Businesses’ priorities have shifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: The economy is struggling, revenue is likely down, and many employees are working remotely.
Ensuring a diverse workplace may not seem like a priority for businesses right now – but it should be. Diversity is integral to producing a motivated and effective workforce that can contribute to their company’s success during the pandemic.
We surveyed 505 HR professionals to learn if they consider their workplace diverse and which business diversity initiatives are important to them.
Overall, we found that businesses are becoming more diverse with time, though perhaps not as much as employees believe.
As companies adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, they should try to continue with existing diversity initiatives and use remote work to hire employees with different scheduling and personal needs.
- 79% of people believe their company is diverse, but some employees may be overestimating how diverse their company really is.
- 57% of people say their company has become more diverse in the past year, which experts say may be due to more businesses employing workers from different countries.
- 74% of people believe their company is committed to improving diversity. With an increase in remote work, businesses can hire and maintain a more diverse workforce with different scheduling needs.
- 24% of people would most like to see their company host training and discussions to improve employee diversity. Companies can find examples of effective diversity plans from major businesses such as Accenture.
- 23% of people say the main benefit of a diverse workplace is improved employee engagement and satisfaction, which can increase companies’ productivity and reduce costly turnover.
1. Most Employees Say They Work at Diverse Companies
People are likely to believe that their workplace is diverse but may be overestimating the actual extent of diversity at their company.
In fact, 79% of people somewhat or strongly believe that their company is a diverse workplace.
Experts say this sentiment is driven by the fact that employees consider diversity to involve differences in:
- Sexual orientation
Recognizing the many forms of diversity can be positive, but experts warn that employees sometimes only focus on the small elements of diversity their company already has, instead of how much more they could improve.
Faizan Fahim, content marketing lead for ServerGuy, an IT company, says it is easy for people to overestimate their workplace’s diversity for two reasons:
- The company is diverse in some ways but not others: A company may have a balance of male and female employees and people from a range of races and religions. But, if the business doesn’t employ workers of varying ages and sexual orientations, it may not be as diverse as employees believe.
- Employees think one employee represents the entire company: Workers who are familiar with even a single colleague who is LGBTQ, from a different country, or from an underrepresented group may consider their business diverse because of that employee. In reality, a strong level of diversity goes beyond one employee’s experience.
Overall, employees are likely to believe their workplace is diverse, but they are not always the most objective or accurate judges of the actual level of diversity across their entire company.
2. Diversity in the Workforce Improved at Most Companies in 2019
Employees are increasingly likely to work in a diverse professional setting and with colleagues of different nationalities.
Fifty-seven percent of people (57%) say that their company has become somewhat or much more diverse in the past year.
About one-third of people (36%) say that their company’s diversity has not changed in the past year; only 7% say their company has become less diverse.
Part of the increase in company diversity may be attributable to the country becoming more diverse overall. A more diverse population can result in a more diverse workforce.
Still, experts say they have noticed a specific trend that is boosting workforce diversity: an increase in companies that employ workers from multiple countries.
The technology industry, in particular, hosts companies that employ a range of nationalities.
Dominic Murray, a financial advisor at Cameron James Expat Financial Planning, says that his staff of 12 people consists of five nationalities hailing from four different continents.
“The real value of diversity for our team is secondary characteristics — the way different nationalities view the world, approach work, and solve company problems,” Murray said.
Cameron James has clients in more than 20 countries, and Murray says that having a multinational team is essential to providing customers enough support.
Companies adopting a multinational, globalized strategy can benefit from hiring and maintaining a diverse workforce.
3. Businesses Are Dedicated to Further Improving Workplace Diversity in 2020
The current business climate has challenged the diversity improvements companies planned for 2020 but has also demonstrated the value remote work can provide for businesses seeking to improve their diversity now and in the future.
Nearly three-quarters of people (74%) say their company is dedicated to creating a more diverse workplace in 2020.
Meanwhile, fewer than 1 in 5 people (19%) aren’t sure if their company is committed to diversity in 2020, and only 8% don’t believe their company plans to create a more diverse workplace in 2020.
