Diversity should be at the forefront of any business strategy. Study after study proves that a diverse workforce results in better business results than workforces that are not diverse. The reason for this is simple, the more people you have from different backgrounds, with different ideas, the better the end product will be. Different perspectives will see problems or solutions that someone else may not. However, many are still struggling to properly establish or get the desired returns from their diversity programmes, as they have the wrong focus.

A workforce that mirrors your customers

The starting point for any diversity programme should be to aim to have a workforce that mirrors the demographics of the market they operate in. If you have a workforce that is representative of the customer base, the business is going to be able to support that customer base. Not to mention that as humans, we all have biases whether we like it or not. People are more likely to buy from people that they can relate to. The easiest way to establish a baseline for where your organisation should aim to be from a diversity perspective to achieve this, is to look at the national or relevant city demographic statistics. It will tell you what percentage of either the country or city you should be aiming for in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, disability and so on to be representative of the community you sell to.

Once you have established this baseline, it is easy to then audit your own organisation against these numbers. This should go beyond just an overall company audit to get a general baseline, you should also aim to do this for every department. Just because you have one race or gender heavily represented in your internal IT team, this doesn’t mean you are able to service that community if that same race is not represented in your customer service, or product development team. Once you have identified how each department compares, then it is easy to begin to identify which departments need a specific focus, and on which areas. This helps increase the success as most diversity programmes have not got a focus beyond “we want more women or minorities in the company”. By knowing exactly what you need and where, you can design specific programmes to get each department to where it needs to be.

Tokenism is not diversity

Now, having said that, let me make an additional comment here, not all diversity is good diversity. I worked with a leading global professional services firm earlier in my career and they used to win every single inclusion and / or diversity award going. Despite this, the company was one of the least diverse companies I have ever worked with. They had nearly 50% of their leaders as women, a very vocal LGBT community and one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse workforces in the world. On the surface, they were doing everything right, however, they had no new ideas because they were not truly diverse. When you went beyond the superficial outer characteristics of the individual, they all thought the same way. They may have been different ages and races and had different sexual preferences, but they all went to the same set of universities, studied the same subjects, were from the same socio-economic backgrounds and thought and acted in the exact same way on all issues.

Diversity of thought is the goal

It’s important to remember, that the aim of diversity is to represent a broad spectrum of ideas and perspectives. So, if you are hiring someone who is a different gender or race, but they think the same as you, than you are not going to gain the value that diversity brings. To this end, it may be surprising that you can also achieve the benefits of diversity despite everyone looking the same. As the true aim of diversity if to gain the value of different perspectives and viewpoints, you could get this by having a team that on the face of it, is not that diverse.

Let’s assume you have a team of guys, all the same race and aged 25-50 years old. You can achieve diversity with this group, providing you have accurately assessed the individuals and demonstrated, potentially via psychometrics that they have different viewpoints and working styles. The employees aged 25 and 50 will give you the insights into different perspectives for different generations. Maybe two of the team are members of the LGBT community. Maybe one of them is from an extremely wealthy family, went to the best university and public school. Perhaps another grew up in a poor neighbourhood and was the only person of their race in the neighbourhood and so grew up with the same perspective as another race or culture. Maybe another was a high school dropout.

Finally, this approach is particularly useful for locations where there is not much superficial diversity. I often get asked by individuals who might be from a country or city where there is no real racial diversity, and where culturally maybe gender diversity is not as important as it is in more developed economies. But they too can achieve the benefits of diversity, by embracing the core message, which is diversity of thought and ideas, not outward appearance.