What is ‘Workforce Diversity’?

“Diversity is the art of thinking independently together” – Malcolm Forbes


‘Workforce Diversity’ is a term that’s bandied around by many businesses. But it’s more than just some trendy buzzwords. Under The Equality Act 2010, recruiters must ensure that no discrimination based on ‘protected characteristics’ including gender, ethnicity, disability, religion/belief, sex, and sexual orientation occurs at any point in the recruitment process.

Legal issues aside, creating an inclusive working environment where everyone is able to be actively involved and achieve their potential is a worthy aspiration for any business.

How can workforce diversity benefit businesses?

“Diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets and stand a 45% better chance of increasing overall market share” - Center for Talent Innovation

Diversity in the workplace shouldn’t just be about meeting a quota. First and foremost, creating an environment where everyone feels valued and accepted is a worthwhile end for any business. But there could also be a competitive advantage to employing a varied workforce – here’s how businesses can benefit:

• Presents opportunities to interact with a broader client base

• Gives you a greater understanding of your customer base 

• Greater ability to recruit and retain employees in an already competitive and diverse market

• A wider mix of skills and experience increases productivity and creativity in the workplace

• Helps towards building a strong employer brand, one that supports nurturing a positive and welcoming working environment for all

“Diversity of thought can help organizations make better decisions and complete tasks more successfully because it triggers more careful and creative information processing” – Deloitte

It isn’t just about embracing different demographics. By cultivating ‘diversity of thought’, encouraging different perspectives, beliefs and ways of thinking, your workforce will be more innovative and effective. 

Having a broad mixture of people with their own individual thought processes can help encourage more thorough and careful consideration when it comes to problem solving. This is important within businesses as it discourages ‘groupthink’ and being overconfident, by forcing challenges to be viewed through different lenses.

Unconscious bias

“Privilege is invisible to those who have it” – Professor Michael Kimmel

Though outwardly, individuals and organisations may support an inclusive and diverse workforce, they may subconsciously favour one candidate over another. This can happen for several reasons:


• In the UK, women with ‘white-sounding’ names were almost twice as likely to get a positive response from employers than those with foreign-sounding names. (all-parliamentary group study)

• People with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names were 28% less likely to get invited to an interview than fictitious candidates with English-sounding names, even when their qualifications were the same. (Ryerson University and the University of Toronto study)

• Researchers from Australian National University submitted 4000 fictional job applications for entry level roles. The results showed that ‘non-anglo’ sounding names had to submit more CVs to gain an interview.

Stats like this go to show that even if recruiters may not be aware of it, they do have some bias when selecting candidates. 
This isn’t just about people’s names; it extends to any information on a CV that might highlight someone’s gender, age, culture, ethnicity, religion, etc. Consultancy agency Deloitte even found that some employers have bias towards candidates from certain universities. 

Knowing what motivates people to apply for certain jobs, and equally, what can make them refrain from applying, is key to creating a more inclusive workforce.

Gender could be a factor, since women are less likely to apply for a job they don’t feel 100% qualified for. Similarly, a culture of ‘work drinks’ might also turn some people off, especially where religious practices are concerned.

How can you build a diverse Talent Pool?

Use technology to avoid unconscious bias

To help banish any bias you may subconsciously have towards candidates you can use recruitment technology to remove any differentiating information from CVs such as name, school and university. Big brands like HSBC and KPMG already do this by using ‘name-blind’ applications to hire candidates.

Online competency and personality tests can be used in addition to CVs, so your decision to interview or hire candidates is based on their skills and suitability for the job rather than any ‘protected characteristics’. 

Distributing jobs on multiple platforms can help you to reach a wide range of candidates. Post on job sites, social media, and career microsites to reach a varied mixture of people.

Nominate advocates from different demographics

Ask people who represent diverse backgrounds to become advocates. This will help you determine whether your hiring process needs to be more inclusive, and also helps to reassure others from similar backgrounds that they will be welcome at your company. 

