Diversity In The Workplace

Niamh McCarthy 16.10.2018

As the wave of cultural diversity in organisations is ever changing and constantly evolving, it has ultimately changed the face of the way businesses work.

Diversity ultimately incorporates prevalent differences between individuals in the workplace, cultural and otherwise. Differences generally include, but are not limited to, those relating to race, age, gender, marital status, background, ethnicity and much more. I was curious to gain more insight into diversity and how it operated in other organisations and invited Karen O’Sullivan to discuss her experience of Diversity during her time as Director of Global Accounting Services at Dell in Cork. 

As most of us already know, Dell is a global technology solutions, services and support giant, and therefore diversity is a huge part of the company culture at Dell. Karen gave us some interesting insights into what exactly Diversity at Dell really means….

Dell’s company culture code is quite powerful….

Dells company culture code outlines for the company ‘’What we value, how we work and how we lead.’’ Their company values are quite clear, and are the driving force behind the company's success. These are as follows; customer relationships, winning together (as a team), innovation (ability and cultivating breakthrough thinking, results (accountability for excellence) and integrity (governance for the desire to win). ‘’I think each of these values are important to achieve diversity’’, according to Karen, ‘’The opposite is also true - if you have full diversity in the workplace, these values will exist and drive success.’’ 

MNC’s and larger companies embracing diversity & inclusion…

According to Karen, many larger organisations here in Ireland such as Dell are actively promoting diversity internally to their workforce as being ‘’critical to success’’. Within Dell for example, it’s promoted by way of the following “Dell is committed to diversity and inclusion not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s core to our business imperative. We embrace differences that drive innovative solutions for our customers, making us a market leader”. Employee Resource Groups are an efficient and practical way to drive an inclusive culture.Commonly known as business network groups, these are essentially groups of employees within a workplace who join together as a group based on shared characteristics or backgrounds. Dell itself has 13 Employee Resource Groups, ranging from the more familiar ones such as Women in Action, Pride, GenNext and True Ability to the lesser known ones like Mosaic, Planet, Conexus and Interfaith are also in place to help employees feel more included by connecting with people of similar interests and life experiences.

Challenges to diversity do exist…

While the benefits to diversity in the workplace are undeniable, unfortunately challenges do still exist. Communication breakdown most probably tops the list on this. Language barriers and long established cultural differences can cause major issues, coupled with a general lack of understanding. Other challenges which crop up include generational differences, particularly among the older generation who may not be as familiar and up to date with diversity as those that are younger. Another massive challenge which exists is that of breaking down stereotypes and challenging people's preconceptions. Karen has one such example to draw on for this. Back in 2008, she was the founding member of the Women’s Leadership Forum in EMC (now Dell EMC). This was the first chapter outside the US and the only diversity group internationally. ‘’We got a lot of grief at the start and all sorts of other interpretations were given to the WLF acronym!’’, said Karen ‘’There was a lot of suspicion also about our agenda’’. According to Karen, a major challenge was to show the workforce that the WFL was not just a women’s only group focused on issues such as maternity leave, work/life balance, childcare, etc, but an organisation which also focuses on networking, mentoring, professional development and community service, aspects which aim to give the female members in the group the confidence to sit at the table and contribute, therefore also contributing to the success of the company. Since then, the WLF has become a very important group within the organisation, with significant support at leadership level. 

Diversity is being invited to the dance, Inclusion is being asked to dance….

The future of diversity in the workforce in Ireland is almost like embracing a case of the unknown. Diversity is a huge buzzword these days and there is much talk about it. Diversity strategies/policies are common place at the moment within various companies. Karen had an excellent analogy which sums up a rule of thumb companies should follow in regards to their attitude to diversity, ‘’Diversity is being invited to the dance, Inclusion is being asked to dance.’’ In short - having diversity without incorporating inclusion is pointless. This is to counteract the idea that some companies just have a diversity policy or strategy in place as a sort of ticking the box exercise. This is often the case with females being asked to join the Board of Directors of a company or gender quotas in general, and is something which needs to be drastically improved. ‘’Diversity is getting a lot of press at the minute’’, said Karen, ‘’but I don’t always hear it linked with inclusion!’’

Diversity is very impactful on the atmosphere within a workplace…

Diversity is very impactful on the atmosphere and culture of a company. This differs greatly from company to company. Some companies put a huge focus on Diversity & Inclusion and it is incorporated into the culture code as well as everyday life. This isn’t the case in all companies though. According to Karen, ‘’It is enthusiastically supported by all (at Dell) – from the sponsorship of the EVPs to the constant visibility of events and to the allocation of both time and money to support the agenda of Diversity and Inclusion. A diverse and inclusive atmosphere can go a long way to promoting a positive company culture, as it makes an organisation and its management come across as approachable and people-orientated. 

Embracing our differences increases innovation…

Embracing our differences (a.k.a the main point of diversity) goes a long way towards increasing innovation and productivity. ‘’To accelerate our Diversity and Inclusion strategy’’ said Karen, ‘’we are applying our expertise in technology and innovation to knock down barriers and eliminate bias.’’ There are some major links between diversity and innovation and there are numerous examples which demonstrate this. Some interesting and innovative diversity trends in recent years include that of ‘’blind hiring’’. This is a recruitment process which aims to prevent hiring managers from accessing different types of candidate information which may or may not be relevant. This involves implementing blind hiring tactics, different processes and applications around CV management, and utilising a selection of software which works towards eliminating bias such as Textio and Gapjumpers. Overall, a diverse workforce helps to create innovative solutions. Diversity is now a part of daily life in most countries across the developed world, with an increasing number of organisations adapting their recruitment efforts to incorporate this across the globe. 

Diversity should be ingrained in the DNA of the company…

A company’s success these days is dependent on creating a culture where there is diversity ingrained in the company culture’s DNA. Dell is a good example of this type of company; they believe diversity and inclusion is ‘a business imperative and marketplace differentiator that leads to stronger performance, increased innovation and engaged top talent.’’ They show their commitment to diversity and inclusion through a company wide culture code and by ‘’Driving Innovation, Focusing on our customers, Create a sense of belonging and Developing inspiring leaders.’’ These all work towards positioning a company as a global employer of choice for most demographic groups inclusively. 

Various groups fall under diversity....

Many companies have various subsets of diversity groups, the main ones at Dell for example are Asians in Action, Caregivers, GenNext, Latino Connection, Planet, True Ability, Women in Action, Black Networking Alliance, Conexus, Interfaith, Mosaic, Pride and Veterans & Supporters. Some other common examples which exist in companies are LGBT, Cognitive Diversity, by age (Elderly, Millennial Voices, etc), Autism Spectrum Disorder, etc. The above are some highly appropriate ones, but which ones are most suitable varies from company to company. 

Overall, it is quite clear that significant progress has been made to build diversity in the workforce, but there is still some way to go to ensure optimum diversity across the board in companies. Responsibility for such developments do not lie solely with senior management, but with all employees of a company to promote, respect and engage with diversity in the workplace. Diversity in the workplace is a key component of building a successful workforce on a global scale, it is a key driver of innovation, and an area which the next chapter in is sure to be an exciting one! 

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