HR & Management

Diversity is good, so why do people have trouble talking about it?

4 min read

09 May 2018

Diversity is increasingly important in today’s business world. Here, director of employee benefits at Sodexo Engage, James Malia, explains why it’s not something to brush under the carpet.

Just look at the numbers – the consultancy McKinsey found gender diverse companies to be 15% more likely to do better financially, and ethnically diverse companies to be 35% more likely to outperform their competition.

If there’s no doubt that diversity makes commercial sense, why aren’t all leaders addressing it? Well, it’s not always that easy to talk about.

Treading on eggshells

One of the big worries when talking about gender, race or age in the workplace, is the fear of unintentionally offending someone. There’s a big focus on being ‘politically correct’ and for some this just means avoiding the topic altogether.

This is just a brain block or a hurdle which training can solve. Whether it’s an industry course or internal HR briefing, being trained on the best words and phrases to use will give someone the confidence to broach the topic comfortably and appropriately.

It’s these conversations and questions that’ll help change things. Just like tackling a new business strategy, it’s about gathering as much information as possible to make the best decisions.

Let change take time

Tackling diversity and shifting culture takes time. Listening to what employees want and balancing that with the government requirements or recommendations is no small feat. So why rush it or expect miracles overnight?

Business leaders get this, but pressure from the press is making some feel like it’s a losing battle. Tell the truth about your current diversity and face bad headlines. Try and address it and you’re taking too long. It’s hard not to feel like you’re between a rock and hard place.

Businesses are all in the same position, that diversity isn’t a quick change and there isn’t an ‘end’ to it either. It is constantly changing. Take time to identify the problems, come up with a plan of action and prepare people. This is a long-term goal, with long-term benefits.

All together now

With all this discussion about quotas and reporting, it’s easy to think the issue is the responsibility of those at the top of firms.

Not only is this one heck of a burden – it’s also completely unrealistic. A change in culture is a group effort so, yes, the leaders need to lead but the team has a significant role to play too.

It’s important to keep conversations fluid and ongoing. Consider diversity champions from different backgrounds, religions, genders and sexualities.

Check and check again that people have ways to raise concerns and celebrate the strides that have been taken. The more buy in that there is from the team, the more positive conversations will flow.

In a nutshell, worrying about diversity is understandable but is not the solution. Other people feel the same way. If everyone feels a responsibility for achieving true diversity and inclusion, the results and benefits will shine through.