Shake-up your selection panels

Ensure people from diverse backgrounds check your recruitment materials and review the stages of your hiring process. Get your nominated advocates on-board too for a strong decision-making panel who can help you keep your recruitment process fair and unbiased.
Use your employees to help fine-tune your whole recruitment strategy – look at application forms, job descriptions, job adverts, interview questions and your employer branding. 

When it comes to interviewing, you could bring along an employee from a different demographic to help interview a candidate. Be sure that all candidates are asked the same questions in all stages of recruiting – from initial contact, to formal interview, to post-interview conversations. Be consistent across the board.

Inclusive employer brand

The swaying power of your employer branding can’t be overstated. Publicise anything that demonstrates how your brand supports diversity and inclusivity for your employees as well as your clients/customers. You could include elements such as awards, partnerships, flexible working environment. Make sure you spread the word both internally and externally, using company newsletters, noticeboards, marketing materials, blogs and social media. 

Examples which represent how your business values and promotes diversity should be celebrated and talked about, and can be a strong selling for potential new employees – be sure to talk about this in your employee handbook and contract of employment.

Create ways for people from a similar background/community to connect. Providing a venue for networking, mentoring, and socialising, can help reduce isolation and increase employee engagement.

Diversity should extend beyond company culture, being considered in every aspect of a business’s internal and external activities, from the products and services offered, to how customer services deal with queries and complaints, and public relations. 

Educating Employees

Making sure your employees understand what diversity is and why it’s important is key to encouraging it in your business. Setting up training and workshops will help to get everyone on the same page and actively involved in promoting workforce diversity.

Better standards for all – The rise of ‘Corporate Empathy’

Though diversity is a hot topic for any employer these days, there may be something that’s even more valuable for businesses to consider. The concept of ‘corporate empathy’ isn’t just something which seeks to help one minority or another, but to increase a company’s overall level of humanity, to improve standards for everyone. The problem with ‘diversity’ is that it highlights ‘otherness’ and the differences between people; empathy is something which considers everyone as human beings on an even playing-field.

The words ‘corporate’ and ‘empathy’ aren’t often considered as synonymous. Corporations have a bad reputation for being cold, cut-throat arenas that must be seen to be strong, successful and highly competitive at any cost. This could be why so many businesses seem to suffer from a lack of empathy – it tends to be associated with weakness, vulnerability and being a bit ‘fluffy’.

Businesses often regard empathy as little more than a touchy-feely HR gimmick – something which looks good on paper – as a bit of an after-thought. But there is a growing requirement for businesses to be more genuine and responsive to the needs of customers and employees.

“Empathy is not a soft nurturing value but a hard commercial tool that every business needs as part of their DNA.” – Rene Schuster, former CEO of Telefonica Germany

In the corporate world of facts and figures, with the continual need to analyse and assess the effectiveness of everything to the Nth degree, empathy is often regarded as a bit wishy-washy and hard to quantify. But a business’s ‘empathy quotient’ can be judged and compared alongside competitors, by assessing how a business engages across three criteria: internal (employees); external (customers); and public (social media).

Far from being an ethereal, unattainable thing, empathy can be actively pursued and achieved within businesses, but it requires commitment and prioritisation from the highest levels of management to make it work. To enable this to happen, there needs to be a shift in mentality – empathy should be regarded as a core skill to be implemented at all levels, with the return on investment being a happy, healthy and loyal workforce.

(Information sourced from Harvard Business Review)

Going beyond a tick box exercise

Rather than approaching diversity as an exercise in compliance, businesses should look at it as something which can not only make a more pleasant working environment, but could also help expand their customer base and drive business growth.

By being more attuned to the needs of employees and customers, businesses can only stand to benefit and grow. A greater level of understanding and care, treating all people who deal with the business as of equal importance, will ultimately help to create an atmosphere of trust, respect, and brand loyalty which in turn will mean you’re well on your way to some solid employer branding that’s worth shouting about.


This entry was posted in Recruitment, Tools & Tips