Harnessing the power and potential of diversity in the workforce

Equalities and Diversity is often seen as legislative and bureaucratic hurdles to overcome rather than a source of competitive advantage. A fully committed approach to workforce diversity built on a foundation of equality opens new opportunities for success. We must think differently about how we harness diversity to bring competitive advantage.

In the previous post the real benefits of equalities and diversity we explored the potential of diversity in the workplace. Like anything in business, to fully take advantage of an opportunity a manager must fully commit to it’s application; simply complying with legislations will bring no benefits. To experience the benefits we have to harness the opportunity that diversity brings to organisations, businesses, performance and ultimately the balance sheet.

This is the third of three articles exploring equalities and diversity in the workplace, what it aims to achieve, the benefits to business and ways of properly implementing an affective E&D policy.

  1. Why do we need Equalities and Diversity in the workplace?
  2. The real benefits of equalities and diversity
  3. Harnessing the power and potential of diversity in the workforce

We don’t do this very well

Diversity management has received relatively little academic attention despite widespread acceptance of its significance. As result, strategies that seek to harness diversity are woefully under-developed.

Simply providing training in diversity does not necessarily help (Rynes and Rosen, 1995) as it fails fully embed principles and avoids the strategic and structural adaptations required to create advantages.

Whilst greater diversity on senior management teams does increase diversity in subsequent recruitment and create a more inclusive and diverse workforce; without a strategy to use this diversity this action achieves little. The key is not simply hiring more minority groups but harnessing the skills, opinions, views and networks of these individuals.

A 2009 study by Shen et al at the University of South Australia found that despite diversity policies becoming more prevalent in western nations, including EU, there’s a lack of coherent strategies within Human Resource Management (HRM) across all sectors for valuing, developing and harnessing the benefits of diversity.

In fact, organisations that aim only to meet legislative requirements of Equalities and Diversity not only gain no advantage, they actually suffer reduced productivity. In 2001, Maxwell, Blair and McDougal’s research further identified the lip service given to diversity and the disparity between policy and actual implementation.

By failing to encourage the full spirit of equalities and diversity in the workplace, seeking only to meet the letter of the law, organisations create bureaucratic burdens, whilst actively holding themselves back from potential advantages.

Actions to harness the opportunities of diversity

1. Create a strategy to harness diversity, not just a policy to remain compliant

Equal opportunities policies that aim only to comply with legislative requirements may increase dissatisfaction, conflict, de-motivation, higher turnover and encourage poor performance (Shen et al, 2009).

Instead, we need a fundamental rethink of how we do E&D in the workplace. We need to move away from narrow equal opportunities policies that provide doctrine and process that ensure legal defensibility and more towards diversity management strategies.

Whereas Equalities and Diversity Policies are driven by the equalities legislation, diversity management strategy is driven by the business case. These strategies represent a broader approach that takes into account legislation but is focused on harnessing the opportunities diversity can bring to performance and the business.


In short, you cannot achieve the benefits stated in equalities documentation by aiming to comply with legislation; you can only achieve them through a diversity strategy that aims to harness it. To achieve this Diversity Management Strategies must:

  1. Overcome inherent limitations and segregation in the recruitment market through proactive actions, and

  2. Value and harness the individual differences to fully utilise their potential. Only then will diverse teams go beyond performance of homogeneous teams*

*See previous post here for further information on benefits of diversity in the workplace

2. Retain your diversity

Diverse teams perform best when they learn to overcome communication challenges, learn to work and communicate effectively and are supported by an environment that encourages creativity and innovation.

This can take time, but the benefits are worth it. HRM policies need to focus on retaining staff especially where communication challenges are overcome and where losing staff may reduce productivity.

HRM retention policies should also address the risk of minority groups feeling marginalised. This is a common occurrence within poorly prepared and less inclusive organisations, leading minority groups to:

  • experience lower job satisfaction,
  • develop a perception of fewer opportunities to progress
  • experience (or feel they experience) less equal rewards
  • poorer supervisor-employee relations

This can lead to greater turnover in minority groups, breaking the communications understanding and relations built that are essential to increased productivity.

3. Create an atmosphere to harness the opportunities of diversity

Organisations can carry out an array of measures to make the workplace more attractive and developmental to minority groups, such as:

  • Developmental opportunities
  • Career planning
  • Management of work/family conflicts
  • Mentoring of those in disadvantaged groups

Where these are not in place, organisation may actually be discriminating against minority groups by not making reasonable adjustments to support their needs.

Support a balanced and flexible approach to work and family life. This gives an opportunity for people to complete everything they need, deliver to the business and foster good relations that are likely to encourage commitment and loyalty.

4. Pay

This is simple; don’t discriminate. Pay people the same for performing the same role. It’s not rocket science.

Seriously, it’s not that complicated: Pay people the same for delivering the same level of work. If you’re not, have a word with yourself.

5. Embed at all levels

Embed the benefits of equality and diversity into the organisation by seeking to improve the understanding and buy-in for the opportunities of diversity. This is especially important in organisations that devolve responsibility for HRM to general management levels.

This needs to include line management and employees who implement various elements of the diversity strategy.

Sanglin-Grant and Schneider (2000) found that line managers’ iterations of organisational policy towards racial equality were often at odds with employees’ views of organisational practice. This indicates that a better understanding of policy and strategy is needed throughout all levels of the organisation, and a need for line-management to be closer to decision making to ensure proper implementation.


Recognising that we don’t do diversity well, that in most cases we barely even scrape the surface of ‘compliant’ and in recognising the opportunities of a diverse workforce there’s scope for organisations to achieve competitive advantage over competition.

It won’t be easy. If the biggest companies in the world are struggling with it, who’s to say others won’t.

This is also a struggle with the self. Our middle aged white male dominated senior management boardrooms are a challenge to themselves. We need to ask who is going to bite the bullet first, fully embrace diversity, diversify from the top down and power past their competition.

Steel US
Scenes like this will be viewed as an unproductive and uncompetitive relic of the past

What if you feel you have been a victim of discrimination?

If you would like support on your rights or you feel you have been discriminated against you can get advice and support from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau here: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/discrimination/about-discrimination/equality-act-2010-discrimination-and-your-rights/


Shen. J, Chanda. A, D’Nett. B and Monga. M, 2006, Managing diversity through human resource management: an international perspective and conceptual framework, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 20, No. 2, February 2009, p.235-251
Sanglin-Grant and Schneider (2000) Moving On Up? Racial Equality and the Corporate Agenda, London: Runnymede Trust.
Maxwell, Blair and McDougal (2001), Edging Towards Managing Diversity in Practice, Employee Relations, 23, 5, 468– 482
Rynes and Rosen (1995), A Field Survey of Factors Affecting the Adoption and Perceived Success of Diversity Training, Personnel Psychology, 48, 2, 247– 270.


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