What is Diversity in Project Management and its Importance?

- By Mahendra Gupta | September 20, 2021
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Did you know, 60% of project professionals said they work for an organization without a single female member in the C-suite role? Or Only 1% Of Fortune 500 Companies Have African American Or Black CEOs?

There is a myriad of such statistics that exhibit the dearth of diversity and inclusion at the workplace. It’s not always in the form of gender or race; it exists in ethnicity, sexual orientation, caste, and so on. Indeed, most of you must have experienced it yourselves or at least been a witness to this prejudice.

Yet, unfortunately, after so many years of struggle and protests, diversity is still not interwoven into the fabric of our workplace culture. The benefits of diversity, as we can see, are underrated in the business industry.

However, if fostered the right way, diversity can add more value to the projects and promote innovation. It can also enable quick problem-solving, and enhance employee productivity.

Therefore, it is needless to say that harnessing diversity in the project management realm is imperative. This article is a comprehensive read on diversity and its importance in project-led businesses.

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Let’s begin with the basics,

What are Diversity and Inclusion?- The history and current scenario

Diversity- the art of thinking independently together. – Malcolm Forbes

As rightly put by Mr. Forbes, diversity is defined as all the characteristics and experiences that define each individual. Therefore, practicing diversity implies providing a liberal environment to the workforce to share their views at ease and express their talent. In other words, a diverse work culture provides a safe space for individuals of all kinds to think independently and cohesively.

The rules and policies against diversity were made illegal only after the 1950s. The first case of a step towards forming a diverse culture happened in 1964. Civil rights made it illegal for organizations to engage in employment practices that discriminated against employees based on their race, caste, sexuality, etc. Another executive order was passed in 1965 that demanded government contractors take initiatives to overcome the past patterns of exclusion and discrimination.

However, only uplifting the rules or making it official wasn’t enough. Organizations were given extensive training to help them nurture this concept the right way. They started realizing that practicing diversity is a precursor to introducing diversity in the marketplace and yields better business results. As a result, the concept of a diverse work environment stemmed after the 1950s.

Today, even though diversity is not practiced at every firm or organization, 87 percent of HR leaders rank it as a top priority.

However, the firms who do it the wrong way have seen poor results like increased attrition, employee disengagement, etc. Overall, diversity is a stepping stone to organizational success, but it can prove futile if not practiced correctly.

The PMO-Game Changer- Value-driven Project Resource Management

The following section describes how it can influence the project management landscape:

The influence of diversity in project management landscape

According to the PMI survey, 88% of project leaders believe that culturally diverse and gender-diverse teams increase project value. It also says that 83% of project leaders believe that international team members increase project value.

Project-led businesses thrive on the success of each project. These projects drive change and innovation in an organization. Every project undertaken takes the firm closer to attaining the strategic goal.

But, who is responsible for the successful execution of these projects? It’s the firm’s talent pool.

To accomplish these results, the team requires a mix of mindsets and multiple perspectives. It is only possible when the firm embeds diversity and inclusion in its work environment. Moreover, with the advent of globalization, clients come from different parts of the world. So, employees from different cultural backgrounds can understand them better and get a more nuanced insight into their expectations.

Additionally, collaboration and problem-solving become seamless when the resources from different backgrounds tap into various approaches to deduce a solution.

Mr. Mroz, a senior project manager, said, ‘Success in this globalized world truly depends upon [a project leader’s] ability to embrace diversity and harness the benefits of intergenerational and global project teams.’

But is fostering diversity always beneficial? Or it can spiral down a firm’s project management process?

Read More: Ten Project Management Principles every Resource Manager must now

Let’s see here,

Every coin has two sides, and so does diversity

One of the significant concerns on diversity is that organizations still follow an ‘add diversity and stir’ approach. However, only increasing the number of underrepresented people in your workforce will not spur leaps in your firm’s organizational effectiveness.

Embedding diversity and inclusion in your firm’s work culture requires dedicated training. If not done properly, diversity can impact the overall project’s performance leading to the derailing of the projects.

Here is a rundown of both benefits and downsides of diversity in project management,

Benefits of Diversity in project management

  • Quick problem-solving

Resources coming from different backgrounds and places bring different attitudes and experiences with them. Therefore, if a project problem arises, they can put their minds together, offer varied insights, and form the best workable solution. It will speed up the process of problem-solving, avoiding any potential delays in delivery.

