Diversity Focus Shifts to Values—Not Demographics

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Diversity is no longer mostly about demographics like race and gender, reports a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by SAP and SuccessFactors. Instead, focus has shifted to accommodating different values, goals, and skills within today’s global, multi-generational workforce. 

The global study, Values-Based Diversity, explores the challenges of managing an increasingly diverse workforce while highlighting the importance of diversity as a strategic business advantage. 

Key findings 

The EIU survey shows a link between workforce and marketplace diversity, with 83 percent of respondents agreeing that a diverse workforce improves their firms’ 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. 

And the battle for talent varies in regions around the globe. For example, research by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) confirms that constraints on the participation of women in the workforce in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and—to a lesser extent—Asia have significantly slowed economic development in those regions. Spurring growth, therefore, depends on encouraging and accelerating the entry of women and other under-represented groups into the workforce. 

To achieve this opening of the workplace, during the last two decades organizations worldwide have sought to attract and retain engaged and talented individuals from these populations. While efforts originally focused on demographic factors like gender and race, awareness has been growing that diversity concerns also need to encompass values. 

Indeed, the EIU survey reveals differences in work ethic, communication styles, and motivational drivers are now considered aspects of workforce diversity. For example, when asked about workforce characteristics that will require the greatest change in human resources (HR) strategies over the next three years, a majority of HR executives point to a lack of interest in assimilating organizational values (57 percent strong or moderate change); conflicting values across a multigenerational workforce (51 percent); and unrealistic expectations of millennial employees (47 percent). 

However, the survey also explains that executives view the integration of millennial employees into the workforce as a significant diversity challenge. This is true, in part, because millennials are perceived as having different motivations than previous generational cohorts had and, in part, because of millennials’ perceived lack of interest in assimilating the values of their organization. 


Bottom line:  “Values-based diversity” is here to stay—and it’s forcing HR to rethink strategies and incentives. The question is, in what ways? 

According to the report, executives view offering learning and career-development opportunities as key strategies for managing a diverse workforce. Survey respondents report that their organizations are exposing their high-potential employees to varied business situations (45 percent), offering opportunities for international careers (41 percent) and providing opportunities for diverse teams to address strategic challenges (36 percent). They are also supporting policy initiatives such as mentoring (47 percent) and flexible working arrangements (43 percent).  

About the study 

To uncover these insights, the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed 228 executives responsible for designing and developing their organizations’ human resources (HR) strategy. The respondents are based in Europe, North America and, Asia-Pacific (about 30 percent in each region); the rest are from the Middle East and Africa and Latin America. Also, the respondent pool is quite senior: more than half (53 percent) are C-level executives or board members, including 28 percent who are CEOs or the equivalent. 

One-half of respondents’ companies have US$500m or less in annual global revenue, while 25 percent have revenue of US$5bn or more. The senior executives polled are responsible for all of the main functional areas in 19 different industries. 

EIU also conducted a series of in-depth interviews with senior executives from major companies and other experts. 



About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at 

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