04/11/2024 • 4 min read

How Equitable Businesses Succeed

Part 1: Honoring diverse opinions, ideas, and individuals

by Haworth, Inc.

We know from our own research that diversity in the workforce leads to greater business success, sparking creativity, innovation, and engagement. Different backgrounds and life experiences lead to a breadth of opinion and exchange of ideas.

The Importance of Diversity in Business

Painting by the numbers, the benefits are quite tangible. According to McKinsey & Co.’s Diversity Matters research, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, while companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to experience above median returns.

Understanding Diversity and Inclusion

It’s not enough to simply hire a diverse workforce. It’s important that all employees feel comfortable in sharing their different experiences, opinions, and ideas—and in fact, are encouraged to do so. A Work Design Magazine article notes companies that do not value inclusion are unlikely to retain talent or maximize their contributions. The article goes on to say that inclusion can help organizations recoup their investments in building a diverse workforce.

While often used interchangeably in the business world, the terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are quite different. Diversity is determined by varied characteristics, attributes, experiences, and beliefs of people—while inclusion is recognizing and honoring those differences, welcoming them into the workplace, and building a culture of equity. Work Design Magazine likens the relationship to attending a party, stating that diversity is about being invited, and inclusion is about being asked to dance.

In short, diversity needs inclusion to be beneficial, and vice versa.

For a diverse workforce to truly thrive, it’s imperative to consider their differences and the barriers—both physical and perceived—to interaction between different groups and individuals. Everyone deserves to be valued and included—to have a voice and be heard. Woven together, those varied life experiences will net the most creative ideas, innovative solutions, and mutually beneficial relationships.

Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice we make every day. As leaders, we have to put out the message that we embrace and not just tolerate diversity.

Nellie Borrero

Managing Director, Senior Strategic Advisor – Global Inclusion & Diversity at Accenture

Acknowledging Life Experience

Recent events have shone a harsh spotlight on inequality, highlighting the vast range of ways in which different groups and individuals experience the same events and timelines.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately ravaged black communities in terms of both health and job loss. Coupled with a wave of tension over police brutality and systemic racism, it highlights some of the socioeconomic conditions that have been bolstered by inequality for decades—lower incomes for black Americans, less access to quality healthcare, lack of quality housing, structural racial bias, and judicial prejudice.

It’s painful times like these that provide us with opportunities to open doors to communication—whether in the office or our personal lives. Working with one another to make change is one of the most important things we can do. Bringing that same openness and collaboration into the office to drive equity and inclusion will be an enduring challenge. However, the results can only be beneficial for your people and your business.

Beyond Race: Exploring Dimensions of Diversity

When discussing diversity and inclusion, racial equity is just the tip of the iceberg. People are often excluded or marginalized based on gender, sexual orientation, age, religious beliefs, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, neurodivergence, their role as single parents, health conditions, mental health, exposure to trauma, veteran status/military experience, domestic safety, and even genetic information. It would be in any organization’s best interest to involve people who have these diverse life experiences and points of view because, together, we all represent the wholeness of society.

Legal Framework and Business Responsibility

There are equal opportunity laws designed to protect the employment rights of certain groups. In the US, these include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, under which the US Supreme Court ruled that protection extends to sexual orientation and transgender identity. However—as illustrated by this need for clarification—these laws are not all-encompassing, nor do they reach deeper to ensure inclusion and equity. That is often left up to businesses themselves to sort out, causing many of the world’s organizational leaders to ask, “How can we better support workplace equality and create a work experience inclusive to all?”

The answer is: Through workplace design, culture, leadership, and policies—created with careful consideration and conversation, and adapted as the workplace and workforce change over time.

Create a Welcoming, Inclusive Workspace

Explore how to create a workspace design that focuses on variety and choice to meet diverse needs.

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