Diversity has been a workplace buzzword for years, which should tell you in and of itself that true workplace diversity and inclusion have not yet been achieved. Consultancies, startups, conference conversations and technologies have all been developed to pursue that noble goal of diversity and inclusion, but there somehow seems to be no end in sight.
In terms of the workplace, diversity means “employing people who may be different from each other and who do not all come from the same background.” In essence, workplace diversity is no different from the common understanding of diversity: having different people and perspectives represented. It, of course, has broader implications derived from political actions like the Civil Rights Movement, which saw the broader development of affirmative action, but in modern terms should realistically have no greater implications than hiring in an unbiased way.
As you can probably imagine, it’s nowhere near that simple.
Workplace diversity has been a prominent focus of the last decades, and the situation has improved – but only marginally. Women in leadership roles have increased slowly across the last decades, with women in key leadership roles having only recently crossed the 20% mark in the last 10 years, and the majority of women feel excluded from decision-making. Leadership roles occupied by people of color are similarly low, despite the recent boom in “Diversity & Inclusion” focused executive positions. Even as recently as 2017, the statistics were low enough that The Atlantic wrote a piece about the status of racial diversity in Fortune 500 leadership. Statistics for neurodiverse workers are so marginal that they have only recently begun to be considered.
But that does not mean there is no hope for the future: despite these low numbers, it is widely acknowledged that workplace diversity improves business functionality. And the times seem to be changing. Millennials and Gen Z are more diverse than their predecessors, and the percentage of white workers has declined by 20% as the number of people of color in the employment circuit will have doubled by next year. Further to this, having a diverse workforce is increasingly important to young workers, with huge margins of workers today citing workplace diversity as a key factor in their assessment of a workplace. As the generation shift begins to take hold in the 2020s, the focus on and acceptance of workplace diversity will only grow.
Our understanding of diversity is also changing. The term has been largely been associated with race and gender in the past, but there is an increasing focus on other elements of diversity including age, ethnicity, gender identity, orientation, and neurodiversity.
Summarily, the current state of workplace diversity leaves much to be desired but there are significant indicators that this situation will only be improved. We’ve gathered some key insights about diversity & inclusion to outline the future of work.
Key Insights in Workplace Diversity
- The rise of cognitive diversity. The concept of “cognitive diversity” has arisen and can act as a sort of net concept for an entirely inclusive environment, and increased cognitive diversity has been proven to increase functionality when properly implemented. Cognitive diversity can act as a catch-all to encapsulate all walks of life–and therefore all areas of diversity–and act as a mechanism of improving diversity across the board rather than in specific, predetermined areas such as race and gender. On the other hand, cognitive diversity is seen by some experts as a bandaid on a bullet hole, or a way to avoid difficult conversations about sensitive topics while doing little to push the needle. But regardless of where you stand, cognitive diversity is the topic of the hour and has proved to be an effective way to increase both general diversity and the bottom line.
- Technology will aid diversity. Following the recruitment technology boom and the increasing microscope on hiring diversity, there has been incredible growth in the availability of hiring diversity-focused hiring technology. AI and machine learning solutions have been developed to eliminate unconscious bias from the hiring process, and ample solutions are available to find and assess talent from outside of traditional hiring pools. Referral systems, social benefits, data initiatives, and the reduction of bias through standardization are all increasingly available, affordable, and reliable through the advent of new technologies and programs specifically attempting to solve this issue. And it is not only a social issue: with all businesses currently facing a debilitating skills gap, the allocation of diverse talent will only improve both culture and productivity.
- Diversity fatigue is real, but we can get past it. As mentioned, diversity and inclusion have been buzzwords for years, and not without considerable blowback. Most famously, a Google employee wrote an irascible memo outlining his problems with the focus on workplace diversity. His personal issues notwithstanding, studies show that the general public has tired of discussing diversity with little to no tangible change, and progress has slowed on this account. It could even be argued that the new spotlight on “cognitive diversity” has grown specifically due to exhaustion from the focus on diversity: people have become cynical about the placement of diversity on the standard-issue Buzzword Bingo ballot. Companies can and should avoid this by providing transparent data about their diversity initiatives and the success thereof on the bottom line. Likewise, a focus on providing real diversity, rather than simply discussions of diversity, will go a long way in improving the situation.
- Inclusion is the key word. Diversity is all well and good: it can be measured and observed. But what truly makes a difference is inclusion, and this is the part where everyone plays a role. Put simply, “diversity is the ‘what’; inclusion is the ‘how.’” Diversity provides the people, but inclusion is where your organization can truly combat systemic exclusion by providing a culture ready to adapt to new ideas and shine a spotlight on innovation. As the majority of the workforce swings from people merely accepting of inclusion towards people demanding it, the element of inclusion will become a key factor in the growth and survival of businesses.