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New study redefines workplace diversity. It no longer means what you think.

/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/diversityimage_370303.jpgTop performing companies have long recognized that diversity is good for business. But a just released report from The Economist Intelligence Unit finds that a new definition of workforce diversity is emerging. It’s no longer just about avoiding race, ethnicity, and gender discrimination, or even compliance with legal regulations. Diversity now encompasses values, meaning what motivates someone to join a company, embody organizational passions, and be productive for a long time.

The EIU report, “Value-based diversity: The challenges and strengths of many,” was sponsored by SuccessFactors, an SAP company. You can read my complete summary of its findings on, but here are three of the most intriguing data points from this global survey of 200+ human resources (HR) executives worldwide:

When asked about workforce characteristics that will require the greatest change in HR strategies over the next three years:

  • Almost 60 percent of HR executives cite employees’ lack of interest in assimilating organizational values
  • Over 50 percent point to conflicting values across a multigenerational workforce
  • Forty-seven percent mention unrealistic expectations of millennial employees

These challenges are fundamentally changing the employer/employee relationship. Feedback from in-depth interviews with executives surveyed for the EIU report shows how some companies are rethinking the workplace to conform more to employees v. the other way around. Johnna Torsone, Chief HR Officer at Pitney Bowes, says the question facing HR executives today is “whether you can create an environment that lets very different people be who they truly are while maximizing their talent in order to support high performance.”

It turns out that diversity means giving people the space to work differently. For example, Bloomberg LLP, a global media company, is redesigning workspaces to create movable areas conducive to brainstorming. “Employees today expect a virtual working environment. They are not comfortable sitting in one place or being told what hours to work. They want an environment that feels engaging and gives them the resources they need to make a contribution,” says Elena Weinstein, Head of Diversity and Community Engagement at Bloomberg.

Somewhat curiously, the EUI survey suggests that companies are underutilizing technologies and tools in managing a diverse workforce. Surveyed executives are using human resource information systems (35 percent) and e-learning systems (31 percent), but only 20 percent are using enterprise social networks and networks that support home-based employees. No doubt bigger changes are in store as cloud-based technologies go mainstream across the business world, and more millennials replace aging workforces.

Perhaps at no other time in history has company success and employee happiness been so intertwined. Johnna Torsone, Chief Human Resources officers at Pitney Bowes summed up the rationale for diversity this way:

“You simply do better as a company when you recognize that people bring unique and multi-dimensional perspectives to the table and can engage diverse employees in a way that they feel comfortable sharing their perspectives.”

In past generations, the standard formula for professional success was showing up and getting on board with the corporate program―or getting out. An increasingly mobile population, coupled with a rapidly changing technology environment, and the entrance of millennials is transforming workplace expectations for everyone.

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  • THank you soo much for sharing this.

    I believe allowing for diverse behaviours and values is the only way to get something out of diversity initiatives (other than compliance and marketing brownie points).

    I got mixed feedback, when I wrote years ago:

    "What's the point of, say, implementing a quota for women in upper management, when unchanged selection and promotion procedures (formal as well as informal ones) will make sure that you just get the women with the most male management style you can find? If you don't select for a different style,then you can just es well forget the whole exercise as you will still have the same old unbalanced male decision making." Some organisations got it and changed selection along with or rather than the introduction of quota, but they were few and far between.

    If there 's really a trend towards allowing a dicersity in behaviour and values,that would be very welcome and imho good news for decision making quality in the corporate world.