Celebrating a Diverse Workforce While Being Sensitive to All Customs and Beliefs

March 30, 2019

Diversity in the workplace
Ben Eubanks

Today, the concept of a diverse workforce is one of the most important things on the agenda for business leaders, and it's no surprise with the wealth of research cropping up in recent years highlighting the impact on key outcomes. For instance:

  • NC State University research shows that diverse organizations are more likely to innovate than their non-diverse peers.
  • McKinsey data proves that diverse boards see better business returns like earnings and return on equity.

These are powerful results, but on a more fundamental level, how can employers be sensitive to the diverse needs of the workforce while still celebrating all employees and the things that make them unique?

Sensitivity and the Diverse Workforce

It's critical for businesses to go beyond simply tolerating differences. While diversity may start out that way, it needs to progress further to the concept of "inclusion." Being inclusive means you seek out and appreciate different perspectives and beliefs, because those varying ideas help to lead to better insights and ideas, as pointed out in the NC State University research on innovation.

According to Forbes, "Diversity gives you access to a greater range of talent, not just the talent that belongs to a particular world-view or ethnicity or some other restricting definition. It helps provide insight into the needs and motivations of all of your client or customer base, rather than just a small part of it."

It can be difficult to achieve 100 percent diversity, Forbes notes, so it is important to make sure you have clear, achievable goals.

Celebrating All Employees' Beliefs

On a practical level, it's challenging to acknowledge and celebrate every potential belief in the workforce. Employers should take care not to prioritize one holiday or another when it may make nonparticipants feel excluded, as this might run into EEOC territory with religious discrimination. That said, employers can take an important step toward inclusiveness by allowing and encouraging every worker to celebrate in their own respective ways as long as they are not disruptive to the rest of the workforce.

This opportunity to share not only helps workers to feel psychologically safe, which Google's research shows is the primary prerequisite for a high-performing team, but it also allows others to learn more about each person and connect with them on a deeper level, if desired.

Managers should take the time to understand the beliefs of their team members so they can manage appropriately. For example, having a Muslim on your team might mean planning ahead for fasting or prayer periods to allow reasonable accommodations for their beliefs. Alternatively, some faiths do not allow their members to work on certain days of the week, which is important to know for scheduling purposes.

Employers have to be careful about what they prioritize and what they endorse due to legal restrictions, but by encouraging workers to take the lead on sharing their own beliefs, this practice can create a more cohesive, inclusive workplace that reaps the benefits of diversity.

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