Walking into a workplace for the first time can be a lot like walking into your first day at a new school. I don’t know about you, but on my first day, I immediately scan the room and think, “where are the people most like me? Who will I get along with the best? Who will be my ally in tough times?”.
If you’re a white male, you probably don’t have to look too far in any circumstance. If you’re a woman? It may be a little bit difficult, but you’ll likely have flexible options. A person of color? There’s probably a few. Someone with a physical or mental disability? Maybe there’s someone in the back.
There’s something to be said about walking into a room and experiencing that feeling of comfort knowing that you’re in a space filled with people who share things in common with you. It can be scary walking into a room full of people with who you share nothing in common. Nevertheless, being thrown into unchartered territory often fosters an environment for people to thrive.
Now, let me offer two scenarios:
Scenario 1: You’re a new hire, and you walk into the office for the first time. You look around, and you’re surrounded by like-minded people, all of which have similar backgrounds, economic status, and political views. You get along well with everyone, ideas are agreed upon quickly, and everyone has a pleasant and smooth workday. There’s not much actively wrong here, but there’s nothing exceptional happening, either.
Scenario 2: You’re a new hire, and you walk into the office for the first time. You look around and struggle to see someone who looks like you. In fact, there are not many people who look similar to each other at all. There’s a variety of people from different ethnicities, genders, physical abilities, ages, and the like. Everyone has a diverse background: everyone has a different story. Like the people, your workdays are unpredictable. Ideas are challenged, different viewpoints are presented, and different interests are shared. You’re in a place where although it might be uncomfortable and challenging at times, you know growth happens here.
Although it can be uncomfortable at first to be surrounded by people who share more differences than commonalities, the second scenario is the one that will be most beneficial to employees and employers in the long run.
A workplace that prides itself on diversity and inclusiveness creates an environment for increased productivity, better employee engagement, less employee turnover, more creative ideas, and allows for a better representation of the various audiences to which a company may target.
However, it isn’t enough to include diversity in the workplace only for the sake of it – it has to be more than just a checkmark next to a box of something you’re obligated to have, but don’t truly value.
If you’re hiring someone with a diverse background because it looks good on paper to be inclusive, but you don’t foster that individuality, you’re not going to achieve the (many) benefits that diversity in the workplace has to offer. Instead, you’ll be no better off than you would be in Scenario 1, where the job gets done, and employees are comfortable, but nobody is encouraged to grow or thrive.
When diversity in the workplace is not only present, but actively valued, encouraged, and sought after, the company as a whole is put at an advantage.
When diversity is encouraged in the workplace, and employers embrace individual differences, the company culture moves away from being a place of comfort and complacency. Instead, it moves towards a space that fosters success, innovation, free-thinking, and creativity.
The workplace becomes a place where people feel valued to be who they are, express their opinions, and feel encouraged to work hard and make positive strides for both the company and their fellow employees.
When differences are valued, employees can use their individuality as an advantage point to jump off from and create unparalleled success for the company.