What does diversity mean in the workplace, and how can we achieve it?
There is a clear, universal call for more diversity. Both ‘gender equality’ and ‘reduced inequalities’ feature in the 17 sustainable development goals which came into effect on january 1st 2016 as part of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development of the united nations’ global compact(1).
Some will associate the term ‘diversity’ with equality in numbers and demographics; simple facts such as the low rate of women making it to managerial positions(2) in the business community are both well-known and quite easy to grasp. Others will stress cultural aspects such as openness to different points of view.
Yet, when asked(3), female business leaders unanimously prefer a combination of both definitions, underlining the polysemic nature of the term. Randi Shubin Dresner, President and CEO of Island Harvest Food Bank captures this impeccably: ‘Diversity encompasses acceptance and respect and an understanding that each individual is unique. This can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, nationality, religious belief, experience, interests, and other ideologies.’(3)
It seems indeed that we cannot define diversity anymore with a set of nicely delineated boxes, as an individual alone can embody a multitude of the different dimensions highlighted above. Jacqueline Franjou, CEO of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, goes even further, stating ‘I don’t like the word ‘diversity’. We should use inclusion, respect. We should live in a world where we can change all together, men and women alike. Do we say that men represent diversity? We should extend that notion. ‘Diversity’ is quite a vast concept, it can encompass men, women, geographic origins… Diversity is a difficult word for me to understand.’(4)
This wide definition makes the topic all the more interesting but also more complex, especially when we are talking about diversity in the workplace, where it ‘means having different perspectives reflected and considered in the decision-making process’ (Meg Mosley, North American Group Controller, Technicolor(3)).
Why is diversity that important anyway?
Beyond the obvious benefits for women, there is a case to be made that gender diversity also serves the interests of the entire organisation. ‘It’s not just morally and ethically right to give everyone a seat at the table, but it’s good for business too’ states Rebecca Philbert, President and CEO at Best Yet Market Inc. ‘When a group of individuals showing generational, social, educational and professional diversity come together to work towards a shared goal’ continues Philbert, ‘they benefit from their collective experiences. Just as importantly, the organisation benefits from these experiences as well.(3)’
Echoing this point of view, the results of Mazars’ first gender diversity survey(5) not only overwhelmingly show that the topic interests the firm’s staff and partners – 90% of them answering that it does matter for them –, but also that gender diversity initiatives are seen as favourable for the whole company.
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