Implementing diversity plans that meet employee expectations may be more challenging with the COVID-19 business environment.
Jessica Lambrecht, founder of The Rise Journey, a recruiting and company culture consultancy, says that her company's overall diversity goals remain the same even if growth and hiring decreases.
“Our growth goals have slowed due to the pandemic, so our hiring has slowed,” Lambrecht said. “But our [recruiting] plans remain the same: continue to create an inclusive environment and find diverse candidates for the projects we have currently planned.”
One of Lambrecht’s primary strategies for increasing the diversity of her workplace has been the introduction of flexible work schedules that allow for geographic and gender diversity.
New mothers, for example, might work reduced or altered hours, and Lambrecht believes that the pandemic may actually provide opportunities for businesses to improve remote work policies that will allow them to hire and retain more diverse teams in the future.
Another one of Lambrecht’s goals in 2020 was to continue to reduce biases in her company’s employee communication and feedback policies. COVID-19 may be disruptive, but teaching managers to communicate more effectively can still happen remotely.
Even in the face of global shutdown, many businesses can continue prioritizing diversity.
4. Employees Value Trainings and Increased Recruiting to Diversify Companies
Employees want a variety of diversity initiatives at work but are most likely to indicate a desire for employee training and discussions about diversity.
In fact, close to one-quarter of people (24%) say their preferred diversity initiative at their company is employee diversity training and discussions at their workplace.
Workers also value:
- Hiring more women for leadership positions (20%)
- Increased recruiting of underrepresented groups (17%)
- Heightened LGBTQ awareness and sensitivity (14%)
Companies can find inspiration for employee diversity training and discussions from businesses already making such efforts.
Major consulting firm Accenture, for example, approaches diversity training through 3 distinct categories:
- Diversity awareness: Helping people understand the benefits of working with a diverse team
- Diversity management: Working to help leaders manage diverse teams
- Targeted professional development: Enabling women, LGBTQ people, and racial minorities to build the skills needed to do their jobs well.
Through this strategy, Accenture educates employees about the benefits of diversity, assists management with hiring remote teams, and bolsters the skills of traditionally underrepresented groups.
Like other companies, Accenture advertises its inclusion and diversity program on its website’s “About” page.
Companies with a strong commitment to diversity such as Accenture aim to educate employees at all levels about how to approach a diverse workplace.
5. Diversity in the Workplace Improves Employee Engagement and Satisfaction
Diversity comes with a host of benefits for companies, particularly a more engaged and satisfied workforce.
Nearly one-quarter of people (23%) say the main benefit of workplace diversity is improved employee engagement and satisfaction.
Smaller numbers of people say the main benefit of workplace diversity is:
- A better ability to attract and recruit new talent (18%)
- Increased creativity (15%)
- Improved brand image (14%)
- Increased productivity (12%)
Experts say that being part of a diverse team is exciting and stimulating for employees.
Specifically, experts believe diverse teams help keep employees engaged because these workers realize they are accepted for who they are.
Marco Prosser, CEO and co-founder of ChoosingTherapy, a mental and behavioral health startup, says that a diverse company will make employees engaged, satisfied, and more likely to remain at the business long-term.
Prosser’s own company has a significant LGBTQ workforce, and he said that people in this traditionally underrepresented group take comfort in his business’s diversity.
“Most people want to be around people [who] make them socially comfortable,” Prosser said. “A company [that] can provide an environment in which many diverse communities can flourish has a competitive advantage in keeping employees.”
A company [that] can provide an environment in which many diverse communities can flourish has a competitive advantage in keeping employees.
Diversity programs and initiatives come with the basic benefits of improved productivity, creativity, and brand image, but their most valuable contribution is fostering a sense of employee comfort and belonging.
Businesses Are Committed to Overcoming Challenges of Workplace Diversity
Employee diversity remains an important goal for companies and their employees. In general, companies are:
- Becoming more diverse than ever – but sometimes less diverse than their employees realize
- Committed to improving their diversity and more likely to use international talent to do so
- Using remote work to allow for diversity during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Replicating existing diversity programs
For companies, employee diversity remains a priority. Even in an economic downturn, engaged and satisfied employees are a must.