The advantage of difference

By Raewyn Court

Employers who recruit people of all ages and ethnicities have a bigger talent pool.
Employers who recruit people of all ages and ethnicities have a bigger talent pool.

Welcoming diversity and encouraging inclusion in the workplace can make an organisation look attractive to job seekers, but employers might be surprised to know it's also good for business.

A recent Deloitte two-year research study* revealed employers who embrace diversity and inclusion statistically outperform their peers.

Diversity Works New Zealand chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie says many Kiwi businesses are doing excellent work in this area but if others follow suit, they will enjoy increased productivity, opportunities for new markets and greater access to top talent.

She says a workforce made up of different ethnicities gives greater cultural and language ties with customers and provides opportunities to more effectively operate in overseas markets.

Employers willing to recruit people of all ages and ethnicities have a bigger talent pool, she says, "and diversity and inclusion strategies enhance an organisation's reputation as a good employer, which helps attract top talent when looking for new staff".

She notes that high staff engagement is a direct contributor to productivity, with employees who feel valued and included putting in a greater effort.

Prepare for an ageing workforce

Older workers offer a solution to the skills and labour shortage many industry sectors are facing but to retain this valuable resource, organisations need to talk to older workers about their needs and consider retirement planning advice, health programmes and job design.

Diversity Works NZ's own 2015 research indicated what older workers want from employers:

*to have their requirements around flexibility in the workplace recognised

*access to ongoing training and professional development

*their skills and experience acknowledged and respected

*the opportunity to mentor and interact with younger workers.

Lessen the impact of unconscious biasUnconscious biases can prevent individuals from making objective decisions, says Cassidy-McKenzie.

"They can cause employees to overlook great ideas, ignore potential, and create a less-than-ideal work experience for their colleagues. Biases can impact every facet from recruiting, to leadership effectiveness, communication, decision-making and workplace interactions."

A common problem is a lack of understanding between young, tech-savvy workers and older, experienced workers of the different knowledge they bring. Cassidy-McKenzie suggests employers make "space and time" available for staff to learn from each other and create an environment of trust.

"Take advantage of the institutional knowledge of older workers and ask them to mentor the millennials. Ask the younger workers to "give back" their time to older workers to upskill them in social media and technology platforms."

Gender imbalance

Many organisations are scrambling to get more women into their executive and senior management teams. Cassidy-McKenzie says this is a worthy goal but, without ensuring young women get the support they need to develop their career, the talent pipeline will continue to be male-dominated, and achieving gender diversity will remain a challenge.

Strategies that allow organisations to address this issue include:

*reviewing gender representation across all levels and functions

*developing a plan to address disparities

*developing pay equity indicators and addressing inequities

*reviewing and updating parental leave policies and procedures

*developing the talent pipeline through targeted mentoring and leadership programmes.

"Rather than focusing solely on a metric such as how many female directors we have on the boards of New Zealand companies, we should be measuring what success means for women across New Zealand. Then we can focus on the success of women in all roles, rather than just those in select positions."

Introduce flexible work practices

Research shows organisations offering flexible working are perceived as more attractive employers, which increases their available talent pool, says Cassidy-McKenzie. "They also report improved productivity and focus, and higher staff commitment."

Initiatives to implement:

*reduced hours

*work-from-home days or remote working

*working longer days during busy periods and shorter days in off-peak times

*job sharing or job splitting

*allow employees to choose their start and finish times.

Have courageous conversations

Diversity provides many business advantages, but it can also provide challenges. Cassidy-McKenzie says training helps people understand their cultural norms and how these impact on everyday interactions, specifically those in the workplace.

*(Bersin by Deloitte 2015 High-Impact Talent Management)

- NZ Herald

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