Workplace Diversity: Who’s Really to Blame?

Discrimination in the workplace – it’s not only wrong, it’s illegal. Employers have long known this fact, but over the last few decades it has become increasingly apparent that not only can diversity in the workplace keep employers out of legal troubles, it can also keep them in business.

Even with this in mind, the reality is that workplace diversity initiatives have historically achieved minimal success (with a few notable exceptions). This could be one of the main reasons that when it comes to leadership priorities, diversity still remains low on the totem pole. In fact, a recent Deloitte report found that diversity/inclusion was consistently reported to be one of the least important issues on leaders’ minds compared to other HR matters.

The (Un)necessary Business Case for Workplace Diversity?

Some people might be under the impression that needing a business case for diversity in the workplace falls along the same lines as needing a business case for leadership, but recent stats beg to differ.  Here are a few just to give you an idea:

  • In February 2014, Fortune reported that minorities only made up about 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs
  • Google was one of the first major companies to release diversity statistics in 2014, reporting that it’s staff was 70% male and 30% female
  • According to Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights group, 53% of workers in the U.S. who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender hide that part at work
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics stated the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities was 12.5% in 2014, more than twice the figure of 5.9% for those with no disability
  • A recent Tanenbaum survey reported that 36% of works had personally experienced or witnessed some form of religious non-accommodation in their workplace

Diversifying the case

What many executive leaders may be missing is that there’s more than just a “feel good” reason to take conscious steps toward creating a diverse workplace – there’s proven tangible value created by doing so that goes far beyond financial measures alone. Some of these reasons include:

  1. Gain better access to top talent – Top candidates will choose the company that they feel is the best “fit” for them. If your organization lacks diversity and candidates aren’t able identify or relate with any current employees, they’ll likely choose to go elsewhere.
  2. Drive more innovation and performanceRecent studies have found that diverse teams engage in more debate, generate ideas from different perspectives, and in the end, make better business decisions.
  3. Retain key employees A major reason great employees decide to leave a company is simply because they feel they no longer “belong”. If employees feel unable to express their uniqueness freely, they’ll eventually seek out an organization that embraces and celebrates it.
  4. Increase Customer EmpathyAs customers interact with your brand, they’ll quickly sense whether or not you truly understand their wants and needs.  A diverse workforce enables you to better serve a more diverse customer base.

Companies that are looking to truly excel in closing the gap will need to move beyond diversity and focus on inclusion as well. This will require executives to examine how their organization embraces new ideas, accommodates different styles of thinking (such as whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert), creates a more flexible work environment, enables people to connect and collaborate, and encourages different types of leaders and learners.

Don’t Just Walk the Walk…

Google isn’t alone when it comes to recent lackluster diversity stats. Delving into recent data from tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, and Intel reveals similar findings.

While the diversity dilemma transcends the tech industry, several major tech companies say they plan to make a change and they’re are putting their money where their mouth is in hopes of making it happen.

Google is investing millions of dollars in the form of grants to non-profit organizations like Code2040 whose mission is to foster diversity in technology. Apple recently earmarked $50 million for tech diversity efforts and Intel is also stepping up to the plate by launching their Diversity in Technology initiative which includes a $300 million allotment for building a pipeline of female and under-represented engineers and computer scientists.

Who’s Really To Blame?

Let’s not fool ourselves. While it might be easy to blame CEOs and their executive teams for our current state of diversity affairs, they’re not alone in their responsibilities.

We all need to do our part (as cliché as that may sound). Minorities remain a fraction of educated, qualified candidates. When it comes to industries like technology, women make up only 18% of graduates of computer science degrees and blacks and Hispanics each make up less than 10%. A whopping 37.2% of people 16 or older don’t have a job and aren’t actively seeking one. And for the sake of time, I won’t even begin to get into the often-conscious religious, cultural, and disability assumptions, bias and stereotypes we’ve got going on!

Diversity goes beyond race and gender. It goes beyond culture and religion. It goes beyond appearance and sexual orientation. It goes beyond age and education. It goes beyond mental and physical abilities.

And most importantly…it goes beyond the boardroom.