Industry Insights

The Evolution of Diversity in the Workplace

Posted by John Wills on Aug 30, 2023 3:35:00 PM

It wasn’t actually that long ago that diversity issues were first made a priority for many organizations, both morally and from a business point of view. The mid-1960s was when workplace diversity initiatives first started to emerge, mainly thanks to the civil rights movement in the US. Prior to this, many companies had deep-rooted histories of discrimination, plus, a lack of cultural diversity with zero training, protocols or accountability in place on the issue.

These days, it’s non-negotiable for organizations to take diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) seriously. DEI is important to all elements of ESG in relation to the people working within and served by an organization. It’s an almost unwritten rule that marketing strategies compatible with social justice and conscience should be backed up with meaningful action. It’s also critical for companies to provide and sustain a positive atmosphere for employees from every background. In fact, it’s crucial if organizations want to maintain employee retention.

But how did we get here? And is there still a long way to go? While it’s incredibly common to see job ads littered with DEI jargon, like ‘regardless of age, gender, origin, sexual identity, culture or disability,’ all of which - on paper - suggest a business is embracing diversity, when it comes down to it, how effective are these businesses when it comes to fulfilling DEI in real time and real talk? To understand this, we need to look back at the evolution of diversity in the workplace to define how it should be carried into the future…


A brief history of the evolution of diversity in the workplace

Firstly, let’s look at some of the major changes and legislation that have been put in place since the civil rights movement to honor diversity and progress as a society in the US:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gained the right to pursue its own lawsuits - 1972

This was an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. It meant that the EEOC could bring lawsuits against people/businesses who may have been discriminating against marginalized people when hiring or promoting.

Upon signing the act, President Nixon said: “This legislation is an important step toward true equality on the job front.”

  • The Rehabilitation Act - 1973

This was the Act prior to 1990’s Americans with Disabilities Act and marked the first step towards inclusivity for individuals with disabilities. It protected the rights of those in higher education, private industries, and the government.

  • NYC-based newspaper, The Village Voice granted domestic partner benefits for LGBTQ+ workers - 1982

The Village Voice was the first company to bargain for employees in LGBTQ+ relationships to access health care for their families.

  • Sexual harassment in the workplace was prohibited - 1986
  • Workforce 2000 was commissioned by Secretary of Labor William Brock - 2000

A study of economic and demographic data was carried out by the Hudson Institute. In terms of Workforce 2000, it focused on how the US would continue to become more diverse. This included businesses that needed to diversify in order to stay competitive.

  • President Obama signed orders supporting pay transparency and LGBTQ+ rights - 2014
  • Discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees prohibited - 2020


How does diversity affect employee retention?

In a nutshell, diversity is of huge importance for employee retention. Why? Because people love to work for an organization where acceptance of everyone is at the core of a company’s values. When people are appreciated for their hard work and dedication, retaining diverse talent is a lot easier. Meanwhile, when employees get the opportunity to learn new things and are encouraged to grow, they’re more inclined to flourish and remain in an environment where they feel safe, valued and respected. Embracing diversity equates to a committed workforce.

It also provides businesses with many benefits, including:

  • Less employee turnover

Like we said, when companies promote diversity, employees feel both accepted and appreciated. This means constant employee satisfaction which leads to higher rates of retention. It also saves businesses money and time in terms of recruiting.

  • Innovation and creativity

Like-minded employees will rarely produce challenging or innovative ideas. Typically, they’ll always be comparable. However, a diverse team can offer distinct viewpoints (whether that’s based on their own experiences, culture, backgrounds, etc.) and generate new creative and innovative ideas.

  • A boost in productivity

A diverse workforce is way more likely to be able to get a grip on client demands and develop solutions. Plus, DEI in the workplace boosts morale and motivates employees to increase their productivity and efficiency, naturally boosting the productivity of the entire company.

  • Reach a broader consumer base

It’s only possible to reach a broader audience with a broader workforce. Employees from diverse backgrounds have the capacity to be able to connect with current and potential consumers from all different walks of life.


What should businesses be doing to provide healthy workspaces?

StratX Exl offers training material that can help your organization get on top of DEI. For example, our ‘Boosting Women in Leadership Roles: webinar recording on leadership development’ helps organizations tackle the gender gap in the workplace and boost women in leadership. Elsewhere, our Leadership Development program uses the 70:20:10 model. Its aim is to “hone key skills to be able to take management decisions effectively, lead diverse & hybrid teams and nurture a culture of innovation and collaboration.”

Other processes (both small and big) that businesses can be doing to improve the overall positivity of their workplace include:

  • Define and measure your safety goals

Standards need to be set for safe and healthy work environments. In terms of your business, what are your goals for such an environment? Implement them and then measure them on a quarterly basis. Plus, build an action plan to show how improvements will be continuously made.

  • Set up informal Slack channels

At least once in the workday, you need a bit of light release, whether it be in the form of face-to-face chatty banter or online. (With more people working remotely these days, it’s typically the latter.) If your company uses Slack, or a similar tool, create an informal group chat where employees can chat about non-work-related things every now and then. Lots of businesses also have mental health check-in channels, like ‘Wellness Wednesdays’ where they provide online self-care activities like yoga, or just general words of wisdom to uplift people.

  • Train new hires and update training regularly

Regular training is key for ensuring safe and healthy work environments. Any new hire must go through such training to understand how the company works, what’s expected of them, plus, what the company’s stance is on DEI. Training should be updated at least once a year. It can be company or position-specific but must provide employees with the knowledge that mindfulness and awareness measures are constantly in place.

  • Empower your employees

Your employees need to know you value them. Which is why it’s important to create a psychologically safe team and company culture where your workforce is consistently empowered and rewarded for their efforts.

  • Provide opportunities for growth

Diversity in the workplace is achieved by promoting a positive company culture and work environment. Trust and open communication are key components for employee growth. It helps managers to recognize their workers’ contributions and establish opportunities for growth and development. Stressing the importance of work-life balance is just as critical as it shows employees that their mental and physical health is prioritized.


Diversity in the workplace leads to a more successful organization

A company promoting DEI has more chance of achieving success than those that don’t. A diverse workforce is more likely to understand the needs of a broader range of customers and produce ideas that can fulfill them. Employee morale is also lifted, which increases the chances of retaining diverse talent. It also boosts their effectiveness and efficiency and heightens the productivity of a business all-round.

Ultimately, diversity is essential. And for businesses in the 21st century, the only way is forward.

Read more about diversity on the workplace:

How workplace diversity impacts performance []

Talent engagement is must for tackling ESG goals []

The challenges of creating a diverse cross-functional team []

Why diverse teams are more impactful []

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