Gender Diversity in the workplace – How it makes a difference

Adam and Eve

Until recently, the corporate world had been dominated by men. Even though more and more women have entered the workforce, there still seems to be a dearth of women in leadership and decision making roles. Organizations are now pushing for more female representation at various levels, especially on corporate boards, primarily because of the vast benefits that can be realized from a gender diverse board (Campbell, Vera 2007).

“Greater diversity promotes a better understanding of the marketplace by matching the diversity of a firm’s directors to the diversity of its potential customers and employees, thereby increasing its ability to penetrate markets” (Campbell, Vera 2007)

With an increase in dual income households, where both spouses are working for improved future prospects for themselves and their families, one can’t help but think whether the workplaces are geared towards encouraging all genders to participate at the same level and be allowed with the same opportunities for growth and advancement. With changing values and increasing awareness, we are not just talking about men and women, but gender diversity now encompasses lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transgenders (LGBT) too. So, the key question to address should be-

“Are the company cultures accepting gender diversity?”

In this article, we explore how the workplace has transformed over the years to incorporate the changing demographics and what impacts have these changes had on organizations. Moving forward, we consider what practices can be incorporated to enhance inclusion in the workplace. It has taken some time for companies to embrace the leap from all men workforce to having women included. The journey of creating a truly multi-gender organization, with equal participation at all levels still has a long way to go.

Having said that, it seems to have already started, with studies indicating that about 85% of Fortune 500 companies (Hewlett, Sumberg, 2011) have policies in place to protect an employee’s sexual orientation. Research shows that an increase in the acceptance of individual differences and willingness to harness and leverage unique skills and attributes of a diverse workforce adds immense value to the company.

The Diversity Advantage

 “Heterogeneous groups produce higher quality decisions” (Robinson and Dechant 1997), “generate more innovative solutions through cognitive conflict” (Chen et al. 2005) and “influence the firm’s strategy direction” (Miller and Triana 2009).

People perform the best when they get to be themselves and portray an image of who they are on the inside and outside. A gender diverse workforce encourages the free flow of ideas without inhibition, as the organizations they work for are more willing to embrace them and their different ideas.

“Diversity yields superior outcomes over homogeneity because progress and innovation depend less on lone thinkers with high intelligence than on diverse groups working together and capitalizing on their individuality” (Herring, 2009).

EI (Emotional intelligence) has been gaining popularity in today’s world, with many citing it as being more important than IQ (intelligence quotient) “Organisations that take EI seriously and invest in its development will thus be more successful” (Gutmann, 2008). A gender diverse workforce encompasses people who are more in touch with their emotions and can thus be better peers, co-workers and bosses. These people are more cognizant of the feelings and emotions of external stakeholders and care more about issues that affect society geared towards being part of a more sustainable future for generations to come.

“Diversity is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits” (Herring, 2009).

A research by McKinsey & Co. indicated companies that ranked high for executive board diversity showed 53% higher ROEs (Return on Equity) than least diverse companies (Derven, 2014). The benefits of diversity in the workplace have been well established and companies are embracing multi-gender workforces.  However, there is still a lot more that needs to be done in this regard.  Lets now discuss as to what can be done to incorporate such acceptance of diversity at various levels.

HRC-Workplace-LGBT-Climate-Slide
CREDIT: HRC FOUNDATION: THE COST OF THE CLOSET AND THE REWARDS OF INCLUSION

For starters, it is important for companies to have policies in place to avoid discrimination. However, having such policies does not necessarily guarantee a discrimination free environment. It is crucial to ensure these policies are being adopted and adhered to right from the time of recruitment to the promotion of individuals.

Inclusion

Companies can form ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) (DeMartine, Maffe, Saddam, 2016) in order to encourage diversity and inclusion. These comprise of individuals belonging to different groups such as women, LGBTs, disabilities, working parents, single parents and others. Each group works for the betterment of the its members, ensuring that each one of them is provided with equal opportunities for growth and advancement. Organizations need to be vocal about their diversity efforts in order to imbibe a spirit of inclusion in the company ethos. Managers need to be held accountable for their teams. They need to ensure the fair treatment of all groups in terms of hiring and career growth. Diversity has to be a part of the company’s strategic focus. It should not be limited to just hiring diverse individuals but also facilitate their transition into various leadership roles through proper mentorship and training.

lgbt-workplace-discrimination-stats-infographic-large

Companies need to train existing and new employees on inclusion and diversity policies, in order to keep discrimination at bay and foster open communication of different ideas and perspectives. Employees should be recognized and awarded for their efforts to enhance organizational diversity and to imbue a culture of openness rather than that of being “closeted” (Hewlett, Sumberg, 2011). The importance of regular feedback, both from managers and employees, cannot be undermined. Objective and timely feedback from supervisors helps employees understand their performance, allowing them to align their work processes and habits with their career goals. At the same time, receiving feedback from employees about how they feel on certain issues, helps the management to improve and cater to the needs of a truly diverse workforce.

http://www.loreal.ca/media/press-releases/2015/jun/l%E2%80%99or%C3%A9al-canada-becomes-the-first-company-in-canada-to-receive-the-edge-gender-equality-certification
Source: http://www.loreal.ca

Global companies that are leaders in Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) practices have ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) also known as affinity groups or Business resource groups or think tanks in place to help ensure support for diverse individuals. Sodexo, BASF, L’Oreal, Volkswagen, Sanofi and China Merchants Bank (Derven, 2014) all have been identified as leaders in D&I. These companies continuously implement and follow best practices throughout their processes in order to foster self awareness and inclusion.

Workforce diversity and inclusion make a difference in fostering corporate success. Companies need to work on incorporating a culture that promotes these values for continued future growth. Though achieving a truly diverse workforce might seem a distant goal, we can take solace in the fact that the journey has begun. With continued efforts, we are likely to see the benefits of diversity on company profits, the social framework and on our future generations.

Credits:


Author : Fauzia Babar

Editors : Dhruv Chaudhary, Vineeth Palani, Nitesh Sharma

Fact Checks : Dhruv Chaudhary, Nitesh Sharma


 

References

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  • Campbell, K., & Mínguez-Vera, A. (2008). Gender Diversity in the Boardroom and Firm Financial Performance. Journal Of Business Ethics, 83(3), 435-45
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