Diversity “enables teams to get to better answers and better solutions,” says Blair Taylor, diversity and inclusion consulting co-leader at PwC.

  • Better coordination for interdependent tasks

A project is a composite of multiple tasks, phases, and stages, out of which several tasks are interdependent. Therefore, it implies that the second task cannot begin before the accomplishment of the first one.

When diversity and inclusion are practiced at a firm, teams collaborate better. They understand how a deviation in their schedule can jeopardize the other’s task progress and schedules. Thus, diverse and inclusive work culture promotes better coordination.

Read More: What Project Interdependencies Span Your Portfolio?

  • Timely delivery of projects

Diversity and inclusion propel a positive environment at the workplace. Teams work cohesively; they share the company’s visions and goals, strive to achieve them, and are on the same page. It leads to higher productivity levels and better performance.

Moreover, an inclusive atmosphere opens doors for hiring managers. They can recruit the right and best talent for a project with no boundaries whatsoever. All these factors eventually enhance individual and team performance leading to the timely delivery of projects.

  • More ground space for innovation

Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.

When individuals from different backgrounds (culture, races, ethnicities, etc.) come on board, they bring their share of experiences. For example, let’s say your firm is working on a digital marketing project. One of the tasks is to create a social media presence for the client. Now, there is no one thumb rule to attract the audience.

The market thrives on innovative ideas. So, for instance, you have five writers who come from different racial and ethnic groups Each of them will have an insight into how their community can become an audience. This will give an extra edge to your project, thus creating more space for innovation.

  • Increased ROI

Gabrielle Bullock, the Director of Global Diversity, sees the diverse teams giving ROI as winning the trust and contracts from prospective clients. When your workforce is a mix of different ideologies, they can comprehend what the end-user wants on a human level.

As Bullock says, clients’ values go beyond fees, budget, or schedule. They are more about human and cultural connections and shared values. So including people from underrepresented communities with different backgrounds can help you land more clients, thereby increasing the firm’s bottom line.

Read More: 5 Project Selection Criteria to Structure the PMO

Downsides of Diversity in project management

  • Internal conflicts

Fostering diversity requires a specific skill set and emotional intelligence to ensure the smooth functioning of a team. In addition, manifesting trust between individual team members forms the foundation for the project’s success. However, cultural and other social differences also bring a shift in mindsets and thought processes.

It can lead to distrust and discrepancy between individuals. Furthermore, if the team is not trained to embrace diversity, they will be repulsive of diverse ideas, leading to internal conflicts. These conflicts will not only create an imbalance in the operations but also mar the project’s performance.

  • Enforced diversity can lead to disengagement.

Values like diversity and inclusion cannot be enforced upon the employees. Therefore, before introducing this paradigm shift, managers and diversity leaders must conduct assessments. This will let them evaluate the stance of their existing workforce on diversity and slowly help the team to become inclusive.

However, when they suddenly enforce diversity, the resources will oppose the idea and show disengagement at the workplace. It will lead to lowered productivity, unplanned absences, a hostile work environment, and eventually unplanned attrition.

  • Unfair recognition to some employees

Often firms promote diversity to only look good on papers and build an unfair reputation. If that’s the case, managers will exhibit prejudice for the diverse individuals with no tangible evaluation and reward them. It can create a divide between the workforce. Additionally, some diverse individuals play a sympathy card to climb up the corporate ladder.

It will suppress the deserving candidate’s professional development leading to dissatisfaction and demotivation. Moreover, often a person who deserves accolades does not get acknowledged just because they are not part of an underrepresented group. It’s natural that they will look for opportunities elsewhere.

Read More: Employee Recognition Programs: Types, Benefits and Best Practices

  • Feeling of isolation can create a disconnect.

Let’s say your firm has recently recruited a physically disabled candidate who fits perfectly for one of the project tasks. However, the resource manager does not give the task to the new joinee just because they are physically challenged. It will create a feeling of disconnect and being left out in them, leading to lower morale and productivity.

A sense of belonging is imperative to stay motivated and empowered in the workplace. If individuals do not feel they belong there or are not valued for their talent, it can decline their confidence. Thus, when diversity is not followed by inclusion, it can cause silos and disparities.

  • Too many cooks spoil the broth.

We all are aware of this very popular adage. When everyone is given a chance to voice their ideas and perspectives, one has to reach a consensus. However, as much as different views can quicken problem-solving, too many opinions can cause confusion and chaos.

