Why is your diverse workforce underperforming?
“We need X number of [insert physiological feature] in the workplace, and we
need them by X date, or preferably yesterday.”
In an unpredictable world where globalisation is the norm and cross-cultural boundaries are disintegrating, most organisations are coming to terms with three challenging concepts.
1) A diverse workforce is inevitable.
2) Jumping on board the diversity trend is the right thing to do.
3) The investment in this strategy can really pay off – organisations that increase diversity can enjoy higher levels of innovation, collaboration, and employee engagement.
From recruitment to training, organisations put enormous effort into creating a diverse workforce.
So why aren’t we seeing the outcomes we expected?
I think the answer is simple. While organisations are chasing diversity, they aren’t necessarily nurturing the inclusive culture in which a diverse workforce thrives.
Let me give you an example.
We recently worked with a large multinational that had some ambitious targets for boosting the number of women in leadership roles. But with these targets, some damaging behaviours began to surface, with employees:
- undermining decisions made by newly appointed female leaders
- bypassing the new leaders and going to other stakeholders for information
- gossiping around the perceived fairness, or unfairness, of the appointments.
This, in turn, created heightened levels of stress for the newly appointed leaders as they tried to manage and lead employees who didn’t trust their capability or benevolence. This damaged the leaders’ wellbeing and, ultimately, affected the valuable contribution they could make to the organisation.
Focus on your culture, as well as your numbers
The solution to this situation is also surprisingly simple. Organisations need to focus on creating an inclusive culture, not simply on hitting diversity quotas.
You’ve heard that great philosophical question: “If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, did it really fall?” The same can be asked about these newly-appointed women in their leadership roles. They were there on paper (hitting the diversity target), but without any followers were these leaders able to add the real value they potentially could?
Let’s be clear. I’m not suggesting we ditch diversity targets. What I’m saying is that we need to support such targets by building a culture of inclusion.
When diversity targets are coupled with an inclusive culture, the positive shift in employees’ perceptions about their organisation leads to the measurable business, bottom-line and community outcomes we’re all striving for.
What can we do to create an organisational culture of inclusion?
Start by checking your organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Check your strategic intent and business plans. Ask yourself:
- Is diversity and inclusion genuinely important to us?
- Are we truly committed to diversity and inclusion as an organisation?
The second thing you can do is check that your leaders are on the same page.
- Are our leaders committed to diversity and inclusion?
- Are they walking the walk and talking the talk?
- Do our leaders’ behaviours reflect what’s important to our organisation?
If the answers are ‘yes’, what next?
There is a clear pathway to building a diverse and inclusive organisation – a bit like a recipe. If you want to uncover what’s in the ingredients list, get in touch with Kaya’s experienced team.
As an organisational psychology consultant at Kaya, Lisa Vandertogt believes the key to unlocking both individual and organisational potential lies in a holistic approach and understanding the complex interplay between individuals, teams, and organisations. She has specialist interest in diversity and inclusion, wellbeing, engagement, team effectiveness, and personal capability development.
 Side note: I am a huge supporter of women in leadership positions. According to Australian government stats, women make up approximately 47% of the working population in Australia and hold only 13.7% of chair positions, 25.8% of directorships, and 17.1% of CEO positions (see Australian Government . Gender workplace statistics at a glance. Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Accessed 9th January, 2019 from https://www.wgea.gov.au/gender-workplace-statistics-at-a-glance-2017-18).