Many organizations are embracing diversity and inclusion in the workplace given they help to improve productivity, innovation, creativity, and job satisfaction. There is however is still a considerable gap in some industries — public sector, travel, transport and logistics, construction and property which have less diversity in specific roles in terms of cultural background, identity, sexuality, disability, gender, ethnicity.  

For things to improve, we need to move the needle on diversity and inclusion by building a common understanding of why diversity and inclusion matter. At the United Nations we have made a number of commitments to foster diversity and inclusion through Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 10 (reducing inequalities), SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) that are geared towards reducing inequality and empowering women and girls. We are also working hard to build workplace environments that reflect our diverse communities and present equal opportunities for all.  

But why do diversity and inclusion really matter?  

Creating Opportunities for Innovation  

We are often asked to come together to solve complex problems in the workplace. If your colleagues are from the same ethnic background, university or race, it is likely that you will arrive at similar solutions which may not be the best. However, in more diverse and inclusive organizations you are likely to be exposed to people who have different cultural perspectives, expertise and experiences which can foster different ways of thinking, defining problems and finding solutions. Innovation requires a substantial amount of brainstorming and collaboration in environments which encourage open and productive discussions.  

By doing something as simple as having diversity and inclusion embedded as core values in an organization, we are able to strengthen our ability to develop better ideas and perspectives for improved organizational outcomes. It is important to note that bringing together a group of people who have differing interests, backgrounds and perspectives requires skill to manage. In some instances, people need to learn how to work together, and collaborate effectively to develop innovative solutions.  

Fostering Psychological Safety 

Diverse and inclusive workplaces can create a sense of belonging for employees who are part of minority or marginalized groups. This can in turn help to foster stronger work relationships, empathy, communication collaboration and more significantly psychological safety. Employees who feel psychologically safe are better positioned to voice their opinions, ask questions and embrace failures in work environments that are representative. Research shows that when employees feel a sense of belonging, they tend to be more committed to their work, open to learning, more positive and consequently perform better at work.  

But it starts with being deliberate about putting in place a set of interrelated strategies and practices — learning and development, hiring policies, team exercises across the organization. Achieving this is almost impossible without good leadership, which is key to managing diversity and inclusion and creating a culture where employees have the opportunity to learn, make a contribution, and develop. Creating these environments extends beyond leadership. As a collective we need to make others feel psychologically safe by being intentional about working with each other regardless of our cultural backgrounds, identities, sexuality, disability, gender, or ethnicity. 


Reducing inequalities 

SDG target 10.2 calls on us to “empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.” By promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace we can provide equal job opportunities and fairness for all. This is particularly important now as we rebuild following the COVID-19 pandemic which has exacerbated inequalities throughout society. A UN Women report revealed that women and girls disproportionately suffered the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 through job losses, strains on their physical and mental health, reduced working hours and more. People with disabilities who experienced job losses during the pandemic are expected to have slower prospects of returning to their previous employment status. These and other inequalities make it important for us to think about building workforces that reflect our societies. We need to invest in upskilling people from different backgrounds and widening job entry routes as a means to reduce inequalities.  

Building diverse and inclusive work environments is no easy feat. It requires a significant investment in resources, awareness initiatives, practices and training that is responsive to organizational needs. This often means diversifying tactics to foster workplaces where people can co-create solutions and don’t fear being judged.  

But how can progress be achieved across organizational hierarchies? How can we empower leaders and employees to embrace diversity and inclusion and realize its full potential? I think there is a role for learning, which is one of the many reasons why we developed the Diversity and Cultural Intelligence Skills for Results programme to support UN staff to increase their cultural sensitivity and awareness, enabling them to work, interact and communicate in diverse work environments.