Diversity and inclusion – what’s in it for employers?

Gone are the days when ‘diversity and inclusion’ was just about CSR or warding off the threat of employee litigation. Here’s our list of six business drivers for a diversity and inclusion strategy in your organisation.

Diversity and inclusion – or equal employment opportunity as it was known 10 years ago – used to be seen by employers as an initiative of corporate social responsibility, or a reactive strategy to prevent and minimise risk from employee litigation.

While these motivations are still relevant and absolutely necessary, business drivers for diversity and inclusion are expanding into areas beyond traditional HR.

Six business drivers for a diversity and inclusion strategy

Thinking strategically about diversity and inclusion can help improve organisational performance and culture. For example, have you considered the following questions in your business?:

  1. Recruitment and talent retention

Does your organisation have the best people in key positions?

How do you target recruitment amongst a workforce with diverse needs?

A key driver for diversity and inclusion strategies is for employers to improve their prospects of securing the best people for key roles – and retaining them.

Increasingly, talented employees know what they are worth and know that they are employable elsewhere. Employer strategies aimed not just at employee remuneration, but strive to build an inclusive workplace culture accepting of employees as people, can be effective tools for any retention strategy – particularly for high performers and roles with specialised skills.

Recruiting from a larger and diverse workforce pool is also of benefit to employers, particularly those in industries that experience skills shortages. Measures that maximise workforce participation, particularly of parents of young children, carers, the mature aged and people with a disability are not just driven by Government policy or legislative requirements but greater domestic equality and flexible work practices.

  1. Customer Inclusion

How does your organisation appeal to customers?

‘Diversity and inclusion’ is not just about workforce inclusion. It is also about building better customer engagement and boosting business.

Increasingly, customers rate the services they receive from business based on the “customer experience”. This includes whether customers have been understood, or whether the representative selling the product or service can generate ‘relatable’ experiences.

A workforce demographic that reflects the organisation’s customer demographic is more likely to generate better customer experiences and repeat business. For instance, a company with a visible mature-aged profile may do well to attract and generate repeat business from an older age demographic in the community.

  1. Winning Business

How does your organisation win business?

In addition to the customer experience, employers should evaluate how they win business.

Employers who tender for work directly or indirectly from government or larger organisations in the supply chain, should be aware that procurement requirements can vary and frequently call for employers to demonstrate evidence of their commitment to diversity.

This can include being able to demonstrate a business strategy for employing indigenous workers or people with disability, or showing good retention rates of employees returning from parental leave.

Business reputation in supply chains as a preferred provider is also important. Adverse online and social media outcomes, or litigation by employees alleging discrimination or harassment, can very quickly damage a company’s brand and reputation. Diversity and inclusion strategies can limit a company’s exposure to negative public perception or reputation.

  1. Innovation

Does your organisation consider new ideas from different perspectives? 

Innovation is a business imperative in its own right. In a business climate of technology disrupters, changing business models and consumer behaviour, employers need to ensure that their products and services are relevant to the market they are appealing to.

There is growing research showing that organisations with people of diverse backgrounds in organisational decision-making are more likely to generate different ideas and perspectives and be less subject to “group-think”, which can otherwise stifle innovative thinking.

Moreover, different ideas can generate new products and services that may not be in the marketplace.

  1. Public relations and marketing

And finally, how does your organisation manage social media?

Social and online media is instant and can be unforgiving. Impressions of the diversity (or lack of) within your organisation can very quickly damage your organisation’s brand and credibility.

Last year, a well-established advertising agency promoted the appointment of a new creative team consisting entirely of men – seemingly of the same ethnicity and the same age.

The firm was slammed in social and online media (including the industry media) about the exclusion of women in the appointment’s line up, generating intense negative publicity. It then spent its resources diffusing negative commentary on its own social media platforms by defending its decision behind the appointments and having to divulge the number of women who worked for the business – which was in fact close to 50%.

The fact is, assumptions were made regarding the firm’s lack of diversity and bias towards men of the same ethnic background and age.

Employers have much to gain by embracing diversity and inclusion as part of their business planning. More and more organisations are realising that diversity and inclusion does not just sit within the HR department, but is a way of doing business.

Does your business have a diversity and inclusion strategy? Do you have any experiences to share that demonstrate the importance of these values in the modern workplace? Please take the time to start a conversation by leaving a comment below.

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Nicola Street
As Ai Group's National Manager – Workplace Relations Policy, Nicola is involved in employment test cases and law reform affecting the workplaces of industry. She regularly appears in the Fair Work Commission and Government Inquiries on behalf of Ai Group members, and has many years of “on the ground” strategic experience in advising employers in employment law and people & culture strategies.

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