By Opinno Editor de MIT Technology Review en español. Margarita Ramos.

Combining employees of different genders, ages and profiles has a positive impact on organizations. Promoting a diverse corporate culture, therefore, is a matter that should be prioritized.

“We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges”.
This quote from Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, could be applied to most companies. Innovating, digitizing and adapting to an increasingly global environment all appear on their “to do” lists, and having a diverse talent pool will help them to achieve these goals. However, managing a diverse workforce is a challenge for many companies.

This was expressed at a recent conference in Madrid on digital transformation by Nuria Vilanova, founder and president of Atrevia: “Think about a large company, what do you think is going to be their greatest challenge at present: being able to incorporate technology quickly enough or changing the company culture quickly enough? I think the second“. For her, “companies that do not jump on the diversity bandwagon will be irrelevant in the future”.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) notes that diverse companies are in a better position to anticipate the needs and expectations of customers and that non-discriminatory practices are “an important management tool to increase efficiency and productivity“. It also notes that treating workers fairly is “a human right that all companies should respect“.

Corporate diversity also has an impact on a business’ results. Boston Consulting Group recently conducted a survey of more than 1,700 companies from eight countries to examine the diversity of their managerial positions, using criteria such as gender, age, origin, career path, education and background in the sector. The analysis revealed that the most diverse companies are also the most innovative: those that had greater than average diversity had 19% more revenue thanks to innovation.

To make diversity form part of a company’s DNA, it is necessary to take into account its different facets:

Gender diversity

The glass ceiling has not yet been cracked in some companies. According to data from the National Securities Market Commission (CNMV in Spanish), only nine Ibex 35 companies reach the 30% female presence on their Boards that its Good Governance Code flags as a minimum objective for 2020. One of those companies is Banco Santander. In addition, the wage gap remains another problem: a recent ILO study suggests that in Spain men earn 14.9% more than women.

One of the women who has succeeded in reaching the upper echelons of a large company is Helena Herrero, president of HP for Spain and Portugal, who is of the opinion that “there are too many stereotypes and not enough role models“. With regard to her own experience, Herrero explains: “You’re breaking moulds and you have tough moments, moments of courage and times at which you have to know how to ask for help. You are looking for mentors and people who will really be able to give you visibility“.

Although she defends the importance of diversity beyond gender, Herrero particularly supports the importance of working to reduce the differences between men and women: “It is not only a right for women, but it is a necessity from an economic and business point of view too“.

A study by the consultancy McKinsey endorses that view: if women had not entered into the world of work as they did in the 1990s, Spain’s GDP in 2015 would have been 18% lower.

Including several generations

Companies also have to take advantage of the abilities and skills of each generation, from thebaby boomers (which generally refers to those born between 1946 and 1964) to Generation Z (born from 1994 onwards).

Sara Bieger, an independent adviser at AXA Spain, emphasizes the need to rely on the experience of senior workers: “We are retiring later and later, and this is a talent pool that we cannot lose”. But for older employees to remain active in the midst of the digital transformation, companies have to concern themselves over their professional retraining in matters of technology.

This is a reality that, according to a study carried out by the IE Foundation’s Observatory of Demographics and Generational Diversity, companies are not taking into account: nearly 90% do not have an action plan for their older workers and there are very few that are taking action such as reducing working hours, changing activities or boosting the amount of advice they provide.

On the other hand, companies have to adequately accommodate and motivate the digital natives. “Companies need to put a Z in their world, because if not then many of the phenomena that are occurring in the world are going to pass them by“, believes Nuria Vilanova, president of Atrevia.

This communications consultancy conducted a study alongside Deusto Business School on Generation Z. Their findings highlighted that members of Generation Z prioritize a positive working environment, conciliation and the possibility of developing their professional career above factors like stability and a good salary. Moreover, they are concerned about issues such as a company’s ethics and its ability to innovate.

“They did not expect that [their first job] would be a job for life or a big salary. What they wanted was to be able to leave a mark on a company, which would allow them to contribute,” explains Vilanova.

Other diversities

According to the latest barometer from the Fundación Diversidad (Diversity Foundation), which analyzes 800 Spanish companies that have signed its Diversity Charter (a code of commitment to this concept), policy on diversity focuses mainly on gender equality (41%), and takes into account to a lesser extent disability (32%), youth (21%), sexual orientation (12%) and racial and ethnic origin (9%).

Roberto di Bernardini, global head of Human Resources at Banco Santander, attaches special importance to another dimension of diversity: having employees with different skills. “One of the tools that we have to modernize banking is to attract digital and innovation talent that will allow us to transform the way in which we release products to the market,” he explains. And to attract such diverse talent, they are presenting the company differently, “positioning the bank with a purpose that is very noble, an intention to help people and society to thrive“.

Where do you start?

“If diversity is not managed properly then it brings with it teams that are not integrated, which will not be prepared to deal with complex tasks, nor will they be able to make effective decisions, nor do so at the speed that markets are demanding“, says Raquel Santamaría, director of the Fundación Diversidad, in the White Paper of Diversity. The text also lists the facets on which management strategies in the field must be based:

  • Raising awareness: Companies have to educate the leaders of their various teams about the importance of differences and their benefits.
  • Leadership: The team leader must convey the importance of diversity and serve as an example.
  • Attracting and retaining talent through specific policies.
  • Team structure: Human resources management should ensure participatory procedures.

Having a diverse workforce, able to contribute different points of view, helps the company’s outlook to be increasingly global. For this reason, capturing and managing diverse talent is a pressing need for businesses.