Shifting the workplace paradigm from diversity to equality

The talent planning strategy, thought process and focus among business leaders are changing. Equality, where full opportunities for individual success and organisational contribution are ensured, is now replacing the decades-long workplace paradigm on diversity.

But how does equality exactly differ from diversity? More importantly, why do we need to shift our way of thinking?

Defining diversity

For years, workplace diversity has been a hot topic of discussion across all industries as it’s linked to a fundamental human right to equality. It’s also an area where we’ve seen many improvements. In Australia, several national and state laws like the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Age Discrimination Act 2004, and Disability Discrimination Act 1992 are in place to prevent and eliminate employment-related discrimination.

However, despite the legislative framework, many organisations still have yet to see and fully realise the benefits of diversity in the workplace. This is mainly due to a misguided approach to diversity and a lack of understanding of what it truly means.

For instance, some organisations only focus their efforts on ensuring they meet their talent acquisition and retention targets. But the more important things that need to happen after reaching those targets are often overlooked.

Diversity is not just about meeting legal obligations. It’s about acknowledging the differences in people’s backgrounds and experiences. And then embracing, respecting and valuing these differences to create a more productive and effective workforce.

As David Thomas and Robin Ely stated in their 1996 Harvard Business Review article, “diversity should be understood as the varied perspectives and approaches to work that members of different identity groups bring.”

This is where the concept of workplace equality comes in.

Why we need to shift the conversation to equality

Diversity can boost productivity and improve business performance. However, equality must also be present in the workplace to unlock the powerful benefits of diversity.

Equality provides equal opportunity for everyone regardless of their background or identity. It’s about fairness and ensuring each employee receives the same opportunities, treatment, and resources to succeed.

A diverse workforce brings different perspectives and ideas. When you add equality to the equation, the workplace becomes an environment where everyone can thrive and contribute their best. In fact, a study by Boston Consulting Group found that companies with above-average diversity on their management teams experience innovation revenue 19% higher than their less diverse counterparts.

Other practical benefits of successfully implementing workplace diversity and equality strategies include:

  • Increase in creativity – employees are exposed to new ways of thinking, which helps organisations become more innovative and adaptable to change.
  • Improved team performance – employees feel they are valued and respected, leading to better communication and collaboration.
  • Better decision-making – different perspectives, viewpoints and backgrounds can help bring new ideas and solutions to the table.
  • Improved reputation – a commitment to workplace diversity leads to enhanced customer satisfaction, increased investor confidence, and more talented employees wanting to work for the organisation.

In addition, there are also intangible benefits that can significantly impact workplace culture and employee satisfaction. These include:

  • A sense of belonging – leading to increased job satisfaction and commitment to the organisation.
  • Improved and more honest communication – leading to better decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Enhanced workplace culture – leading to increased employee engagement, motivation and retention.

How to promote equality in the workplace

While there are many benefits to workplace equality and diversity, it’s important to remember that these benefits won’t be realised overnight. Creating an inclusive workplace takes time, effort, and commitment from everyone in the organisation.

If you’re looking to create a workplace that is equal and inclusive, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Review your current work environment

Conduct a review to better understand your workplace’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to diversity and equality. Observe workplace interactions. Do you see any patterns of bias?

You can also ask team members for their feedback or look at any complaints that have been made. Talk to employees about their experiences in the workplace. Do they feel like they are treated equally, or do they feel like they have been affected by inequality?

  • Create deeper awareness of equality

When it comes to workplace equality, organisations often focus on the visible differences between employees, such as gender, ethnicity or disability. However, there are other forms of inequality that are not always so easy to spot. These include unconscious bias and subtle discriminations that can hinder an employee from advancing in an organisation.

Creating a deeper awareness of equality in the workplace can help address these issues. You can do this by:

  • Educating employees on the different types of inequality.
  • Encouraging employees to share their experiences of inequality at work and challenge inequality when they see it happening.
  • Include principles of equality in your  policies

Workplace policies should include equality as a fundamental principle. They should be designed to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and contribute to the workplace. This means:

  • Providing training and development opportunities that are open to all.
  • Ensuring job descriptions and person specifications do not inadvertently discriminate against any group of people.
  • Taking action to address any inequalities that already exist. This can include identifying and removing barriers to career progression for under-represented groups, or introducing flexible working arrangements to help parents and carers balance their work and home commitments.
  • Encouraging an open and honest culture where people feel comfortable speaking up about their experiences and concerns.
  • Creating a platform that welcomes every employee’s diverse perspectives to enhance work and improve strategies, business practices and even organisational culture.

We’ve come a long way in terms of workplace diversity, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. We must remember that it’s no longer just about hiring a diverse workforce. It’s about creating a culture of inclusion. And as we shift the workplace paradigm from diversity to equality, we’ll slowly witness more sustainable growth for our organisation where every employee is engaged in innovative work and committed to top performance.

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