An organisation with a diverse workforce will be more flexible, creative, and possess the ability to drive innovation, building competitive advantage. However, it is somewhat rare that diversity is recognised as being able to achieve these ends. Most organisations in reality view diversity as a legislative obligation.

Diversity therefore needs to be redefined so that senior managers begin to understand how having a diverse workforce actually brings a great amount of benefits — strategic and otherwise.

As mentioned then, organisations currently view diversity as a legislative requirement that they need to comply with. This legislative requirement comes off the back of equal opportunities legislation.

Equal opportunities, while well intentioned, had been initially brought in to ensure that all people, regardless of background, were not unfairly discriminated against. However what it has inadvertently lead to is workforces being categorised by their gender, ethnicity, and socio—cultural background or as I refer to them ‘symptoms of diversity’.

Creating a diverse workforce has therefore become unduly tangled up with box ticking quotas so that organisations can demonstrate that they are complying. This is not how diversity should be viewed. It detracts from the very essence of what diversity can achieve.

Diversity should be defined instead as the positive management of difference. Each individual’s experiences, ideas and talent bring something unique to a team. The way diversity works best is if companies look at the skills that current employees have and profile what is missing, then go out and find a person that fits the gap identified.

A company that has people with varying talents, with their strengths in different areas, will of course be more capable of coming up with new ideas and be more able to solve business problems ensuring competitiveness and growth.

By comparison a business where the workforce are all alike will be more likely to approach issues in the same manner. Gone are the days therefore when it is right or acceptable for managers to seek out potential employees because they remind them of how they used to be , or are ‘just like them’.

Fifty years ago workforces tended to looked the same and appeared to succeed. But now with globalisation, increased emigration, and immigration, closer ties with the EU, and the burgeoning internet, the world of business and work has dramatically changed; having a diverse workforce is a necessity if companies wish to compete in a globalised economy where innovation, flexibility, and cultural awareness are prized.

Seeing diversity through the lens described gives it a completely different spin and interpretation. Embracing it as a driver for change within businesses in this sense is not so much a legislative requirement — it is a fundamental business requirement.

By Jude-Martin Etuka, diversity manager, Capita Resourcing People Development