Cripps Sears: Diversity – Building the bottom line with diversity

“We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein

Let’s be honest  ̶  diversity is a difficult topic. Even the 2015 Oscars ran into trouble, fending off complaints of insufficient black actors among nominees, followed by complaints that nominees’ skin colour should not even be a topic of conversation…

A common reason for individuals’ discomfort in talking about diversity is a belief that it’s all just another box to tick. That might well have been the prevailing attitude a decade, or even five years, ago, but times have moved on and it’s now clear that the more diverse an organisation, the better it performs.

Nevertheless, there will always be difficulty in finding the “right way” to talk about race, gender, disability or sexuality. One way to get people talking about diversity is to focus on the real business benefits  ̶  and it’s about a lot more than a company being able to boast that it’s diverse and inclusive.

Research into the consequences of diversity in an organisation generally arrive at similar conclusions. Diversity expands the talent pool; diverse teams make better decisions; diversity-rich companies better serve their customer base; and diverse companies make more money: ‘the diversity dividend’.

And the evidence is there. Companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median, a study by McKinsey & Company found. Moreover, when the question concerns racial/ethnic diversity, that figure rises to 30%.[i] And, in a 2015 PWC poll of CEOs, 85% said their companies’ diversity and inclusion strategies improved their bottom line, while over half said it helped them compete in new industries or regions.[ii]

If diversity itself isn’t simple, the case for it is: if a business wants to grow, then it needs a constant flow of new opportunities and fresh ways to exploit those opportunities. By contrast, a company that only tries to mould every individual into a certain way of directional thinking risks eventual competitive suffocation from a lack of new air.

Take the North Sea: if you recruit for a North Sea oil rig from a pool of North Sea oil workers who all have 25 years’ experience on North Sea rigs, you will get experienced North Sea oil workers. But what you probably won’t get is diversity of experience, or of age, or ideas.

Deliberately widen your recruitment efforts to target other regions, industries and disciplines, and you will widen your talent pool. You may just end up securing a stellar new recruit who brings cutting edge ideas to your business  ̶  when a new challenge emerges, they will have a fresh new solution. And diversity shouldn’t apply only to recruits. Having a diverse interviewer panel at the selection stage opens the lens to a diverse talent pipeline from the start.

The impact on the bottom line is clear and proven. But before you hurry to check your human resources files to see if the simple numbers say you need more women, or more ethnic minorities, or more under 30s, the first place to harness diversity is in your organisation as it stands today.

Consider the ‘invisible diversity’ that every individual has, just because they are an individual. Invisible diversity is the different strengths that people bring when they come to work, the way each of us thinks, analyses, speaks and writes and the different ways in which we approach problems. Organisations that want to truly embrace diversity need to give every individual the space to be heard, to contribute and to feel valued.

You might already have that gem of an employee who could be about to make a huge difference to your business – but have you given them the chance?

[i] McKinsey & Co., “Diversity Matters”, November 2014

[ii] PWC CEO Survey 2015

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