Written by Jonathan Garris

It’s no secret that fostering a sense of inclusion and knowledge sharing within a workforce cultivates a diversity climate that can be beneficial for a company from top to bottom. But what exactly does “diversity” mean, and how can companies leverage the experiences of employees who come from varied backgrounds?

Maintaining a diverse work environment can lead to both enhanced work outcomes and job satisfaction. This is supported by numerous peer-reviewed studies, such as one published in 2016 by Springerplus which concluded alongside existing studies that a “diversity climate seems to enhance satisfaction, inclusion and identification in teams […] as well as increasing the possibility of reaping some of the benefits of diversity through increased knowledge sharing.”

Everett Marshall, Director of People, Performance and Culture at COE, has seen firsthand the advantages of a strong, diverse workforce. He notes that diversity goes beyond differences in ethnicity, and includes age, education and professional expertise among various other factors. Companies that increase their knowledge base with professionals both young and old with insight from a broad spectrum of careers are often in a better position to succeed with their clients.

“Internally, it helps when you see people from many backgrounds coming together for a project,” Marshall said. “All of those perspectives influence how we dialogue with one another and how to create the best solutions for our client.”

Externally, Marshall said it’s helpful when clients see a team of consultants that aren’t simply cut from the same cloth. This is particularly helpful in cases where a diverse team is more representative of the population the client serves. Creating such a workforce starts early on in the talent acquisition process, and companies must ensure they have a clear understanding of both their needs and the client’s.

“If you’re only drawing from one perspective when figuring out a challenge, you’re limited in what tools you can use to find solutions,” Marshall said. “You want to have a diverse workforce and avoid being pigeonholed into looking for specific pedigrees.”

It is important to cast a wide net and then narrow down talent pools by examining the backgrounds of candidates in greater detail, Marshall said. COE, in particular, evaluates potential candidates by looking at their individual track records of success, their technical capabilities, and cultural fit among other requirements.

Steve Goodrich, CEO, wholeheartedly supports the idea of casting a wide net during the recruitment process, saying that diversity can mean different things to different organizations. One of the important guidelines is that hiring with talent in mind ultimately leads to building diversity from within and is an important part of cultivating a work environment built on personal and ideological acceptance.

“If you have a pattern of respect for individuals and a strong sense of collaboration, there is a tendency that people will be more motivated to apply what they’re learning and provide input more often,” Goodrich said.

On the flip side, this also creates opportunities for employees to challenge each other in a respectful manner. By ensuring that a culture of acceptance includes respecting other perspectives, employees are encouraged to use their own judgment and to be intellectually curious about how the experiences of others can contribute to problem solving.

“Whether or not the team agrees or disagrees with certain perspectives, that kind of openness can still stimulate diversity, which is a critical component to serving clients better,” Goodrich said.

Ultimately, the most important aspects of a workforce are the contributions individuals make, regardless of their origins, age or other descriptors. While a company’s leaders can set examples of these contributions, they should pull from a broad spectrum of candidates to cultivate a healthy diversity climate.

“It’s not simply about what leadership does,” Goodrich said. “It’s about how everyone should feel safe within an organization to express their thoughts, feelings, and the facts about how to best serve our clients.”

For 35 years, the Center for Organizational Excellence has been a trusted partner in helping organizations and programs transform to more efficiently and effectively accomplish their mission. We help our clients achieve meaningful and measurable outcomes by designing and delivering consulting solutions in the areas of organizational effectiveness, human capital, information technology and data management. For more information, visit www.center4oe.com.