Workplace diversity initiatives are common in the business world today. This can be seen in the recent rise of chief diversity officer hires—positions specifically designed to address workplace inclusion from top to bottom—by major companies. Increasing equity in the workplace through tangible actions can positively impact the company’s culture and overall business. 

What is workplace diversity?

To understand the role of diversity in the contemporary workforce, let’s take a closer look at the term itself. For most, diversity begins with inclusive hiring and promotion practices—at all levels, from support staff to c-suite. A diverse workforce could reflect a full range of genders, ethnicities, language proficiencies, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, and more. 

Those who study workplace diversity believe the first large scale initiative appeared in 1948 with the signing of Executive Order 9981, by President Harry S. Truman. This order mandated desegregation of the armed forces, although it did not prohibit segregation. As a result of the order, by 1953, 95% of Black soldiers served in integrated units. From there, more strides were made to address increasing diversity in the workforce—particularly in the socially-conscious 60’s and 70’s. 

Today, diversity at work often means a focus on increasing ethnic and female representation, and, unfortunately, there is still a long way to go in terms of reaching equity. A 2019 study conducted by Mercer shows that Black and Latino populations are underrepresented in all business levels above that of support staff/operations. They also found that only 13% of US businesses had programs that specifically supported women of color. This percentage stands in contrast to the 42% of businesses that have official commitments to ethnic diversity. 

Of course, with the fluctuations brought on by COVID-19, the workforce is destined to change. There is already evidence that women, in particular, are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. A recent Women in the Workplace study found that 1 in 4 women are considering leaving their careers or at least downshifting. This marks the first time in six years that more women than men were found to be considering a career exit. This exodus of female workers could have ripple effects in efforts to diversify work, because women in management positions are found to be louder proponents of gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace. Black women were a particularly vulnerable group, the study noted. 

Despite some less than stellar statistics, there are increasing signs of real commitment to diversity by many companies. At a recent Business Roundtable, the CEOs of hundreds of companies described plans to address equity and diversity efforts. 

Benefits of workplace diversity

There are tangible benefits for businesses that value diverse workforces. With a diverse staff, companies enjoy increased innovation, enhanced performance, deeper customer satisfaction, and larger profits, according to a number of studies conducted by research institutions and publications.

  • With a diverse staff, creativity soars. Increased innovation and creativity through diversity consistently emerges as a theme. According to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, companies that are more diverse show higher revenue earned through innovation. Through looking at 1,700 businesses, HBR determined that above-average diversity in a workforce resulted in 45% earnings from innovation, versus 26% of revenue from companies who were less diverse. By valuing a multitude of perspectives, companies open themselves up to new and viable business strategies and ideas. Time and again, a diverse workforce, from top to bottom, proves to reap the rewards of increased imagination.
  • Customers and investors appreciate and respond to a diverse workforce. When a company shows, through marketing, products, messagning, and more, that they are committed to a diverse workforce, people take notice. If a staff is homogenous, there is much opportunity lost to reach different customers with varied experiences. 
  • Diversity and socially-responsible efforts are formally recognized by the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance, a designation that indicates what stocks and mutual funds are beneficial to the environment and social issues. Clients want to invest in companies that help and reflect society. In fact, this “socially conscious investing” is at an all time high, indicating that, indeed, investors are paying attention to how a company acts in our diverse world. 

All the above and more lead to positive economic benefits when companies value diversity. Participating in a global market with a diverse workforce can lead to robust results. 

Workplace diversity trends

Where are we now and where are we headed? The following statistics reveal the state of diversity in the workplace today. 

  • The #MeToo movement has resulted in subtle and concrete change in the workforce. Women in leadership positions bring an important perspective to the corporate world. In 2019 there was a woman on the board of every S&P 500 company
  • Technology is changing the way the workforce diversifies. Apps and other tools can be easily implemented by companies to target diversity. Some examples include the Inclusion Virtual Coach app from the company Lead Inclusively. New tech also addresses bias in hiring processes. Unbiasify Chrome Extension removes names and photos from LinkedIn, Facebook and other networking sites in an effort to eliminate unconscious bias. 
  • While many workplace initiatives target diversity, there is still much progress to be made. Especially in light of recent protests surrounding social justice, companies are more than ever aware of the need for diversity. However, there is still a gap between desire and representation. But actions like the Business Roundtable show increased seriousness on the part of major corporations. 

How to achieve diversity in the workplace

The US is an increasingly diversifying space; recruiting, hiring, and retaining from a large, representative pool of candidates is crucial in the current competitive market. Consider the following to attract a diverse pool of qualified candidates. 

  1. Use inclusive language in job announcements and other messaging. Be upfront about your commitment to a diverse workforce, why it matters to your company, and how you are moving forward with it in mind. If existing policies reflect a desire for a supportive and inclusive work environment, you will attract candidates who value those things. 
  1. Look at your workforce from within. Consider promoting internally, networking in-house, and asking for recommendations. But be aware that an existing homogenous workforce will be less likely to result in more diverse hires. 
  1. Change how you seek. Expand searches beyond well-trod paths. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other colleges that attract a diverse student population are great places to look for personnel. Also, rethink the search committee—are there current staff who could shed new light? Having a search committee take anti-bias training could lead you in new directions, as well. 
  1. Start building the pipeline today. Set up mentor programs and other employee resource groups.  Take a look at benefits to see if they are attractive to a wide range of candidates. Plan and implement education for current employees, as well as those in c-level positions, to address disparities. 

At Spring Health, we are committed to diversity and inclusion, allowing employers to find best-fit mental health solutions for their diverse workforces: From more involved to less complex interventions, the Precision Mental Healthcare solutions offered by Spring Health provide individualized support. Contact Spring Health to discover how we can help your team. 

Nora Hickey
Nora is a staff writer for Spring Health.

November 13, 2020