January 12, 2017

How diversity drives business success

When you think of the New Zealand Police, many things might come to mind – car chases, alcohol breath tests or even viral videos of officers dancing. However, one aspect of our police force that you might not be aware of is its workforce diversity. 

In 2016, the NZ Police won Diversity Works' Supreme Award and the Empowerment Award for its efforts to increase the number of women in the organisation. It is a major step towards an inclusive and diverse workforce and something that raises the question whether there is more to business culture and diversity than mere reputational benefits. 

The short answer is yes. So let's talk about how organisational success is driven by diversity. 

Kiwis are tackling diversity

The New Zealand Police aren't the only ones getting involved with and supporting diversity among their workforce. Downer New Zealand won the Diversity Works 'Emerging Diversity and Inclusion Award' in 2016, which recognises those organisations that have recently embarked on the inclusion journey.

Downer New Zealand has a diversity and inclusiveness policy in place that aims to help build a more sustainable future for both the company and society. Downer explains that it has been "established to maximise the company's ability to meet the business challenges of diversity and inclusiveness in our workforce, while building a sustainable future for our business."

Despite the progress made in many New Zealand organisations, there is still a 12 per cent gender pay gap between women and men in the country, according to the Ministry of Women. So we still have a long way to go. Especially since McKinsey & Company discovered that organisations with the highest share of women in their workforce outperform the competition by 56 per cent, in regard to operating results.  

However, both NZ Police and Downer are symbolic of the change happening on our shores that is set to improve business success for those actively involved. 

The correlation between culture and success

In the words of Martin King, general manager of HR at Coca-Cola Amatil New Zealand: 

"Diversity equals innovation. If we have a group of people in our organisation that don't make up all of society, then that won't bring the best ideas to the fore. One of our core strategies in HR is having a highly-engaged workforce. Engagement drives productivity and innovation and therefore profitability."

"Engagement drives productivity and innovation and therefore profitability."

The message is simple, yet powerful. An inclusive culture can create strong team networks while helping individuals collaborate and communicate, which in turn can ensure consistently high quality work. Particularly during times of change, a diverse and supportive culture can drive success as it enables more innovative approaches, plainly due to the variety of experiences, backgrounds and styles of individuals. 

Once an organisation's culture is firmly established, with all its values, behaviours and beliefs, businesses will find that they're more likely to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce.  

Data from Deloitte's 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey even indicates that 82 per cent of respondents see culture as a competitive advantage. 

So, in short, if an organisation has a consistent culture, it is likely to not only employ the best people, but enable higher productivity levels – thereby adding to the bottom line. 

How can you improve diversity?

While Diversity Works NZ points out that improving diversity is a process that takes time, there are clear ways leaders can instigate positive change:

1. Start with culture

Organisational culture is shaped by a company's leadership. This means that, according to Deloitte, the C-suite cannot delegate the task of understanding the business' values to then plan, shape and reinforce the desired culture. 

To understand, shift and communicate both the current and desired culture it's essential that business leadership collaborates with all organisational levels. 

2. Emphasise accountability

A business that actively pushes for diversity inherently tracks, reports and adjusts its progress constantly. However, it's important to not just monitor diversity, but create clear expectations as to who is accountable for specific goals. 

3. Encourage learning and development 

Deloitte suggests that an educated workforce across all levels also encourages more diversity. By educating all employees, particularly hiring managers, on the benefits a more diverse environment can have on a company, an organisation is more likely to achieve just that. 

With this in mind, leaders need to openly approach unconscious bias by emphasising two-way communication and treating every person as an individual rather than on the basis of stereotypes.

4. Create the right environment

Research by Ernst & Young found that women in particular are nearly 4 per cent more productive if they are able to work in flexible roles. Additionally, employees are more likely to feel satisfied if work conditions meet their individual needs. 

The challenge for leaders now is to take a look at their practises and encourage a more wholesome approach to workforce composition. It essentially comes down to either recognising how business can benefit from a more diverse workforce and improve overall success, or sit idle and watch as the competition storms forward.