Diversity and Cultural Awareness
Is Greater Diversity Still on the Agenda?
A recent survey carried out by the Deloitte organization suggested that “diversity” was not considered as big a priority as perhaps it once was by human resource departments, especially when compared to other perceived to be more pressing issues such as compared to say, talent acquisition, engagement, or leadership, for example. So does this mean that cultivating greater diversity is now off the agenda or if not at such a low priority that it gets low or no attention in most organizations today?
Before we consider this question, lets just ensure that we have at least a definition of what we mean by diversity. For example, one very broad definition is that “diversity is a management philosophy of recognizing and valuing heterogeneity in organizations with a view to improving organizational performance.” The good thing about this definition is that it takes us well beyond the usual five diversity areas that most people think of: Gender, Age, Ethnicity, Disability and Sexual orientation. Instead it suggests that we are also looking for diversity of thinking and practice from wherever this might arise. And perhaps this is where we might get a clue about what has happened to diversity thinking, at least in the western world, by enlarge, in the last few years.
For many years, diversity policy and practice focused almost wholly on demographic imbalances according to the five major areas mentioned above. For most organizations, and especially the larger ones, this meant changing hiring practices to ensure that candidates for jobs not only had equal opportunity to be selected but also that they could survive and thrive within the organization over time, and get promoted to higher level jobs when they came free. And the law backed up these efforts, especially in the US, even allowing so-called “positive discrimination” and “quota” policies to redress imbalances in many cases. Although results varied form one organization to the next, these efforts made significant differences in all five categories, albeit at varying rates and levels. As a result, the “pressure” to change and strive to push harder slowed considerably (and often well before any kind of parity was necessarily reached). For example, an organization may have increased female hires form 20% to 30% over 10 years but got nowhere near 50%, and perhaps done even less well in getting these women into senior managerial positions, for example. This is not to say that the efforts of the last say 25 years are not valuable, but that the focus and attention on prevailing problems that still abound has dropped considerably (thereby validating why HR departments see it slipping down or off their priority agenda).
But if demographic diversity efforts have slowed considerably in recent years, another kind of diversity ambition may be said to have “ramped up”. This is the pursuit of diversity of values, beliefs and personality. This type of diversity is directly related to a group or organization’s ability to harness the input from many different people and to use this broader base of knowledge to better innovate and make smarter decisions. In other words, a truly diverse team of people will have very different views about and will often challenge conventional wisdom.
In summary then, what we have called above “demographic diversity” may have both slowed and moved down the priority list (which may not be a good thing but is a reality given tangible progress in recent years). However, the pursuit of thinking diversity is running counter to this trend, epically in the smarter companies. If they are not already doing so, HR departments would therefore be wise to be thinking about diversity again and bringing it back onto the priority agenda – it can be a key driver of success for the whole organization.