One More Time: Why Diversity Leads To Better Team Performance

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Diversity has several established benefits to team performance.

Discussions on diversity in the workplace can be heated and contentious. All too often, we see attitudes toward diversity in the workplace shift like a pendulum, as the explosion in corporate DEI efforts that began in 2020 has changed dramatically to groups pushing against corporate investment in DEI initiatives. Over the past year, scores of companies have slashed their DEI investments in the face of politicized pressures and call-out culture backlashes, despite the fact that some studies show improvement in key metrics, including moderate improvements in the representation of women and people of color. Has DEI been politically hijacked to the point we are at risk of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?

Putting all the vitriol aside, the data are unmistakably clear. Companies committed to diversity and inclusion significantly outperform those that aren’t. In the most recent McKinsey Diversity Matters report, companies committed to diversity show “a 39 percent increased likelihood of outperformance for those in the top quartile of ethnic representation versus the bottom quartile. …The penalties for low diversity on executive teams are also intensifying. Companies with representation of women exceeding 30 percent (and thus in the top quartile) are significantly more likely to financially outperform those with 30 percent or fewer. Similarly, companies in our top quartile for ethnic diversity show an average 27 percent financial advantage over others. Meanwhile, those in the bottom quartile for both (ethnic and gender diversity) are 66 percent less likely to outperform financially on average, up from 27 percent in 2020, indicating that lack of diversity may be getting more expensive.”

The fact that we’re still debating the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce is painful, given the clear differentiator true diversity is. Effective efforts that engage with groups that are highly represented, as well as groups that are underrepresented, will lead to a more cohesive, dynamic and above all winning workplace. Here’s why.

1. Increase Innovation And Learning

One of the most commonly cited benefits of diversity in the workplace is that it can increase opportunities for learning, while also enhancing everyone’s capacity for innovation and creativity.

Quite simply, people who come from different backgrounds will have unique perspectives and ways of thinking. This allows them to unlock new ideas that a more homogenous team might never stumble upon — especially as diverse team members bounce their ideas off one another.

Exposure to new ideas and experiences can help broaden your entire team’s capacity for creative thought. Sharing knowledge and experiences can also improve skill sets across the entire organization. As team members come together toward a common goal and seek to lift and empower each other, everyone’s capacity for meaningful contributions can improve even further.

2. Create A More Inclusive And Safe Environment For People To Speak Their Minds

Of course, to get that increased innovation and learning, you must first foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable about contributing. Emphasizing workplace diversity can be key to helping people feel safe to speak their minds.

During a recent email conversation, Jamaal Wesley, author of “Authentically Authentic: It’s a Journey, Not a Destination” explained, “Imposter syndrome can be such a demotivating factor when you don’t feel like you belong in the workplace. This makes you reluctant to speak up, even when you have great ideas that could help the team as a whole.

He continues, “Promoting diversity and inclusion helps everyone on your team feel included and safe. They know that their opinions are respected and valued, and so they become more willing to speak their minds. This helps everyone maximize what they can contribute.”

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3. Retain Top Talent

Diversity can empower your team by making it easier to attract and retain top talent. In fact, 69% of Millennial and Gen Z workers are likely to stay five or more years with a company that has a diverse workforce. Diversity has become a priority for many individuals as they look for a new job.

As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Retaining more top talent will improve the work of the rest of your team and make your workplace even more attractive to other prospective employees.

As Karen Brown notes for the Harvard Business Review, however, this improved retention ultimately depends on employers focusing on inclusion and understanding who employees really are and what is most important to them. Truly getting to know and understand the needs of each team member will ultimately be far more effective than a blanket statement on diversity.

4. Accelerate Complex Problem-Solving With More Perspectives And Ideas

In a rapidly changing business environment, the additional perspectives and ideas that come from having a diverse workforce can dramatically accelerate complex problem-solving. Diverse opinions and perspectives can help your team come together to develop a quality solution in a timely manner.

As Wesley explains, “When we’re able to embrace who we truly are, including while we’re at work, we’re not afraid to share our perspectives and ideas. Nor do we fear the perspectives of others. We are better able to recognize and validate differences of opinion and work together to find the best solution.”

Diversity can help your team become more agile and be better equipped to pivot and adapt as necessary to remain competitive. As data from McKinsey reveals, the top quartile of companies for ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to financially outperform their less diverse peers. Those added perspectives can contribute to very real results.

5. Enhance Morale Through Greater Belonging

In my participation as part of the social experiment White Men for Racial Justice (WMRJ), I’ve learned the importance of true belonging in helping white males, in particular, come to better understand how and why diversity matters.

True belonging occurs in the workplace when team members have mutually deep connections with each other. They don’t feel the need to code-switch or conform to socially constructed expectations (which can negatively affect every demographic group). Encouraging team members to reflect on the socialization and beliefs tied to their identity, interrogating their belief structures and reflecting on experiences of exclusion can help foster greater empathy.

When such mindsets are encouraged, workplace belonging can be defined by common experiences that allow for deeper connection that greatly enhances team morale. Your workplace can (and should) become a place of belonging for all employees.

Diversity Is More Necessary Than Ever

Discussions on diversity can often be challenging. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Accepting some of the discomfort (and even the pushback) that can come with embracing diversity will help unify your team as you seek to become a more empowered group of diverse individuals. And at the end of the day, these efforts will benefit everyone — underrepresented or not.

Reprinted with permission from Forbes.