Impact of diversity of thought on the bottom line

Ever since my university degree, where I was one of only three women in a class of 300, I have had a deep interest in diversity. Throughout my career I have found myself asking many questions around this topic. What does it mean for employees? What impact does it have on business? Does it matter?

My own experience and broader research proves that diversity does, indeed, matter to business. A McKinsey report shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their industry median; and 35% more likely to have better returns if they are in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity.

A recent EY report also states that firms with women in top management roles are more innovative and are worth, on average, about US$40m more than companies with only male leaders. It’s a staggering sum. What’s more, teams with more women are better at analysis, planning and problem solving.

Closer to home, recent Salesforce research found that ‘employees are more productive when the feel they belong, are heard, and are able to be their authentic self at work.’ When they feel like they belong, 73% of employees say they can do their best work.

These numbers are hardly surprising. Diversity is about including others wherever possible, leveraging their strengths, respecting their opinions. When you bring together people of different gender, culture, nationality or socioeconomic background, you get a much richer tapestry of innovative ideas. These ideas breed productivity and results.

Expect the unexpected

Whenever I reflect on how diversity of thought has helped my team, I immediately think of one particular person I hired, years ago.

This person had a different background to the types of Solution Engineers I had interviewed in the past. He had deep experience in consulting and implementation, and had lived in multiple countries away from his family. I immediately liked him – he was clever, warm and friendly. Unfortunately, nerves got the better of him on his first interview panel. Against my normal judgement, I decided to give him another shot at it as I knew he had so much to offer. He came back and did one of the best panel interviews I have ever seen, and today is an essential part of the team and excels in his role.

The experience taught me that, sometimes, diversity takes you out of your comfort zone. Take a leap of faith and you may be surprised at what comes out of it.

Since then, we have certainly reflected on how we conduct our panel interviews, and how we can restructure them so they are always inclusive to a wide net of potential employees. Indeed, I have found that the more diverse my team is, the better the results of our monthly survey on job satisfaction. And, happier employees equals a more productive team.

The rocky road to diversity

Change is challenging in any team, in any organisation. Yet setting off on a path towards a more diverse workforce is immensely rewarding – in every way.

The first step in achieving diversity of thought is to remove the roadblocks. This can be as simple as acknowledging your fears. People can be afraid of difference or change. When hiring, it can be too easy to think, “I will hire people like myself because I know how to manage people like me.”

Yes, having a more diverse group can be more challenging at the outset – it takes time to get to know people and learn how to relate to those who think or act differently to yourself.

Then, it may be a matter of changing the way you write job descriptions to make them more inclusive. For instance, one piece of research revealed that women have been found to only apply for jobs if they meet 100% of the qualifications in the job description. To counter this, it is important to include personality traits that women can relate to – such as ‘confident’, ‘creative’, ‘organised’, ‘good attention to detail’. This idea is backed up by a fantastic training course I completed at WISE, an organisation that promotes gender equality in science, technology and engineering.

You can also become more diverse in how and where you look for job applicants. For example, instead of only recruiting from the Top 4 companies, you could become more flexible and consider candidates from other backgrounds. After all, some of the world’s greatest leaders don’t even hold university degrees.

Preserving diversity

Once you are on the path to hiring a more diverse team, you need to find ways to maintain this diversity of thought within the organisation. You need to help each team member to be authentic, to remain true to their personal values. Embrace the challenging, disruptive thoughts of the extroverts; nurture the ideas of the bright yet quiet introverts. Include everyone.

During my 15 years in IT, I have gone from being the only woman in a team to leading an incredibly diverse group of people. Equality is a core value of Salesforce and we believe our higher purpose is to create a more equal world for all. A key part of this vision is to build a diverse and inclusive culture where everyone feels they can bring their full, authentic self to work. I am extremely proud to work within a company that values diversity so much and to see first-hand the positive impact that this diversity has upon the business and my own team.

To learn more about workplace equality trends and how you can lead with your values to drive real business impact, download The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business report today.