Employee individualization: How diversity improves culture and results

During my time studying for my bachelor degree, I have become completely obsessed with Diversity and Inclusion, which very quickly transitioned into my curiosity for how start-ups put this theory into practice. My hypothesis was that unlike a large, older company that would need to change current company culture, a start-up can make diversity and inclusion a priority from the beginning and I was interested to see how this has happened at SO1. Spoiler alert: my hypothesis was right!

However, talking about diversity isn’t always easy, and because I talk about diversity a lot in my personal life, I’ve heard everything from “Isn’t political correctness outrageous these days?” to “I’m pretty sure everyone is equal nowadays, so what’s the point?”. These questions can open the conversation to diversity and inclusion, which is a vital step towards building an inclusive world. Let’s start by focussing on how diversity improves the culture at SO1.

Equality → Diversity management → Inclusion → Belonging

What’s the difference? Let’s break it down and see how we do it at SO1:

  • Equality is when everyone is treated equally. Sounds great, doesn’t it?! However, some people might need extra support or tools to perform to their best. That’s where diversity management comes in!
  • Diversity management is where differences and similarities between us are acknowledged, and support is given to employees who need it. For example, some employees might be given extra time to complete tasks if they have a slow processing speed, or employees are offered flexible working hours to allow them to pick their children up from school.
  • Inclusion is less about ‘them’ and more about ‘us’! An inclusive workplace celebrates diversity and learns from diverse perspectives while embedding inclusivity into the company culture. For example, if you’ve got some employees that have specific dietary requirements, like vegetarianism, don’t organise your staff lunch at a steakhouse and be sure to buy two pairs of tongs for the grill party on your rooftop terrace! We make sure that nobody is excluded and it’s much more fun.
  • Now everyone is included, but who still feels like an outsider? The feeling of belonging somewhere is incredible, and at SO1 we do our best to make everyone feel like they belong. At SO1, we listen to the needs of our employees, particularly during the onboarding process. This allows us to identify any additional provisions that should be put in place for an employee and how we can make them feel like they belong in the SO1 team from the beginning of their journey..

So, what about those initial questions?

In general, these questions are asked by people who haven’t yet identified their own privilege. Most people are willing to learn, and an important step is identifying this privilege and thinking: if we have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others and make the world a better place, why wouldn’t we take it? If we have the opportunity to make someone feel comfortable and valued, why wouldn’t we do it?

“Isn’t political correctness outrageous these days?”
Not really, no! Language is constantly evolving, and it takes less effort to change the words that you use than the effort that it takes for someone that has been affected by these words to move past it. For example, it’s quite common for people to use ableist language such as “crazy”, “lame”, “insane” or “dumb”. How many times have you said the traffic was “crazy” on your way to work? There are some much less harmful words that could be used instead that are actually much more descriptive. Words such as “nightmare”, “annoying”, “unbelievable”, “nonsensical” or “ridiculous” can be used and don’t have ableist connotations. For more word suggestions, see the link below.

“I’m pretty sure everyone is equal nowadays, so what’s the point?”
Some groups that have been historically marginalised in society are less marginalised nowadays, that’s true. However, there is still progress to be made. The situation is different all over the world, but let’s focus on Germany for now.

  • On average, a woman is paid 21% less than a man in Germany. When we take into account men and women with the same qualifications and experience, the difference is still 6%.
  • Applicants with German names have been found to be 14% more likely to pass the initial screening during recruitment processes in Germany.
  • Women who wear a headscarf in their job application photo statistically have to send 4.5 times as many applications as an identical applicant with a German name and no headscarf to be invited to an interview.
    This is all happening in Germany, and there are other inequalities happening all over the world. There is still progress to be made, and at SO1 we are doing our best to make this progress.

So, how does this actually improve results?

Diversity is extremely important to the dynamic company culture here at SO1. Effective diversity management provides us with a wide range of benefits, including an increase in creativity and a lower risk of groupthink (we can’t develop if we’re all thinking the same!). The different perspectives and ideas at SO1 promote problem-solving and helps us to become more innovative. Other benefits include boosted employee productivity, higher motivation and higher retention rates, otherwise known as return-on-investment benefits. Employee relationships are fostered and improved, and diversity management enables employees at SO1 to feel that their individual needs are recognized, increasing employee loyalty. For us at SO1, it means that we feel a sense of belonging and uniqueness in such an inclusive workplace. Leading by example is one of the most important things that management can do to ensure the success of an initiative, and here, the C Level management show that diversity is valued.

SO1’s approach to diversity management

At SO1, we’ve adopted a learning approach and are developing a proactive strategic response. This means that we value similarities and differences between us, and we’re constantly evolving because we see diversity management as a short term and long-term matter. We appreciate intersectionality, so we don’t put each other into boxes, and we’re working to get rid of our individual unconscious bias. So what have we done?

  • Added a diversity statement to our job postings to encourage everyone to apply, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, background or any other characteristic.
  • Learned from the concept of blind auditions, and implemented home tasks as part of our recruitment process before the department interview.
  • Hired people from all over the world, and supported in their relocation, because contrary to the popular phrase, great minds do not think alike!
  • Introduced standing desks, so that those who can’t sit down for long periods of time don’t have to!
  • Bring people together by having team breakfasts and lunches to share ideas and get to know each other’s world-view.
  • Some of us have language classes, exercise classes or dependents at home, so we allow flexible working!
  • There’s no restrictive uniform here at SO1, we wear what makes us feel comfortable. Without a dress code, what we wear ranges from smart suits to sportswear and the more comfortable our body is, the more that we can stretch our mind!

At SO1, we don’t count the number of languages that we speak or the countries that we come from, in the same way as we don’t count the number of varieties of milk in our fridge. Everybody is different and everybody is valued, and we can always find a common language- whether it’s English, GO or Python! We are passionate, driven and creative, and made even stronger by our diverse perspectives and support from each other.

Like what you see? View our open vacancies on our ‘Join Us’ page and we look forward to welcoming you to the team!

Further reading:

Glossary of Ableist Phrases
How LinkedIn’s HR Chief is Changing the Diversity Conversation with “Belonging”
What Should Inclusion Really Look Like In The Workplace?

The Surprising Solution to Workplace Diversity | Arwa Mahdawi | TEDxHamburg
Practical diversity: taking inclusion from theory to practice | Dawn Bennett-Alexander | TEDxUGA

Interested in measuring your unconscious bias?
Harvard Tests

Academic publications:
Armstrong, C. (2013). Managing diversity in the employment relationship. In R. Carbery, & C. Cross, Human Resource Management: A Concise Introduction (pp. 91-105). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wilton, N. (2016). An Introduction to Human Resource Management. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Otaye-Ebede, L., Priola, V., & Yerby, E. (2017). Diversity in Organisations: HRM and International Practices. In J. R. Crawshaw, P. Budhwar, & A. Davis, Human Resource Management: Strategic and International Perspectives (pp. 192-218). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.


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