Institutional memory can be rife in organisations with a long history and low turnover. Although there are benefits to this kind of shared knowledge, a group of decision makers who hold similar views narrows the scope of thought, and this can lead to an ingrained culture that is resistant to change – not something conducive to generating those big ideas.
Alternative perspectives are not inefficient, they are innovative. This was our opinion when Alice Streatfeild, Research Director of Employee Engagement, presented recently at the conference of Global Equality and Diversity 2016: Embracing Transparency, Demonstrating Impact.
A piece of research conducted by Katherine Phillips and colleagues from Northwestern University, USA showed that it is not necessarily the opinions from minority groups that bring about these different perspectives. The study showed that the mere presence of people from socially diverse groups can be enough for majority groups to put forward different perspectives and to examine information more critically. This is a powerful finding and emphasises how easy it can be to fall into groupthink when there is no physical reminder that there are other groups out there to consider.
Our own research compiled from the public and private sector also showed that, from an employee point of view, diversity could be done better. At the global level:
- Just under two thirds of employees (65%) felt individual differences were respected
- 59% were confident that career progression and development were equal across different groups
- 55% felt valued for what they could offer their organisation.
- 20% were not confident that, should they have a problem with how they were treated, their organisation would take appropriate action.
This leads to one of the major barriers to diversity we see in organisations we work with: bullying.
Our benchmarking database tells us that 16% of employees report that they have personally experienced bullying in the last year whilst working at their organisation. The incidence increases to 21% for people with a disability.
As long as it’s viewed as a one-way process, diversity will remain a minority interest. When organisations understand the reciprocal benefits diversity can provide for employees and organisations alike, it will be taken seriously. Like employee engagement some 15–20 years ago, diversity will lose its fluffy-HR status and start to be part of C-suite discussions and woven into the fabric of employee value propositions and organisational culture.
Our paper – A two way process: playing the numbers game with diversity, goes into more detail on this. We also share 3 ways diversity can work for business as well as individuals, and 3 tips for supporting a diverse workforce. You can find the slides here.