Why Diversity in the Workplace Isn’t Just a Buzzword
Read some newspapers or media outlets and you’d get the impression that the ideas of diversity and inclusion are completely irrelevant to the workplace.
Even worse, you might get the assumption that diversity and inclusion are just hyper ‘woke’, theoretical concepts that only concern activists and that have no bearing on work and society, or on the way that we behave as human beings.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Diversity isn’t just a trendy buzzword. It’s an intrinsic aspect of our modern society – and by extension, our workplace. It’s time that we treated it with the respect it deserves.
What is Diversity and Inclusion?
At its core, diversity and inclusion is about making sure that everyone in a workplace is valued equally – regardless of their race, sexual orientation, sex, disability or religion.
The CIPD defines diversity and inclusion as ‘valuing everyone in the organisation as an individual’.
So, to put it simply, diversity and inclusion in the workplace is about developing policies and practices that examine and address barriers to participation at work that affect particular groups of employees.
The Moral Argument for Diversity and Inclusion at Work
So, why should we care about diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
The most obvious answer is because we’re all human beings at the end of the day. The vast majority of people believe that everyone should have access to the same jobs, training and opportunities, regardless of the factors that they can’t influence about their lives – like the colour of their skin, their sexuality, their gender or their sex.
One common argument against including diversity and inclusion policies in the workplace (often presented without any real evidence) is that societal attitudes have changed in the last 30 years, and that we’re much more tolerant than we used to be. But delve into the actual evidence of discrimination and oppression in the workplace and you’ll discover a different story.
Take experiences of racism and homophobia in the workplace, for instance.
- More than a third (37%) of Black or minority ethnic (BME) workers polled have been bullied, abused or experienced racial discrimination by their employer.
- 19% have experienced discrimination such as being denied training or promotion.
- 15% have experienced verbal abuse and 16% of BME workers have experienced bullying or harassment at work.
- 43% did not feel able to report their experience of discrimination to their employers and 38% did not report incidents of bullying and harassment.
In another alarming finding, a recent panel survey by the National Centre for Social Research found that 26% of British people say they are “very” or “a little” prejudiced towards people of other races.
The key findings of the ‘LGBT in Britain: Work Report’ commissioned by Stonewall makes for some sobering reading too when it comes to homophobia in the workplace. Carried out by YouGov, the study surveyed the experiences of over 5,000 LGBT people at work in Scotland, England and Wales and found:
- Nearly one in five LGBT staff (18%) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year because they're LGBT.
- One in eight trans people (12 per cent) have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year because of being trans.
- One in ten black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT staff (10 per cent) have similarly been physically attacked because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, compared to three per cent of white LGBT staff.
- Almost one in five LGBT people (18 per cent) who were looking for work said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity while trying to get a job in the last year.
- One in eight black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT employees (12 per cent) have lost a job in the last year because of being LGBT, compared to four per cent of white LGBT staff.
- Almost two in five bi people (38 per cent) aren’t out to anyone at work about their sexual orientation.
- More than a third of LGBT staff (35 per cent) have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT at work in the last year because they were afraid of discrimination.
- One in eight lesbian, gay and bi people (12 per cent) wouldn’t feel confident reporting any homophobic or biphobic bullying to their employer.
- One in five trans people (21 per cent) wouldn’t report transphobic bullying in the workplace.
- Almost a third of non-binary people (31 per cent) and one in five trans people (18 per cent) don’t feel able to wear work attire representing their gender expression.
These reports aren’t just based on anecdotes and hearsay – they are based on data gathered by rigorously conducted academic research.
Whilst it might be comforting to think that attitudes towards diversity in the workplace have moved on, it’s clear from the data that there is still an awful lot of work to do.
And that makes the moral argument for diversity and inclusion in the workplace even more obvious. If even one person experiences abuse, intimidation or discrimination at work surely that means that our working culture is not as safe as we think it is.
The biggest moral argument for improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a simple one – everyone should deserve the right to work free from fear or discrimination. You either agree with it or you don’t.
The Business Argument for Diversity and Inclusion
Although the moral case for implementing diversity and inclusion policies at work should be more than enough of a reason to do so, some businesses still require convincing in terms of bottom-line profits and performance.
The CIPD’s ‘Diversity and Inclusion at Work: Facing Up to the Business Case’ report outlines the key reasons why the attitudes of a business towards diversity and inclusion directly affect its productivity and profitability.
The report finds that businesses with a commitment to improving diversity and inclusion generally have:
- Better productivity
- Improved employee retention
- Improved employee wellbeing
- A better brand reputation
At the end of the day though, we shouldn’t need to present a business case for diversity and inclusion at all. As the report puts it, “There should not need to be a bottom-line business case in order to treat individuals with dignity and respect at work.”
If you’re looking for some practical tips on how to improve diversity and inclusion in your own workplace, check out this article that we recently wrote on the subject.
We hope you’ve found this thought-provoking and it’s helped you understand why we should all take diversity and inclusion seriously at work – business case or not.
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