You might be familiar with this company. They’ve been in business since 1924 and were, perhaps, one of the original Bavarian startups – beginning in Adi Dassler’s mother’s wash kitchen. Today the iconic three stripes of Adidas can be found on everything from trainers to hoodies and their brand manufactures sports-related gear including eyewear, swimwear and watches.
What does this have to do with HR? The foundations that made this internationally recognizable brand great still shine through today in the stories that Adidas shares on its blog and in the way the company helps its employees bring their authentic selves to work through diversity and inclusion.
We spoke with Asif Sadiq, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Adidas about why diversity and inclusion (D&I) matters to the bottom line and how to build a successful D&I strategy.
Firstly, Why Is Diversity & Inclusion So Important?
“Diversity is about everyone” says Sadiq. “Every single person has diverse characteristics, and that should be celebrated, but diversity is also about the way we intersect with other people. Today people want to be part of an organization that they feel is inclusive, creates the right environment and aligns to their values, and diversity is one of those values.”
Sadiq’s perspective isn’t just reflected in the fact that he is acknowledged as a LinkedIn expert on the subject of diversity and inclusion, it is also reflected in research – including the Lenovo & Intel research study on D&I in the global workplace. They found that, “In order to feel supported and equipped to succeed in the workplace, today’s employees demand more accommodating benefits, such as work-life balance, opportunities for advancement, interesting and engaging work, and a diverse and inclusive environment where they will feel safe, respected and valued.”
However, while employees are increasingly expecting D&I to be part of day-to-day working life, all the diversity in the world doesn’t help if organizations aren’t embracing the fundamentals of what it means.
Diversity Must Be All-Encompassing
“D&I isn’t a tick box exercise or a policy. HR leaders need to ensure it’s woven into business as usual, not when it’s a nice thing to do on the side when we get a bit of time” says Sadiq. While two thirds of 10,000 leaders surveyed by Deloitte say D&I is important or very important to business, merely acknowledging its importance is not nearly enough. Deloitte says, “Our view is that the goal is to create workplaces that leverage diversity of thinking”.
There is solid business reasoning behind improving diversity in the workplace. Deloitte quotes Juliet Bourke, saying that “Diversity is a well-spring of creativity, enhancing innovation by about 20%. It also enables groups to spot risks, reducing these by up to 30%. And it smooths the implementation of decisions by creating buy-in and trust.”
But diversity isn’t just about employing a wide range of employees from different genders and ethnicities. For example, researchers found that when diverse teams made a business decision, they outperformed individual decision-makers up to 87% of the time. This diversity also included people from different geographies and ages – all of whom collaborate towards a vibrant tapestry of working life and should be considered in a robust D&I framework.
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Is There a Strong Link Between Diversity and Inclusion and Mental Health?
When Laura Schroeder of Personio asked this question in the video interview with Sadiq, his reply was, “Yes. But what we must remember is that any strategy must be designed with diversity in mind – including diversity of age and of generations. A lot of wellbeing initiatives in organizations are geared towards young generations, to the exclusion of older generations which doesn’t create an inclusive environment where everyone can get involved.”
Diversity and inclusion cannot be a box-ticking exercise: It has to be foundational. As Astrid C. Homan says, “Organizations can maximize the benefits of diversity in teams by cultivating “diversity mindsets,” defined as the shared understanding of a team’s diversity and its positive benefits to group performance. Key characteristics of effective diversity mindsets include cultural intelligence, openness to different ideas and experiences, multicultural experiences, and work climates that emphasize the value and potential of diversity.
What Not to Do: Advice for HR Professionals Working on D&I
So how does Sadiq conclude his interview? “Don’t follow the text book. People really want us to be human, to engage, to understand.”
There is a risk that people tip-toe around issues that they were trained to be wary of, such as what words to use to describe ethnic minorities. “People don’t expect us to know every element of D&I every day, but they expect us to have the right intent, openness to listen and ask questions. I see people scared or fearful around the conversation on D&I and approach it with what they learned in training 10 years ago which is not always relevant. The terminology used to refer to an ethnic minority, for example, might offend one person of that minority and not another. Being hung up on how to approach the situation or what to say means you won’t be able to engage and have a genuine conversation.”
While diversity has been shown to increase productivity and profits, improve cultural insight, creativity, employee engagement and company reputation, and even provide a wider range of skills and reduce employee turnover, the most important benefit of D&I is the ability to recognise our own humanity.
“It’s about human interactions,” says Sadiq.
Tips for Improving Diversity and Inclusion
- Employing different people doesn’t bring about change, necessarily.
- The next step is to create inclusive environments where people feel included and create a sense of belonging where they can bring their authentic self to work.
- Move on from hiring a diverse workforce – create the working environment and culture where they feel included.
- It’s not just the right thing to do, morally. It also creates a good business case.
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