Melbourne Business School News IDAHOBIT 2023: The benefits of promoting diversity at work

IDAHOBIT 2023: The benefits of promoting diversity at work

Creating an inclusive workplace has a range of benefits for organisations and begins with tackling stereotypes, writes Professor Isabel Metz.

Each year, May 17 marks IDAHOBIT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, which is designed to promote inclusion of gender and sexual diversity, and reduce the harmful effects of discrimination.

Creating an inclusive workplace has many benefits for business leaders and organisations, and often begins with becoming aware of stereotypes and how they work.

Stereotypes are generalisations about the attributes of whole groups of people such as women, men or those who are non-binary, bisexual, gay, lesbian or trans, and so on.

These stereotypes are resilient to change and consistent across employment and social settings. They are time-saving mechanisms that allow us to make quick decisions and judgements in very busy environments, but they can also be inaccurate and potentially harmful to the people they are applied to.

While everyone uses stereotypes to some extent, it is possible to minimise some of the hazards they present.

Beyond the ethical concerns that stereotypes raise, they can also lead companies to miss out on the opportunities offered by a more diverse workforce, and open themselves to the risks that a lack of inclusivity can bring.

The business case for diversity at work

Apart from the well-known business case benefits for increasing diversity — such as lower turnover costs and being able to attract talent from the entire talent pool — research shows there are several other advantages as well.

These include 'better' and high-performing work cultures, enhanced productivity of all employees, as well as psychologically-safe environments where individuals are comfortable being open about their gender and sexual identities without fear of embarrassment or negative career consequences.

Such environments enable individuals to achieve their full potential and lead fulfilling and productive lives.

There are also several downsides of not promoting diversity in organisations. These can be clustered around three levels — organisational, team and individual.

Negative outcomes at the organisational level could include high turnover among LGBTQIA+ staff or reputational damage. At the team level, they could lead to the mistreatment of LGBTQIA+ team members (for example, through the devaluation of knowledge or opinions, or exclusion from meetings or social activities) and consequent poor performance.

For individuals, work environments that are unwelcoming of their gender or sexual identities can affect their personal wellbeing and performance.

So with the benefits and risks in mind, how can leaders who want to promote diversity in their organisation get started?

Tips for creating an inclusive workplace

Leaders and employees can all take part in change, and there are many possible ways to promote greater gender and sexual inclusivity within organisations. Some of the most effective include:

  • Encouraging decision-makers to be open-minded to and receptive of new information, and regard changing their own views in light of new evidence as a managerial strength rather than a weakness.
  • Promoting work environments where people are regularly reminded about the negative consequences of stereotyping, are encouraged to check their own biases, and feel comfortable calling out stereotyped comments from others.
  • Implementing and monitoring well-defined performance criteria, selection criteria and performance-evaluation processes can help to reduce the effects of stereotyping, by reducing the level of subjectivity involved in their application.
  • Motivating staff to do the right thing when it comes to avoiding relying on stereotypes. For example, encouraging people to seek quality information about others rather than acting quickly or on a hunch. Such information should be job-relevant and specific.

Introducing organisational values that promote an inclusive work climate, and are also matched with appropriate bundles of policies and practices. Respect is an example of a value that is often espoused, but also needs to be enacted and celebrated. A policy of zero-tolerance for gender or sexual discrimination can be reinforced by performance criteria that encourages diverse inclusive workplaces.

The embrace of gender and sexual diversity has come a long way in recent years, but more work can be done to create organisations and workplaces that are truly inclusive.

Taking action on initiatives like those listed above — or encouraging senior decision-makers to do so — is a tangible and meaningful way to show support for inclusivity in the workplace and celebrate IDAHOBIT.

Isabel Metz is a Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Melbourne Business School and teaches Managing People and Managing a Diverse Workforce on our MBA programs.

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