What Does Diversity in the Workplace Really Mean?

Colored pencils, all different colors to demonstrate diversity in the workplace

When we say we’ve achieved diversity in the workplace and/or healthcare system, what does this actually look like? Are we simply ticking off check boxes, or ensuring that people are included and valued for who they are?

When there is a disconnect between an organization’s diversity values and that of its employees and patients, this can create some serious tension and harmful situations. That’s why it’s so important for the values of an organization to line up with its actions—both toward the public and internally.

This is the idea I’ll be exploring today. What is diversity, and what should it look like in practice? How can we revamp our current standards to actually make them inclusive, rather than just a requirement? How can a mindset change alter the way we treat others and approach conversations around the idea of diversity in the workplace?

The Definition of Diversity

Merriam Webster defines diversity as, “the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc. in a group or organization.” Healthcare organizations and others have adopted diversity regulations in an attempt to make sure everyone is treated equally and with respect.

The problem arises when people complete tasks (such as diversity training) simply in an attempt to check off a box. Inclusion can’t be done just to comply with a mandate. If it’s not at the heart of the workplace’s values and their employees, it will be hard to identify it as actually diverse in nature.

Diversity In the Workplace

According to TalentLyft, diversity in the workplace includes active mindfulness and inclusion of characteristics like “race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical abilities and disabilities, religion, political beliefs, education, socioeconomic background, geographical orientation, language, culture, [and] military service.”

While it’s wonderful and important for all types of people to be hired, this may still fall under the “check box” mentality of diversity if the workplace is not taking active steps to educate co-workers and support minority groups.

One of the ways that this could be actively accomplished is through the creation of safe spaces throughout the workplace in which people are free to mindfully voice their concerns. It should also be up to employees to hold leadership and management accountable for their actions and the actions of the company. Everyone should feel represented, and if this isn’t being achieved, there needs to be a conversation about it.

Diversity in Healthcare

Diversity in the specific realm of healthcare is absolutely essential. In terms of hiring inclusively, diversity in a healthcare setting can help provide a boost to employee morale, as well as ensure that any patient that enters the hospital or office will be treated with understanding and have someone that they can relate to. Some professionals may have a better understanding of a particular patient’s situation, which can help ensure that proper treatment is provided at all times.

When diversity in a healthcare setting is all but non-existent, problem-solving conversations can be less productive. This is because there aren’t as many perspectives contributing ideas. By including a more diverse group, you can help ensure that patients are receiving the best care. Plus, it can help expand knowledge of best practices for the office or hospital as a whole.

This type of acceptance of different backgrounds should be present while people train to become healthcare professionals, if it’s not present earlier. They need to be able to communicate and be accepting of people with conflicting beliefs and different life journeys.

Furthermore, professionals and policies need to be cautious that assumptions about a particular group are not followed and patients and colleagues are not placed in categories, but rather talked to and treated as the unique individuals that they are.

How Do We Achieve True Diversity in the Workplace?

An organization’s true diversity efforts start with its people. There should be a significant drive to hire a diverse workforce in order to show employees the true value of diversity. For instance, 43% of companies with diverse boards have seen significantly higher profits. This inclusion can create a serious return on investment.

There should be active efforts for people to participate in diversity trainings that go beyond the standard lecture. These training sessions need to be engaging and open spaces for people to talk about their own experiences, if they’re comfortable. And they should be done with employee feedback from the start. Ask what they would benefit most from in order to get the best results.

Diversity cannot happen unless we take the time to have difficult conversations and a hard look at the environment we’ve built around us. We can open ourselves up to differing thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, and make it our mission to continuously improve and make changes in support of our fellow human beings.

In Summary

Diversity starts with us putting the work in. We can’t simply stand by and check off boxes any longer. It’s time to use our voices and our positions to advocate for those around us and lift people up. We need to take an active stance both today and every day moving forward.

As part of my advocacy for those with disabilities, I help people begin to have those hard conversations about inclusivity. If you’re interested in any of the services I provide in this area, please schedule a meeting. I’d be happy to help out.