Cyprus, as a European Union country and business market, may want to believe it is progressive but it’s no secret that it is lagging behind in many workplace “trends”. The idea of employee wellbeing for example is just one instance of how far behind the local business world actually is in comparison to other countries. Other examples are the terms ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. These may be all the rage in international workplaces right now but still almost unheard of in Cyprus. This is possibly the result of small-scale businesses and the introversion of family-owned firms who should invest more in their human resource practices.
But let’s take it from the top. What is diversity in the workplace and what does inclusion actually mean?
Diversity at work is typically thought of as a varied employee mix made of people from both genders, all adult ages (18 to 65+) and from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. But it’s more and more starting to include people from all gender identities and sexual orientations, people with disabilities, as well as people with different education, lifestyle preferences, body shapes, viewpoints and ideas, skills, perspectives and approaches. In other words, diversity at work looks like a group of people who represent the international world around us where everyone is unique. This is at the heart of innovation. If an employer tends to hire people that are very similar to one another, (s)he will miss out on talent due to this hidden bias. Not to mention that the decisions coming out of their organisation will be restricted as it will limited to the way of thinking of a certain group or type of individuals.
The more diverse the employee make up the more creative outcomes can be expected. Let’s take a very basic example. There are still, unfortunately in this day and age, employers who avoid hiring women of a child-bearing age, especially in managerial roles. Apart from having the blatant bias inherent in this view and the stereotyped belief that all women want/will become mothers, they fear that their potential absence due to maternity leave will be an added cost and/or loss of productivity. This is a very blinkered way of thinking. Even if employees fall pregnant this can bring business opportunities. Expectant or new mothers can bring in ideas from a newfound perspective, not to mention that their new, additional life role forces them to become more efficient in everything they have to juggle in their personal and working lives. There are many examples of mothers who have responded well to their parental role whilst remaining productive at work. Just think of the endless possibilities their inclusion to the organisation could bring! Bringing new ways of thinking, finding ways to work smarter and more efficiently and potentially coming up with innovative ideas for services and products that benefit parents and children.
So, apart from eliminating bias against different groups (e.g. women of child-bearing age, older people or people of bigger size) in recruitment and selection practices, inclusion in the workplace can take the form of creating equal opportunities in general. In addition, inclusion can take place by allowing open communication and contributions from everyone in the organisation.
Apart from the advantage of intensifying creativity and innovation, inclusion of a diverse workforce can bring additional benefits to an organisation. Benefits such as generating an increase in market share by creating a satisfied diverse customer base who can relate to people from different backgrounds in the organisation. It can also bring increased productivity. Feeling included and appreciated increases loyalty and feelings of belonging so the inclusion of different talents working together towards a common goal using different sets of skills can trigger their loyalty and increase retention. So, all of these can lead to more profitability.
For inclusion of diversity to truly materialise it needs to become embedded in organisational culture. It really helps if diversity is part of the company’s values and its competency framework. If employees’ performance is linked to diversity and inclusion then it will become an integral part of the organisational culture. Therefore, having Key Performance Indicators that link diversity and inclusion to people’s personal objectives is recommended.
Some other steps for companies to consider taking include:
· Putting a coaching scheme in place for younger employees
· Mentoring female employees for succession in managerial roles
· Implementing bias-prevention training to re-wire people’s prejudiced attitudes
· Creating a safe, non-judgemental environment where people are encouraged to voice their (potentially differing) feelings and opinions
Without including the different sub-groups in an organisation there is always the chance of unfairly favouring one group over another. How often do we see “old boys’ clubs” with their antiquated views ruling organisations? Think about how detrimental this can be to the rest of the employees and at the end of the day, to the business bottom line.