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Why a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace Is a Safer Workplace

By Adel Lawson
Published: February 24, 2022
Key Takeaways

Creating a more inclusive workplace isn't just the right thing to do - it also makes the workplace safer.

Caption: Workers in a huddle Source: NanoStockk / iStock

If you're over forty years old, there's a good chance that you started work in an environment where you never heard words like "diversity" and "inclusion." Things have changed since then. Those terms are now in widespread use, and asking why can be illuminating.

Why is it important for businesses to focus on building a diverse and inclusive workforce?

One argument is that it's simply a matter of ethics. Treating people with respect in addition to ensuring their their health and wellbeing is of the utmost priority.

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That's certainly true, but it's only a partial answer.

Companies have obligations to severeal stakeholders, including shareholders, consumers, and potential clients. Those stakeholdlers are part of a market landscape that increasingly expects products and services to be created and consumed with minimal harm and negative social impact.

Because of this, worker welfare has become a common concern in the business world. It's a concept that goes beyond protecting workers from illness and injury and takes their wellbeing into consideration as well.

Welfare is now considered part and parcel of an occupational health and safety professional's responsibilities. And creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is one component of worker welfare.

(Learn more in Universal Design: Creating a Job Environment that Works for Everyone)

Diversity Is Not Just About Rights

The UN says that everyone has the right to be treated equally and with respect. But that isn’t the only reason to consider diversity and inclusivity. It isn’t even the most important reason.

In addition to assessing and controlling risk, health and safety professionals are tasked with understanding compliance requirements and maintaining legal registers. Part of this responsibility is ensuring that none of the company's policies and practices are discriminatory. In an increasing number of countries, it is illegal to discriminate based on the following grounds:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Gender
  • Marriage status
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Religion or creed
  • Sexual identity

It's not just about staying out of court. Company performance actually improves with a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

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Work practices become more effective, workers learn more from each other, insightful lessons get passed around - and it's all because there's less groupthink.

The Hidden Danger of Groupthink

Look at any successful department and you'll see that it has some amount of diversity. You can't build an effective team out of clones. Each members is going to be different in terms of background, upbringing, and ways of looking at the world.

Sometimes, those differences will cause them to clash. Of course they will - even if these employees have the same goal, they will have different ideas about how to achieve it. That doesn't mean they can't get things done. On the contrary, those clashes result in a consensus that is better informed and more effective than it would be if someone had just defaulted to their first idea.

As you develop your team, you don’t want to fill it with people who all think the sam way. That's a recipe for groupthink. The best results will come from hiring people who think differently.

This applies to safety as well. Workplaces will set up committees tasked with improving worker welfare or the organization's safety culture. These are complex, multifaceted issues that can benefit from a variety of experiences and skillsets to come up with well thought out, creative, and effective solutions.

That's one of the major benefits of diverse hiring. If the whole team thinks the same way, they'll miss things. Yes, they’ll get the job done, but they’ll only understand the needs of people like them and they won't know what they don't know. There will be a whole swathe of problems they'll struggle to solve because they can't grasp the full extent of the issue and some potential solutions simply won't occur to them.

(Learn about The Difference Between Safety Leadership and Safey Management)

Avoiding Tokenism

Diversity is a great asset for any organization. It makes it safer and more innovative. To reap those benefits, however, it needs to be handled well.

Tokenism is one common pitfall. This happens when a few hires are treated as symbolic of the company's diverse workforce. Rather than making the hiring process, the workplace climate, and the company's policies more inclusive, they treat these employees as a quota they've managed to hit.

They hired a some women, a few people of color, and staffed some positions with disabled employees. Job done, diversity achieved. Time to move on to the next issue, right?

Not quite.

Not only does this kind of tokenism fail to make a company truly inclusive, it can also have a significant effect on the workplace's psychological safety climate (PSC). That's a term that encompasses the management practices and communication and participation systems that protect workers’ mental health and safety. Significant research has shown that addressing psychosocial hazards by considering the PSC and improving three psychological health outcomes (depression, psychological distress, and engagement) can be effective in reducing absenteeism.

Leaders make a difference here. Organizations that wish to create a positive climate focused on psychosocial safety need to treat it like a serious initiative. Safety practitioners who understand that tokenism, workplace ethics, and worker rights are organizational stressors can support business leaders make their employees feel supported and cared for.

These leaders can in turn educate employees on the importance of psychosocial safety and all the ways they will be working to foster it. And that includes, of course, diversity and inclusivity. Because it's not just a benchmark for the HR department to hit - it's a significant aspect of health and safety.

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Written by Adel Lawson | Managing Partner

Profile Picture of Adel Lawson

Adel is Managing Partner at Demoura Lawson Consulting and former Vice Chair of IOSH Qatar. He is a dynamic HSE professional with experience in corporate, oil and gas, marine, aviation consulting, and manufacturing environments.

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