Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Global Diversity Practice defines Diversity as any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. Inclusion on the other hand, is an organizational effort and practices in which different groups or individuals having different backgrounds are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed, and equally treated. Diversity and Inclusion is not just a buzzword that organizations have adopted in recent times, rather it is an agenda that should be embedded in every business strategy. According to Harvard Business Review, there has been an increasing focus on diversity following high profile lawsuits in the financial industry in America. This included the $54 million payout by Morgan Stanley, and the more than $100 million shelled out by Merrill Lynch to settle sex discrimination claims in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was also reported that in 2013, Bank of America Merrill Lynch settled a race discrimination suit for $160million. There is no doubt that these costs provide a real business case for the organizations involved to invest in programmes and initiatives that help to build an enterprise capability for addressing diversity. Diversity in the workplace is about acknowledging the differences in people in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, race, education, while Inclusion is about accepting that these differences produce unique perspectives and outputs that are beneficial to organizations.For many developed and developing countries, Diversity and Inclusion is a critical pillar of their economic agenda. Its fosters the drive towards equality for these countries. In the corporate world, Diversity and Inclusion is pivotal in the business strategy and this is driven by Human Resources (HR). A robust set of activities are built around this topic and are embedded in business processes. Nigeria as a case in point is multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country with over 250 different ethnic groups. With a population of over 200 million, it is the most populous country in Africa and is considered as the most diverse in Africa. In corporate Nigeria, most organizations, predominantly of multinational ownership have Diversity and Inclusion as a part of global business strategy cascaded to all countries of operations. While we still have a long way to go, it is interesting to see companies in Nigeria lend their voice to this global movement. A few examples of these companies are Reckitt Benckiser, Henkel, JTI, Procter and Gamble, Visa, Stanbic IBTC, Guinness, Google, ATC, Schneider Electric, PWC, KPMG, Procter & Gamble, Novartis. These companies understand that workplace diversity promotes a collaborative, creative and cohesive environment as a means of driving business growth. They understand that having a diverse and inclusive workforce influences their employee engagement, employee retention, employer value proposition, customer competitive advantage and overall financial performance. Some of the major changes that these companies are making are centered around these pillars:• Ways of Working: These companies have developed and implemented agile working policies that are considerate of employees need for flexible working arrangements. Some options are Flexi-time and Remote working. Another example of change in ways of working is the Parental Leave working arrangement. Most of these companies have changed their policies and increased the Maternity Leave provision from the standard 3 to 4 months, with flexible options of extensions beyond this and Paternity Leave from 3 days to 1 week at the least.• Inclusive leadership: There is now a strong focus of ensuring diversity in age, gender, race, disability status, ethnicity of senior roles. There are more women at Leadership, key decision-making roles. A number of these companies can now boast of having a minimum of 30% of women on their Leadership Teams. In addition to the gender changes, these companies now have a good mix of ethnicity and cultures represented at the top.• Gender Equality: The journey to achieving 50/50 representation of men and women across all levels in the organization is big on the agenda for these companies. Stereotypes are being broken as more women are taking up roles that used to be male dominated even at the most senior level. Recruitment processes are driving this strongly and ensuring that competent male and female candidates are put forward during the hiring process. It is important to note that Diversity and Inclusion is not just a quota filling exercise but rather an endeavor to give acceptance to change and differences. Acknowledging that when a diverse mix of people come together, they challenge each other, and the status quo and they produce innovative results. While the journey is far from complete and there is more to be done for Diversity & Inclusion in Nigeria, Senior Management in organizations need to take the lead on driving this across their organizations and educate their employees continually on this topic. More organizations need to get on board to drive this as part of their business strategy and with the support of HR, build activities around this topic to drive engagement and enable employees see the bigger picture.Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in the article “Why Diversity Programmes fail published in the Harvard Business Review explained that most organisations rely on the traditional tactics of controlling managers’ behaviors such as mandatory training, mandatory hiring test, performance rating reliance and grievance procedure, to put their biases in check, hence the high failure rate. They argued that control tend to activate “stereotype thinking” rather than quashing it and offered suggestions such as engagement, mentoring and social accountability as effective approaches for managing diversity. Organisations in Africa must rise to the occasion by first acknowledging that the issue exist as a business imperative and then invest in homegrown interventions that allow us leverage the strength of diversity in the continent.

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