity and inclusion. For instance, the civil rights movement led to the passage of laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and gender.

Additionally, the women’s movement has helped to empower women and increase their representation in positions of power. In a study by McKinsey & Company (2015), through analysis of data from more than 2,000 companies in 12 countries, it was found that companies with the highest levels of ethnic and racial diversity were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. The study also found that companies with the highest levels of gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. As societies become more diverse, it is important to find ways to embrace and celebrate this diversity. This will help to create more inclusive and equitable societies for all.

In the field of Organisational Behaviour, diversity is a crucial component of study.

Organizational Behaviour is concerned with the underlying elements and processes that constitute an organization, namely, individuals, groups, the organization itself, and the interaction between the three. Hence, for researchers, it becomes a crucial area of study. A workplace cannot be devoid of diversity and inclusion. But if only things were so easy!

Diversity in the workplace is hard to achieve. The organization comes with a lot of limitations, rules, and regulations that are to be ardently followed. Such is the case with many traditionally-run organizations. In such environments to foster diversity becomes a challenge. For instance, many organizations as a way of becoming more inclusive, hire individuals who are neurodivergent. Such individuals can be of great asset to companies.

People who are neurodivergent often require certain accommodations concerning the workplace. They often have sensory issues and can get overstimulated quite frequently. In such situations, it is important to understand that whatever their diagnosis maybe is not the problem. What constitutes the problem is the workplace itself. They should be provided with headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation and they might also require more days to work from home. They should be allowed the flexibility to work so they can utilize and optimize their skills and knowledge to the benefit of the company.

Disability is also often overlooked upon while structuring the objectives and functionality of the organization. People with disabilities, require special needs that the organization should not see as a liability. The organization must make provisions to ensure the organizational space is just as accessible for people with disabilities as is for able-bodied people.

According to the International Labor Organisation, people with disabilities make up an estimated one billion, or 15 percent, of the world’s population. About 80 percent are of working age. However, despite their substantial majority in the world’s population, they are denied jobs and even the bare minimum. Regularly, they are subject to attitudinal, physical, and informational barriers that keep them from getting jobs. They also experience higher rates of unemployment and cannot afford means to livelihood. A lot of times, people fear even disclosing their diagnosis to their managers. This way, they encounter more problems than usual, and the company fails to utilize their abilities efficiently and effectively. When talking about accessibility, the organization should not be accessible just physically, but also technologically.

Given most of us survived COVID and lived through the pandemic, the organizations brought in a lot of changes to their functioning, particularly in terms of technology. A company, hence, should be equipped with the most suitable mode of technology for everyone. Moreover, the company should sure that their website and other online materials are accessible to people with disabilities. This reassures people of diversity, not just within the confines of the organization, but also beyond it, by catering to the needs of the customers who are just as important a part. When we talk about diversity in the workplace, it is safe to assume that people from across backgrounds are likely to interact with each other.

It is extremely important to acknowledge the cast discourse. They are often invisible which can be a result of the self-fulfilling prophecy, which simply states that we end up acting on the expectations of those around us.

Another reason, which is also what leads up to the self-fulfilling prophecy is the constant harassment, manipulation, insult, and degradation that these have to constantly face. Organizations should also have strict policies about discrimination against employees based on their caste, class, gender, sex, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Thomas Isaac, Director of Intuit Research, reasons, “In a scenario where the people in decision-making roles are overwhelmingly from upper castes, there are likely to be unconscious biases that recruiters and managers have that can hardly be ignored. When organizations are staffed with people from the upper castes, they will unconsciously implement practices to bring in more people like them.

Affinity bias is bound to play a role in hiring and promotional practices”. A study titled Firms of a Feather Merge Together was published by the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) and found that firms with shared caste identities are more likely to merge than firms with no shared caste identities. The study also found that mergers between firms with shared caste identities are less likely to create value for shareholders. The researchers used data on mergers and acquisitions (M&As) in India from 2000 to 2016. They found that firms with shared caste identities were 18% more likely to merge than firms with no shared caste identities.

