Diversity Programs Increasingly Focus On Work Styles and Values, Study Reveals

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By Caryn Freeman  

Jan. 28 — Differences in work values and styles are now considered aspects of employer diversity programs, as they have gradually evolved from focusing strictly on demographics, according to a study released Jan. 23.

The report, “Values-based diversity: The challenges and strengths of many,” found that while diversity and inclusion initiatives originally focused on gender and race, awareness has been growing that diversity also encompasses work-related values. “Organizations are beginning to acknowledge this shift by distinguishing between inherent (e.g. race, gender) and acquired diversity (e.g. cultural fluency, global mindset, language skills),” the study said.

Although the survey shows a link between workforce and marketplace diversity—with 83 percent of respondents agreeing that a diverse workforce improves the ability to capture and retain a diverse client base, 82 percent agreeing that a strategic approach to managing diversity can help access a rich talent pool and 80 percent viewing diversity management as yielding a competitive advantage in labor markets—a commonly cited internal barrier to managing diversity is the reluctance of senior management to accept differences in employee behavior, cited by 32 percent of respondents.

The report, sponsored by talent management software firm SuccessFactors and its parent company SAP AG, in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit, a global research and analysis firm, featured a survey of 228 HR executives around the globe.

Anka Wittenberg, chief diversity officer at SAP, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 28 that companies must raise awareness and educate senior managers on the value of diversity as an important component of businesse success and leadership. “It is about seeing differences as a source of strength,” she said. “In order to do that, organizations have to understand people's differences—everything from an employee's cultural background and gender to generational differences in how employees work and think.”

Millenials Present Challenge

Over half of the survey respondents (57 percent) pointed to a lack of interest in adapting to organizational values as one of their chief concerns in the coming years, with conflicting values across a multigenerational workforce second (51 percent) and the unrealistic expectations of Millennial employees—those born between 1977 and 1990—third (47 percent).

Nevertheless, Jenny Dearborn, SAP's global chief learning officer, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 28 that companies would be better served by spending less time examining why Millennials aren't adopting their values and instead beginning to develop strategies that will enable the organization to adapt itself to Millennials' values.

“Millennials will be 50 percent of the workforce by 2020 and 75 percent of the workforce by 2025,” she said. “By sheer size, Millennials have the critical mass; their values will become the company's values. When a group is this dominant, companies need to change to fit its needs.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Caryn Freeman in Washington at cfreeman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com

Text of the study is available at http://www.economistinsights.com/sites/default/files/EIU_SuccessFactors_Values-based%20diversity%20report.pdf.