Diversity became a buzzword during the 1980s. The often referred to 1987 book by William Johnston and Arnold Packer highlighted and mainstreamed diversity concepts.
Rather than being perceived as a distraction, unhelpful, or burdensome, diversity in workplaces started to be understood as egalitarian, achievable, and positive for organisations that then benefits societies.
Since 2020, many organisations have gone deeper to really look into systemic issues and structures that block true heterogeneity and representation even creating leadership roles for cross-cutting diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Here in Kenya, some forms of diversity are codified in law. As an example, our 2010 Constitution highlights 2/3rds gender aspirations in Sections 27(8) and 172(2)b. Specific to gender diversity, the benefits prove numerous.
A McKinsey report highlights that boards of directors that have at least one or more women achieve 56 percent greater operating profits than their all-male equivalents. A Catalyst study highlighted when women comprise more than 19 percent of board members, return on investments thrive at 26 percent higher.
By examining over six million scientific studies, brand new powerful research by Yang Yang, Tanya Tian, and Teresa Woodruff uncovers the power of diversity in another dimension of team performance: creativity.
When work groups have all only one same gender, whether male or female, work performance results are measurably lower. Similarity yields common standard thinking.
But adding a token opposite gender colleague onto a team does not generate enough positive results. Instead, the more and more teams become equally gender-balanced, the performance across a variety of fields and innovation outcomes improve.
Equal proportions of men and women result in deeper analysis, reflection, ideas, and solutions. Sadly, gender-mixed teams are significantly underrepresented, especially in science fields.
To achieve diversity within entities, trainings became a standard intended solution through the 1990s and 2000s. However, merely holding diversity trainings and awareness sessions are not enough to produce results.
Frank Dobbin, Alexandra Kalev, and Erin Kelly investigated over 800 companies over three decades and sadly found that performance evaluations, networking groups, socialisation attempts, and diversity trainings found no statistically significant positive effects in average workplaces.
Even the most widely implemented initiatives saw these same dismal results. One of the worst-performing interventions involved computer-based virtual diversity trainings whereby employees are given scenarios and told to imagine and respond to how another individual might feel or behave, etc.
Belinda Parmar writes that when entities take nominal steps to ensure diversity, then they feel that the issue will solve itself and that someone or group is watching over and managing the goal even when no one is.
So, if trainings, computer simulations, performance evaluations, and simulations do not generate enough momentum to affect change in how an organisation hires and promotes staff diversely, then how does an employer achieve meaningful diversity?
Victoria Plaut posits that at least three factors build a heterogenous workforce. First, attending to differences. Her research finds that in institutions that positively proclaim that everyone is equal but ignore employee differences, minority groups felt less supported than in institutions that acknowledged the differences among employees.
Second, fostering a sense of combined belonging to the organisation even for a wide range of types of people. Third, task a specific staff member with the charge of attaining diversity targets.
Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev similarly found that hundreds of companies over three decades had a 15 percent higher chance of holding diverse management teams when a specific full-time person is appointed to be in charge of overseeing diversity in the organisation.
In short, diversity does not just happen. It needs dedicated individuals devoted to achieving it. Once attained, creativity, investment returns, and operating profits all improve dramatically.