The researchers also found that mergers between firms with shared caste identities were associated with lower shareholder returns. People are not subject to humiliation just for their caste, but also for their gender and sex. It becomes very important to inform employees regarding it through mandatory sex education and gender sensitization training. Someone rightly said the number of genders is as many as the number of people that can be accommodated on this planet.

However, we lack when it comes to a just and fair distribution of power and rights. Most often than not, the position of power is taken away from the people who do not conform to heteronormative standards, often consciously, but sometimes unconsciously as well. Heteronormativity is the idea that heterosexuality is the default and only normal sexual orientation. It is a pervasive force in society, and it can have a significant impact on the lives of people who identify as being part of the LGBTQIA++ community, including in the workplace. It is deeply embedded in our social and cultural institutions and is often reinforced by laws, policies, and practices that provide more privilege to the idea of heterosexuality and marginalize LGBTQ+ folks.

The manifestations of heteronormativity can create a hostile and unwelcoming environment for the employees and can be a roadblock to their career aspirations and growth. Eighty-one countries prohibit discrimination in employment because of sexual orientation, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the contemporary world, diversity has emerged as a crucial aspect of workplace dynamics and organizational success. However, acknowledging the potential limits of diversity is essential for achieving genuine inclusivity within an organization.

One potential limitation of diversity manifests in the form of groupthink. When teams are formed with individuals from diverse backgrounds, there exists a risk of groupthink occurring. This phenomenon arises when team members prioritize avoiding conflict and dissent over fostering open discussions and embracing varied perspectives. Consequently, team decisions may suffer from a lack of critical thinking and consideration of alternative viewpoints. Another potential challenge associated with diversity relates to communication barriers.

Navigating a diverse workplace often presents communication obstacles due to varying communication styles and expectations among individuals from different backgrounds. Misunderstandings can arise, leading to friction and hindering effective collaboration. Cultural differences can also pose challenges to diversity efforts. Individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds may hold distinct values, beliefs, and norms, which can potentially lead to cultural clashes and conflicts. These differences can strain interpersonal relationships and hinder harmonious coexistence within the workplace. To effectively manage the potential limits of diversity and cultivate a truly inclusive environment, organizations can implement practical strategies.

Establishing clear values and expectations for behavior sets a foundation for respectful interactions and a culture of inclusion. Providing comprehensive training on diversity and inclusion educates employees about cultural sensitivities, communication nuances, and the value of embracing different perspectives. Creating opportunities for interaction among employees from diverse backgrounds fosters understanding, empathy, and appreciation for individual differences. Regularly monitoring progress on diversity and inclusion initiatives allows organizations to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments to their strategies.

While there is no definitive limit to the inclusivity an organization can achieve, it is crucial to recognize that diversity extends beyond simply having a diverse workforce. It encompasses creating a workplace where every individual feels respected, valued, and able to contribute meaningfully without fear of prejudice or discrimination. The benefits of embracing diversity and fostering inclusion are numerous. Diverse teams often exhibit enhanced innovation and creativity, as they bring together a pool of unique perspectives and experiences.

This diversity of thought leads to the generation of novel ideas and approaches to problem-solving. Effective decision-making is also strengthened by diversity. Diverse teams tend to consider a wider range of perspectives and viewpoints, reducing the likelihood of overlooking crucial factors or making biased decisions. This inclusivity ensures that decisions are well-informed and reflect the needs of all stakeholders. Employee satisfaction and retention are significantly enhanced in inclusive workplaces.

When individuals feel respected, valued, and able to bring their authentic selves to work, they are more likely to experience job satisfaction and a sense of belonging. This positive work environment contributes to reduced turnover and increased employee retention.

An inclusive organization’s reputation benefits from its commitment to diversity and inclusion. Such organizations are recognized as progressive and attractive employers, attracting top talent and enhancing their brand image.

In today’s competitive business landscape, a strong reputation can be a valuable asset for attracting customers, partners, and investors. In conclusion, diversity and inclusion are not merely buzzwords but essential elements of organizational success in the 21st century. By acknowledging the potential limits of diversity, implementing effective strategies, and reaping the numerous benefits of inclusion, organizations can cultivate a truly inclusive workplace that fosters innovation, enhances decision-making, promotes employee satisfaction, strengthens retention, and elevates their reputation.


About the author