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Equality and diversity in the workplace

4 min read  |   7 December, 2021   By Claire Lee

    

In these more enlightened times that we are living in, it would seem rather absurd of any organisation to not embrace the notion of having a fully inclusive workplace.

While this has been widely recognised from a moral standpoint, what is not yet universally known is that having a diverse workplace where everyone is regarded as an equal, regardless of their age, race, job title, gender, sexuality, disability, or any other identifier, is not only the right thing to do, it has also been widely proven to have a positive impact on the performance of the business.

Equality and diversity should not be addressed in isolation, as one depends on the other. You can’t have equality in the workplace without embracing diversity, and a diverse workplace won’t thrive if inequality exists.

 

Why a diverse workplace is important

As we live in a very diverse society, it is vital that any business should reflect that within its ranks if it wants to be truly representative of its client base.

Australia has one of the most diverse populations of anywhere in the world, with one in four of us born outside of Australia and around 46 percent of us with at least one parent who was born overseas.

Not only does embracing diversity open up a business to a much wider pool of talent, by having representatives from different cultures, lifestyles, backgrounds and abilities, your business will be far better equipped to meet the needs of people in the community from each of those varied groups.

Further to that, if you foster a diverse and inclusive atmosphere in your workplace, it has been demonstrated to improve productivity, reduce staff turnover, and even enable teams to problem solve more effectively.

It makes perfect sense that having the ability to tap into the knowledge and views of a broad range of societal groups will help a business reach those sectors. It also stands to reason that employees that are part of a societal group will have a more intrinsic understanding of that group and how best to meet their requirements in the most appropriate manner.

This is why diversity in the workplace has metamorphosed from a box ticking exercise to a fundamental part of business strategy.

An excellent example of this is the proportion of the workforce who have a disability. Previously, employing people with a disability has (wrongfully) been viewed by some employers to be onerous, due to the perceived adjustments to be made to the workplace to accommodate those with certain disabilities.

Now, while that view has always been short sighted and blinkered, it has unequivocally been proven to be false, as the benefits of hiring people with disabilities actually far outweigh any costs involved in doing so.

Also, given that one in five Australians live with a disability, by disregarding that sector of the community, businesses are locking themselves out of accessing a huge pool of talent.

Reports from the Australian government consistently find that people with disabilities also take fewer days off, less sick leave, and stay in jobs for longer than other workers. They also typically build stronger relationships with customers and lift team morale.    

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Why equality must accompany diversity

Having a diverse workplace in itself will not deliver positive outcomes unless everyone’s input is welcomed and their contribution is valued to the same extent.

It is important to create an environment where everyone can thrive, which means that businesses should avoid a ‘one size fits all’ arrangement for the way employees work, as each individual will have a particular preference about how they would like to work in order to achieve the best results.

For example, some may like to work in isolation whilst others prefer to bounce ideas off their colleagues and interact throughout the day. Individual engagement is key to finding out what works best for each employee and giving them the latitude to work in the manner that best suits them and their personality.

Treating everyone equally also helps to build cohesion and respect between colleagues. Allied to the fact that being exposed to different ideas expressed by colleagues from different backgrounds and experiences produces more well-rounded and open-minded individuals, it is a win for businesses on all counts – ethically, morally, socially, and financially.

From the employee’s perspective, if they feel that they can be themselves in the workplace and not hide any part of who they are for fear of being treated differently, or worse still, being ostracised or discriminated against, they will consequently be happier and more productive.

Of course, in any team, unconscious bias will exist, but the best way to dispel those biases (unconscious or otherwise) that people may have towards certain groups is to lead by example and give everyone the best opportunity to thrive. Ultimately, this will over time shift perceptions and any barriers to cooperation will melt away.

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