In the modern workplace, diversity is not simply a matter of abiding by discrimination laws, but fostering a culture of openness and inclusion that allows everyone to work freely. A diverse workforce brings a range of experiences and values to every challenge it faces, and a company that allows everyone to express themselves makes its workers more productive.
To learn more about the importance and benefits of diversity in business, I spoke with Simon Altham, Managing Director – Revenue of UK holiday provider Hoseasons and LGBT spokesperson.
What is your definition of diversity?
Diversity is about how each individual is unique and how we can each positively recognise and embrace our differences. These can be related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, or a range of other factors.
Why is it important that companies show diversity?
Despite huge advances in business, there are still a lot of small to medium-sized companies that shy away from diversity through fear of alienating customers and employees, or through a lack of basic knowledge and understanding.
Supporting diversity says something to the outside world about the type of company you are – that you’re warm, friendly, fun, and engaging. In a post-Brexit/Trump world, where much of the progress around tolerance and diversity is being questioned, it is imperative that business leaders stand up for these values and highlight the many significant benefits that they bring.
How can companies demonstrate and promote diversity?
Marketing gurus tell us that personalisation is the key to success, but it is also still important to ensure that we showcase a multi-cultural and diverse look and feel that is reflective of modern day Britain. Over-personalisation could lead to a whitewashing in marketing, which would be a backwards step for any business. We need to ensure we are celebrating the cultural richness of modern day society where, ultimately, diversity becomes the new normal.
Companies can embrace diversity on a variety of levels both internally, such as establishing employee network groups, and externally, by working with recruitment agencies to ensure they deliver a diverse group of candidates. Workplace teams should also receive training based on specific backgrounds, difficulties, and issues, such as mental health awareness.
What is the most challenging aspect of working in a diverse working environment?
Bringing together people of different backgrounds brings certain challenges, as you have a lot of different thoughts and priorities to balance, and these can be opposing at times. It can be tough and you may have to occasionally make compromises, but considering all perspectives can let you tap into new markets and drive a great amount of product innovation.
What are the most common mistakes an organisation can make when implementing a diversity programme?
Perhaps the most common mistake is simply seeing diversity as a ‘tick box’ exercise. The most successful businesses don’t just implement diversity programmes, they make it a core value in their business’ culture. This means getting buy-in at board level and a strong commitment from fellow directors across all departments. It also means being open with all employees about why it is important for the culture of the business.
Education is key. Sharing data and statistics, as well as videos and stories, about the real-life challenges facing LGBT people in the workplace will highlight that discrimination is still active in modern day life.
Why should a business owner or human resources manager care about diversity?
There is no shortage of evidence to show that the most successful businesses in the world have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. It’s simple – people who are happy and can be themselves at work are more productive and will deliver better results.
When it comes to LGBT employees, they can spend so much time and energy hiding who they are and watching what they say, that there is little ‘space’ left to focus on their day-to-day roles.
Businesses that fully embrace diversity and inclusion can also harness a culture of openness and ideas, which often results in higher rates of employee satisfaction. This helps to attract new talent and retain the best and most valued employees, too.
About the Author
Matt Smith is the Head of HR at Hoseasons. He is a UEA graduate studying HR and Business Management, Matt has worked for the Hoseasons business for 15 years which now supports 300 Associates at its Lowestoft base. Matt’s remit is to support Simon in ensuring we have a productive, inclusive and engaging work environment where our employees can perform and grow.