Diversity is a central element of the way we live today. It helps build an individual’s experiences of the world, through learning, growth, understanding and acceptance. You don’t have to look far to see examples of it either; women are breaking barriers in senior business management and mass immigration has seen Western societies transform into multicultural communities.

Businesses are also becoming increasingly aware of how building a culture of diversity in the workplace can benefit them, both socially and financially. 85 per cent of employers surveyed by recruitment firm, Robert Walters, said that increasing diversity in their workforce was a priority. So, as we see the impacts of this trend on business success, should we look at how we’re enabling diversity and supporting inclusivity in our workplace environments?

A diverse workforce is defined as one that is made up of individuals with a wide range of characteristics and experiences. It comes in many forms; both inherent – age, race, gender; and acquired – experiences, networks and people living with disabilities. Inclusivity is a recognition that everyone comes from different backgrounds, and a commitment to working as a team. The business case for diversity and inclusivity is a strong one, with the benefits far-reaching.

Diversity can drive learning, creativity and innovation

A survey by the Harvard Business Review, found employees at companies which focussed on inherent and acquired diversity, were more likely to out-innovate and out-perform others. The report also revealed employees in a “speak up” culture were 3.5 times more likely to contribute their full innovative potential.

Diversity can drive profits

There is evidence which suggests companies with more females in top positions are more profitable than those that are more male-dominated at the top. It proves, “the presence of women contributes to superior performance via functional diversity”. Many countries, like Norway, have realised this and have implemented gender quotas for women on corporate boards.

Diversity can improve problem solving

A diverse group of problem solvers can out-perform a team of the most intelligent problem solvers, according to a study by the University of Michigan. It suggests that if the best problem solvers tend to think about a problem in a similar way, the group may not be effective.

Diversity opens up talent pools

It’s a simple game of numbers. By including employees from across the board – different genders, ages, countries, backgrounds – businesses can increase their access to a wide variety of perspectives and expertise. A diverse workforce can help companies open up new opportunities and explore new solutions.

Most of these are obvious points as to why diversity should form the backbone of any company’s culture, however much of the time, management teams tend to overlook the physical aspects of their workplace environment when considering how to improve and encourage diversity and inclusivity. For example, the UK’s average retirement age has risen almost two years for men and three for women in the last two decades, meaning we’re now spending more of our adult lives in the office. However, there’s a current trend of businesses designing their office spaces specifically to target young hipsters – i.e. with ping pong tables and a warehouse aesthetic – potentially pushing out the older generations before they’re ready. If business managers truly wish to improve diversity and inclusivity, they shouldn’t just design their workspace for the stereotypical worker, they really need to think about who their users might be.

In my opinion, London is also lagging behind in terms of mobility and accessibility for office workers. This is largely due to the poor quality of inherited building stock, as well as the fact the average city worker now spends an entire working week commuting every year, which we know can leave them more vulnerable to chronic stress or burnout. We also still have a fair way to go when it comes to improving the commute for people who use wheelchairs, with only 72 of the 270 stations step-free.

Of course, there are elements of inclusive design business operators can incorporate into their physical workspaces that will help them to tackle these challenges and achieve greater diversity and inclusivity. As Roland White, Global Director of D&I at Microsoft says, “Inclusive design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. You’re designing a diversity of things so everyone finds a way to participate”.

An easy place for business management to start, is to work on improving the journey into work for their employees – i.e. helping to reduce their commute time, and therefore, improving their work-life balance and overall happiness. Relocating your office to an area with easily-accessible transport links, or with a volume of affordable housing so workers could walk to their office, would go a long way to addressing this problem. I’m proud that our new IQL development at Stratford can deliver both, with residential buildings on the doorstep, and public transport access to all major airports in less than 60 minutes.

Building design should also reflect ease of movement, with centrally-located staircases, barrier-free access points, large lifts and wide, accessible doorways. We design our commercial places that way because everyone – no matter their mobility capabilities – should have equal access to all parts of the workspace, both inside and out.

Opening up and engaging with the world outside is another way business leaders can drive a culture of diversity and inclusivity. Our tenants are increasingly interested in how they can build networks with their neighbours and benefit from the exchanging of ideas. So we’re creating layers of workplace at IQL at the ground floor and outdoors, designed to invite neighbours, like university students, in and encourage diverse interactions.

It’s easy for diversity to become a bit of a business buzzword, with a lot of talk and not a lot of action. In order to truly benefit from it, it’s important to look not only at the obvious actions to increase diversity – i.e. hiring an older employee or appointing a female CEO – but also at ensuring your work space design inspires workers from various ages, sexes and backgrounds to deliver their best work.

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