Diversity in times like these – luxury or must?

Diversity and Pandemic – probably the most popular topics of the year 2020 (if we skip the US elections of course). Do these topics have anything in common, or do they work in a mutually exclusive fashion? In other words, are diversity and its close cousin inclusion a necessity in these challenging times of global Pandemic, or are they nothing but a luxurious option relevant only for those who can afford it? Tricky.

Diversity pays off

The topic of diversity and inclusion isn’t something particularly new. It has been there long enough to accumulate substantial evidence of its benefits. One study found, for instance, that companies with greater ethnic and cultural diversity tend to outperform their competitors by more than 30% (source). Indeed, diversity is a source of new impulses, new angles, new synergies, ideas outside the box. Also, the world around us is getting more disruptive and intertwined day by day, so much so that this is simply impossible to ignore that process staying on the sidelines.

Ergo: greater levels of diversity lead to better performance. Different sociocultural backgrounds, experiences and perspectives bring significant benefits not only to complex problem-solving and decision-making, but also risk management, attracting talent, employee engagement - the list goes on and on. Especially now, when the current environment practically consists of novel uncertainties and complex problems, benefits of inclusive diversity become a serious foundation in battling those challenges. Sounds terrific, let’s diversify! Well… It’s easier said than done.

There are several things to consider.

Good intentions are not enough

Diversity starts with a solid strategic approach. The current state of the company needs to be considered, direction defined, a goal or desired level of diversity and inclusion and means for achieving those desired levels. Whether is a new hiring policy to attract new diverse talent, or an inclusion workshop to improve the overall climate within the company – all is ultimately aimed to benefit the company and should be present in the diversity and inclusion strategy. Key here: hire based not on bias, but on skills!

Though attracting new talent from overseas might seem appealing, one should consider challenges hiding behind the scaffolding of bureaucracy. It might be easy to find an eager candidate with a perfect CV and set of skills applying for a position from a distant country, but the government regulations can seriously complicate the process of hiring. So, in some countries, foreigners are required to meet certain thresholds while applying for a visa and a work permit: remuneration for a particular job, for example, should match a certain average, which might be way beyond company’s ability to afford the new employee from abroad. Therefore, it is wise to stay updated when it comes to current regulations towards the foreign workforce. Your dream candidate might otherwise just not be “allowed” to work for you.

Diversify your hiring = diversify your company

Another thing to consider in the context of diversity is diversifying the sources of talent. Yes, top universities are desirable but sometimes people from different background have ‘real-world’ skills that are not necessarily taught at universities. Some work experience can be worth much more than one initially thinks. “Out-of-the-Box” alternatives like nonprofit organizations that advocate and train underrepresented communities could be spot on – on providing students with real-world skills. You need to think diversity not only at one department or level – make sure that you cover your company at whole.

Though COVID-19 has exposed socioeconomic disparities, it is important to think long term. Times of crisis force leaders and organizations to act and make uneasy decisions revealing their values and priorities. By focusing on diversity and inclusion, leaders can demonstrate a clear position towards their employees and stakeholders that these genuinely matter. In uncertain times, bringing together people with the most diverse set of skills, experiences and backgrounds increases a company’s ability to stand against challenges it faces. But don’t underestimate that this is a challenging journey to go on.

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