A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by SAP and SuccessFactors, explores the challenges of managing an increasingly diverse workforce while highlighting the importance of diversity as a strategic business advantage. The global study, Values-based Divesity, surveyed 228 executives responsible for designing and developing their organization’s human resources strategy, where 53% of respondents were very senior – either CEO’s or board members. As the study explains, many diversity initiatives in the last two decades involved a focus on demographic factors, such as gender and race, or “inherent” diversity. Today there is a wider awareness that the diversity focus should also consider values like cultural fluency, global mindset, language skills etc., or “acquired’ diversity. This shifting awareness, represented in EIU’s survey results, appears to represent a wider shift in organizational perception of diversity.
When respondents were asked about the primary benefits of a diverse workforce 83% of executives reported that a diverse workforce improves their firm’s ability to capture and retain a diverse client base; 82% agreed that a strategic approach to managing diversity can help access a rich talent pool; and 80% viewed diversity management as yielding a competitive advantage in labor markets. While the case for diversity has changed over the years, from a social initiative (it’s the right thing to do) to a strategic argument for supporting and creating new innovation, the bottom line remains the same – it’s always been about business success and competitive market advantage. With the increasingly diverse and multigenerational workforce that exists today however, certain organizational strategies will require greater adjustment. According to the EIU study, the top workforce characteristic that will require the greatest change in HR strategies over the next three years (cited by 57% of executives) was a “lack of interest in assimilating organizational values” followed by “conflicting values of a multi-generational workforce” (51%) and thirdly “educational differences among employees” (50%).
Given the strategic benefits of a diverse talent pool cited by executives, what strategies are organizations using to support and engage diverse talent? The top four strategies listed by respondents focused almost exclusively on learning and development: “mentoring of new and high potential employees”, “exposing high potential employees to diverse business situations”, “opportunities for international careers”, and “opportunities for diverse teams to address strategic business challenges”. When asked about the technologies used to manage diverse workforces, 35% of respondents cited human resources information systems (HRIS) as the highest adopted technology, followed by e-learning systems at 31%, and videoconferencing at 25%. Interestingly given the amount of hype and energy around social media, the adoption of enterprise social networks as a means to manage a diverse workforce was low, with only 20% of respondents reporting this as an adopted tool.
The data from this report clearly indicates that executives recognize the importance and benefits of having a diverse workforce, but also recognize that maximizing the potential of a diverse talent pool requires a strategic approach. Whether this approach means augmenting previous diversity initiatives, or developing new strategies altogether, approaches will likely be specific to each organization and the level of understanding and commitment by its leaders. The information does suggest that this will be an area of focus for many organizations now and into the future as the workforce becomes more globally mobile, multi-generational and flexible.