Diversity enriches organizations – how and why?

Do you enjoy working with people who are like you, roughly your age, of the same nationality, and with similar life and work experiences?

While we often celebrate diversity in perspectives, viewpoints, and personalities, in professional contexts we often tend to gravitate towards those who are similar to ourselves.

The inclination to favour people who share a similar background, attitudes, and values in a professional setting—such as during recruitment or when selecting business partners—has been extensively examined. Research indicates that this preference often leads to an overemphasis on similarities. This bias, commonly known as affinity or similarity bias, is especially pronounced in organizations where aligning with the team and cultural compatibility are vital aspects of the recruitment process.

Additionally, uniformity tends to arise when decision-makers, such as managers or recruiters, hold strong preconceptions regarding the capabilities, skills, and roles of a specific group.

The idea of having employees who share similar values and rapport is undoubtedly attractive. However, there is an increasing emphasis on the importance and benefits of promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) within teams. In simpler terms, promoting DEI means that employees should come from a diverse of backgrounds, encompassing different age groups, genders, nationalities, educational and professional experiences.

Furthermore, all employees should be included and granted equal opportunities, rights, and fair treatment.  As the initial scepticism is slowly being overcome, this shift towards DEI is gaining traction in Estonia.

Uniformity is safe but lulling

Advocating for diversity, equality, and inclusion may seem challenging at first glance. It involves reevaluating the essential skills and qualities that truly matter to the organization, alongside the conventional considerations of competence, capability, and alignment with values during the recruitment process. Furthermore, it requires acknowledging and accommodating the desires, needs, life experiences, habits, and work styles of a diverse range of individuals within the organization, ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and is treated fairly. 

As a result, promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion demands an investment of time and resources, and it might initially create the perception of reduced workplace efficiency. Working in an environment where there is uniform thinking, mutual understanding without the need for explanations, and no necessity to elaborate on one’s ideas or engage in discussions about choices may indeed seem faster and unquestionably more comfortable.

Speed and efficiency are crucial in some situations. For instance, when a house is on fire, our immediate priority is to extinguish the flames swiftly to safeguard lives and property. It’s not the appropriate time for debates about the details, such as whether to carry a bucket of water with the right or left hand—our primary focus is to control the fire using any available means. 

No organization operates in a constant state of acute crisis, and the absence of diversity, where most members of the organization are of the same age, gender, nationality, have similar life experiences and worldviews, stifles development. While this uniformity may provide comfort and a sense of agreement without the need for extensive explanations, it can also deter constructive discussions and the exploration of alternative perspectives. In homogenous environments there are fewer incentives to reevaluate established viewpoints and collaborate to discover improved solutions that cater to a wider range of people’s needs.

Diverse organizations are innovative and effective

The impact of diversity and equal treatment on organizations, including their work environment, management, and performance, is being increasingly studied. Researchers unanimously find that diverse organizations that also focus on equality and inclusion are more effective, innovative, and successful. Organizational culture and work environment are better, employee well-being is higher, and productivity is greater. Motivation is also higher because employees perceive fair treatment and see opportunities for growth within the organization, leading to greater employee retention. Additionally, advocating for diversity, equality, and inclusion enhances an organization’s reputation, makes it more attractive as an employer, and attracts top talent.

While the presence of diverse individuals necessitates greater consideration of each other and explaining one’s views and ideas to those with different life experiences, it also means that what is created – whether it’s a service, product, policy, or measure – is more thoroughly thought out, and the needs of different individuals are taken into account as much as possible.

Diversity and equality are unfamiliar and intimidating topics

When discussing diversity, equality, and inclusion, we often encounter fears and misunderstandings. It’s a common belief that this means denying differences and that merit, competencies and experiences no longer matter in recruitment. In reality, increasing diversity, equality, and inclusion does not mean imposing identical requirements on everyone and ignoring all interpersonal differences. On the contrary, it often means acknowledging and, when necessary, accommodating these differences in the work environment, tasks, or tools.

Promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion does not imply disregarding competence, talent, or suitability when recruiting employees. It also does not mean giving preference to one demographic over another or implementing rigid quota systems. When looking for employees, the objective remains the same: to identify the most capable, qualified, and team-compatible individual. Nevertheless, we can adjust our recruitment methods and the criteria that weigh in when selecting from among several equally qualified candidates.

The decision to focus on diversity, equality, and inclusion primarily involves analysing and, if necessary, changing the organization, including its employees, leaders, processes, unwritten and written rules. There is no doubt that this process is uncomfortable, as it requires deliberate attention, reflection, and changing entrenched processes and attitudes. However, the gains in employee satisfaction, organizational reputation, efficiency, and results are well worth the small discomfort and investment.