Back in the 1960s when affirmative action was first legislated in the U.S., few probably imagined where it would lead. Ushered in by the Kennedy administration to help end workplace discrimination, this precursor to today’s diversity and inclusion initiatives was openly opposed by many, including businesses.
While much has changed since then, discrimination and its counterpart, bias, have by no means disappeared. They’re just less overt now. In the U.S., bias is typically more prevalent than outright discrimination, and can therefore be harder to identify, even for the perpetrators. But regardless of how difficult identification may be, companies are increasingly recognizing the need to purge it from their organizations.
One reason is because they have to. Demographics have changed, and communities have become far less homogenous than in the past, so unless companies hire people who they once might have overlooked, there will be few workers to hire.
Even if this wasn’t the case, though, it’s clear that a diverse workforce has significant benefits. We have certainly seen this within our own organization and with our clients, to whom we provide talent consulting and advisory services.
The business case for diversity is “now overwhelming,” according to a recent examination of the research on World Economic Forum. Not only do employees with different perspectives and experiences help create more resilient and effective organizations; they also “foster innovation, creativity and empathy in ways that homogeneous environments seldom do,” says author Vijay Eswaran. Also, he notes that diverse organizations outperform those that aren’t.
A diverse and inclusive workplace has other advantages, too. In addition to boosting employee morale and engagement, it also promotes cultural fluency, which helps to negate bias. This, in turn, helps reduce stratification and creates more open communities. In this respect, potentially, businesses have the ability to help bring about truly meaningful change.