Have you ever experienced the struggle to communicate with culturally different people than yourself? I know I have. But I also know that such struggle brings new knowledge, challenges and makes everyone more informed, mentally engaged and, well, let’s be honest – entertained.
Let’s start from the very beginning: I am Lithuanian who lives in Denmark. I’ve worked in Switzerland and New Zealand. I am writing my thesis supervised by a Greek professor, for lunch I meet my German and Bulgarian friends, I go to the city where I have dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant, I buy my vegan hot dog at a place run by a Malaysian caterer and I work in a Danish company, where my colleagues are from all over the world. Before I moved to Denmark I could even barely speak English and now I am fluent in 4 languages and am eager to learn more. My worldview is broadened, I learned not to judge others based on “insert-reason-here” and I have become a truly global individual. As demographics shift and global markets emerge, diversity becomes a necessity rather than a “cool thing to have”. I realized the value of diversity nearly anywhere (school, university, workplace, after-work activities etc.). The world’s increasing globalization requires more attention among people from diverse backgrounds and workplace, obviously, is one of the places where we experience our cultural differences to the great extent.
As workforce demographics shift and global markets emerge, workplace diversity becomes a necessity rather than a “cool thing to have”.
It’s probably not too surprising that McKinsey analysis proves that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians; and here are three substantial reasons why having a diverse workforce can make a positive difference – even in the business is small. Or rather, especially if business is small. Here are 3 values that diversity brings to any environment:
1. Diversity Increases Adaptability
Knowing, hearing and learning about differences in theory does not necessarily translate into successful behavior in practice. Do you remember the first time you met someone quite different than you? I bet you had issues. You couldn’t probably understand what exactly that person is saying (the accent was totally different than yours!), he/she was talking about the things and issues you’ve never even thought of and in the end, the person looked really, really weird (hell of an outfit, I’d say!). The second time you met someone different than you, you were less shocked and more calm. By the 1000th time you met a person of a different ethnicity, cultural background and traditions you were kind of okay as you understood that we all can’t be the same. “It’d be boring to live if we were all the same”, people say, and you’ve got to admit – well… that’s kind of true. Learning experience it is, after all.
We, human beings, are adaptable. We’re a bit like cockroaches – we adapt to the circumstances of a given situation and we learn to cope with the issues that come our way. Even more than that, people, unlike other animals, are empathic and are able to put themselves ‘in else’s shoes’ – we are not only able to understand other people, but are able to learn from them. Studies show that the bigger exposure to diversity, the more culturally adaptable the person becomes. In those cases, you become more able to recognize, respond and work effectively with people who are different than you. Cudos to that!
2. Diversity Fosters Innovation
Decades of academic studies have shown that socially diverse groups are more innovative than their homogeneous counterparts. One can guess that due to increased adaptability we learn that our differences can actually add value from different angles; due to our differences, problems (and solutions to them) become more obvious. Being with similar others leads us to think we all hold the same information and share the same perspective. When individuals differ, a more creative solution can be expected: whereas one individual might focus on one specific problem (and solution), another individual will notice something completely different that the other one might not have even noticed. Diverse environment brings a variety of viewpoints and offers a more effective execution: environment that encourages diversity inspired individuals to perform to the best of their abilities, given the circumstances.
A diverse environment, after all, means a wide range of diverse perspectives. Once the perspectives differ you can expect a more challenged, diverse and psychically engaging environment.
3. Diversity Brings Results
We know more or less intuitively that diversity matters, but it’s also increasingly clear that difference actually… makes difference! It has already been proven that diversity has a positive impact on many key aspects of organizational performance. Research by recruiter Korn/Ferry in November 2013 found that almost all the global executives it polled believe diversity and inclusion can boost results. They offer a variety of viewpoints and a wider range of experience, which improves decision-making and problem-solving. The researchers claim that having a diverse workforce can lead to higher employee engagement and improved business results.
There’s increasing evidence that diversity can enhance effectiveness, creativity, and commitment; solutions to the problems can be more creative, faster and greater. So instead of asking whether we need diversity, we should rather ask on how to think inclusively.