New research is telling us more about how engaged employees advance productivity, and why. One trend is becoming clear: The more diversity—differences across values, perspectives and backgrounds—and the greater the level of inclusiveness within a team, the stronger the level of employee engagement.
"Cultivating a pluralistic corporate culture pays off no matter which paradigm your organization subscribes to," says BJ Gallagher, a diversity consultant and the co-author of A Peacock in the Land of Penguins: A Fable About Creativity and Courage. "When you have diverse perspectives at the table, creativity and innovation flourish—so does employee engagement, morale, loyalty and commitment."
Evidence supporting this hypothesis emerged in a recent joint report from Nike and RoundPegg: In the study, for every 10 percent increase in a team's diversity, there was a 6 percent expected rise in employee engagement.
And when RoundPegg looked at Nike's workforce and surveyed more than 500 of its employees, it found that not only did the presence of diversity correlate with new levels of engagement but also that how teams treated each other, internally during the course of projects, opened new opportunities for productivity. Here are a few key details from the survey's results:
- Highly diverse teams were 13 times more likely than the least-diverse teams to show evidence of engaged employees.
- Additionally, highly inclusive teams—those that showed an outward understanding and acceptance of component members' values and and behaviors—showed 82 times the engagement on an individual level, as described by respondents, than that of the least-inclusive model.
- When inclusive behaviors were prevalent, they resulted in an 11 percent rise in stated engagement for every 10 percent increase in inclusiveness.
Victory for Inclusiveness
What's critical, in the context of the percentages that the report measured, is that diversity without inclusive behaviors can actually work against a business's goal for higher levels of engagement.
"When one doesn't feel included within a team, differences are magnified and the individual will start feeling more resentful of them," the report states. "This represents the worst case where individuals are nearly 10 percent more engaged if the team were more homogenous. The risk is real. In an effort to create diverse teams, we may overlook the importance of everyone feeling like a vital member of the team."
That's a takeaway that Shawna Seiber-Walz, a former senior director of diversity and inclusion at Nike, says came initially as a bit of a surprise.
"One thing we didn't expect to find was that the positive effects of diversity were entirely mitigated without inclusion," Seiber-Walz says. "In hindsight, it may seem obvious, but it poignantly highlighted the role a manager must play to walk the line extracting differing points of view and making everyone feel their ideas are invited, welcomed and heard—even if their idea is not the ultimate outcome."
Recipe for Success
Knowing what diversity and inclusiveness stand to do for your employees is one thing. Getting to the point where they're both in play in your company is reliant upon understanding the important steps that can foster and grow the two elements within your company's day-to-day work.
The following practices can help your managers do just that:
Generation. A diverse team generates numerous responses to a given challenge, defying what could otherwise simply become a status quo reaction.
Validation. When employees generate diverse ideas within a team setting, the team leader is responsible for ensuring that each suggestion is treated with care. There can be no dismissiveness and no preemption of creative risk.
Selection. The time will come when the team must choose the solution they want to move forward with. Leaders need to build in a set of flexible, but evidently fair, criteria for making that choice. If certain members' offerings aren't chosen, it doesn't have to result in disenfranchisement as long as it's clear that the team is playing by established and inclusive rules.
Execution. By the same token, the team must commit as a diverse and inclusive unit to put forth their best efforts as individuals to implement the solution that's ultimately selected.
When these ideas are in place and functioning well, the chances of new and exciting opportunities for productivity improve. "And of course," Gallagher says, "wherever creativity, innovation and engagement flourish, so does profitability,"
That's a quantifiable boost for your business—and for everyone with a stake in making creative and productive strides.
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