What is workplace diversity?
Diversity has to do with more than race or ethnicity. Diverse workplaces are composed of employees with varying characteristics including…religious and political beliefs, gender, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation and geographic location.
Put simply, a diverse workplace should reflect the population we live in. Represent our communities and the people we interact with in a day to day lives.
People with the skills and ability, and desire, to work should have the same opportunities for employment as everyone else in our society, regardless of personal characteristics.
What Do The Statistics Say?
The statistics based on the general population compared to our corporate and government employment statistics tell an interesting story:
- Only 16.9% of Australian CEOs are women. 
- Women make up half of Australia’s total population, however as of 1 January 2012, less than one-third (29%) of all Federal Parliamentarians across Australia were women. 
- In 1993, 55 per cent of Australians with a disability were employed, compared to 77 per cent of people without a disability. That figure dropped to 53 per cent in 2013, with 83 per cent of people without a disability participating in the workforce (ABA).
- Around 6 in 10 employees work in an industry that is dominated by one gender. 
Organisations throughout Australia have policies in place for a diverse and inclusive workforce, including 70.7% of employers with a gender equality policy/strategy in place,
62.9% of organisations with a policy/strategy for flexible working arrangements, (i.e. part-time, job sharing, flexible hours, time in lieu. Up 0.9% from 2014-15), and 66% of employers are committed to recruiting a multi-cultural workforce.
So if workplaces are out of sync with the general population, even those with policies and programs in place, then perhaps restating the benefits of a diverse workplace might help move the conversation along.
The Benefits of Diversity In The Workplace
There is a large body of research showing that diverse and inclusive workplaces deliver improved productivity and profitability, greater creativity and innovation, higher employee well-being and engagement and reduced employee turnover, to name just a few.
In business, cultural diversity within an organisation is considered beneficial to the retention of staff as well as their productivity. It is also likely to increase an organisation’s flexibility and responsiveness to the diversity of its clients, customers and partners in an increasingly globalised world. 
Larger talent pools, and narrow teams come to faster conclusions and therefore can look more productive, but their decisions are less robust and not as comprehensively thought through.
Some more social and economic benefits include:
- Employment for people with a disability can increase their financial independence, their social networks, and overall personal wellbeing, amongst many other benefits. 
- A culturally diverse workforce increases creativity, language skills, opportunities for a broader client base, innovation and inclusivity which is great for morale.
- An organisation that activity promotes diversity and inclusiveness will have a better reputation with job seekers and customers alike. 74% of gay and 42% of straight consumers are less likely to buy products from organisations holding negative views around sexuality. 
Examples of Diversity in Practice
If we look at the case studies of large law firms, utility companies, multinationals, professional services and more, all seem to have one in thing in common – diversity is something they value, and work on in everyday decision making and behaviour.
Freehills Director of Human Resources, Gareth Bennet, points out that framing diversity to ‘diversity of thought, link it to leadership, targeting inclusive practices and behaviour and ensuring it is ingrained in organisation culture’ has seen improvements throughout the organization in the people calling out their unconscious bias in recruitment, as well as promotion within the organization
AGL has built in checks and balances into the remuneration review process to address pay inequalities.
IBM international makes it clear in their recruitment practices that they rely on a diversity of ideas from a diverse workforce
There are plenty of examples of organisations that seem to be getting it right, across industries and sector.
Let’s learn from that best practice in diversity and inclusion to build our own organisations as ‘workplaces of choice’ for great candidates, companies that consumers admire and want to purchase from, and contributors to the growth of our community.
Over To You
Join us live at the Diversity Collective in Sydney 23 May.
We’re broadening the conversation when it comes to diversity, inclusion and engagement. You’ll hear live case studies from the leaders of some of our best known brands and network with business leaders and diversity specialists. Take a look at the cut-through strategies that are gaining traction in inclusion and driving engagement and productivity. Also, what are the tried and tested pitfalls that you can avoid for your business?
We’d love to see you there to continue the conversation about building diverse and inclusive workplaces and hear what support or success stories you have to share.
 Harris Interactive research data