Diversity at work : the virtues of difference

Diversity at work: In addition to fostering a more equal environment, companies that are open to diversity benefit not only from productivity but also in employee satisfaction. When diversity begets virtue…

“Companies without an equal access program face the same problems as those that have developed one: labour shortages, difficulty retaining staff, difficulty integrating minority groups, imbalance between the position and the qualification,” says Marie-Josée Lorrain, a professor in the UQAM Department of Organization and Human Resources.

People from the five historically discriminated groups – women, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, visible minorities and ethnic minorities – can contribute to resolving these problems. They make it possible to increase a company’s productivity by providing a “strategic and competitive advantage, particularly by the innovation and creativity” produced by diversity, emphasizes the professor. An example is the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal, which have both hired staff fluent in various Asian languages to reach Asian communities. This has been possible since they understand these languages and the cultural nuances associated with them.

A study from the University of Chicago, conducted by Cedric Herring, established that better ethnic diversity and greater presence of women within a company are associated with higher income, greater market share, and more customers and profits. The French Goodwill Management institute measured, in a study covering four large companies, an increase in profitability of 5 to 15% among companies that manage diversity well. It also provides a higher rate of satisfaction among employees and managers, points out Marie-Josée Lorrain.

Diversity at work: How can we be open to diversity?

“Diversity creates a virtuous circle, but it’s difficult to make it understandable to companies. Large companies have integrated better than small ones, who sometimes see it as a mountain,” adds Marie-Josée Lorrain. Far from being Mount Everest, being open to diversity is not so complicated. The professor identifies four aspects where companies can actively promote diversity: recruitment, staff composition, promotion criteria and reasonable accommodations. In other words, encouraging diversity takes place every day.

The professor underlines that a company must be aware of the fields in which diverse cultural communities specialize to be able to benefit from it. For example, a software engineering company should know that many workers from the Mediterranean Basin, the Maghreb and Saudi Arabia are highly skilled in the computer field. It can therefore find an interesting pool of candidates there. Many companies also neglect to call on local employment centres or socio-economic reinsertion organizations in their region, Marie-Josée Lorrain says.

Good communication is however the key to knowing how best to manage this change. Just giving a clear policy of openness to diversity increases the number of applications from these people. Providing forums for employees to express themselves is essential to facilitate discussion and prevent conflicts. All employees must understand that they have much to gain from this diversity. If there are encouraging words, nothing works better than leading by example.

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