If the decision-making process is delayed, it will naturally prolong the project’s progress too. Moreover, when the project manager selects one resource’s opinion over someone else, they might feel ignored. Going forward, they will refrain from putting their ideas on the table. Thus, it will very much do the opposite of introducing diversity in the work environment.

After understanding the pros and cons of diversity, it is clear that diversity cannot be just introduced in a firm’s policy. Instead, it requires a solid action plan to ensure that every employee, regardless of the community, is respected. It also ascertains that each one of them is given fair chances to prove their mettle and grow further.

This is where Diversity Intelligence comes into the picture. Here is how you can leverage it to become a diversity-friendly organization.

How to foster diversity while managing projects? – Diversity Intelligence

The concept of diversity intelligence encompasses acceptance and respect for each individual regardless of community, ethnicity, sexuality they belong to. It lets individuals explore and embrace their differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing work environment.

Inculcating diversity intelligence makes organizations more robust and helps them maintain their competitive edge.

Project leaders who ensure that diversity is an integral part of their project management ecosystem experience a better project success rate.

For instance, according to the report, the firms that offer gender-based programming are associated with higher performance – 63% vs. 36%. Also, those with culturally diverse leadership have higher organizational performance (85% vs. 61%).

Managers can follow these steps to nurture diversity intelligence:

  • Conduct dedicated training sessions and workshops for your workforce to help them understand the importance of diversity and ways to practice.
  • Provide flexible schedules to the diverse workforce to provide them equal space to perform and outshine. For example: suppose single mothers are a part of your resource pool. You can allow them to work according to their suitable timings as they tend to their offsprings alone. At the same time, keep track of their utilization level and productivity.
  • Take one-on-one feedback from the underrepresented employees to understand their needs. For instance, if you are hiring a differently-abled candidate, provide them with enough tools and technology. You can also provide free wellness retreats to create a safe and healthy environment for them.
  • Hold brainstorming sessions with the entire project team to stay open to new ideas and reward and recognize the deserving candidates.
  • Invest in a resource management tool to promote just and fair project distribution to everyone present in the organization.
  • Conduct casual team meetings to allow everyone to communicate and connect. It will strengthen the team, which will lead to the project’s success.

These are some of the many ways you can make a diverse and inclusive workspace while managing projects.

Read More: The Art of Resource Planning Across Multiple Projects

Let’s now understand how a resource management tool can allow you to foster diversity,

How can resource management tools catalyze diversity management?

An advanced resource management tool comprises a myriad of functionalities in one single solution. From enterprise-wide visibility to forecast reports, it covers it all. Resource managers and higher-ups can leverage the features to ensure every employee is treated equally and works on profitable projects.

A resource management tool can have an added feature where the diverse individuals’ identity is flagged. Then, based on the data, resource managers can go ahead and assign billable project tasks to deserving candidates. However, if they are biased and not giving work to the diverse employees, the higher-ups can conduct real-time assessments.

They will be able to see every employee’s schedule, and if they find a disparity, resource managers will be accountable. This standardized system will ensure fair allocation of work purely based on merit.

For two, project managers can leverage a resource management tool to gauge their team’s and individual resources’ productivity. For example, if a diverse employee’s productivity they can conduct a feedback session to understand the cause. It will allow them to take remedial action in time.

Additionally, an open seat feature in the resource management software allows resources to choose their area of interest. If they are interested in taking up a particular open task, they can go ahead and apply. Resource managers will then evaluate each profile and schedule the task to the best fit employee. This practice ensures flexibility and promotes inclusion where every employee has the leeway to pursue their lines of interest.

These are some ways amongst many where resource management software can promote diversity at the workplace.

Read More: How Resource Management Facilitates a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Conclusion- Diversity over Discrimination

Diversity is about creating an environment where a person can bring their whole self to work- Laure Miller (Business executive)

The quote is a holistic explanation of the essence of diversity. Every individual carries a unique identity and talent inventory. If given a fair chance, they can do wonders for your firm. Otherwise, your organization will be at a loss as it will be devoid of one extraordinary employee.

This article describes every aspect of diversity and tells you how important it is to accept someone for who they are. In today’s times, people have realized the necessity of diversity and thus are revolting against discrimination. Therefore, words such as feminism, black lives matter, pride month, etc., are an integral part of everyone’s lives.

In the Pulse survey, 73 percent of respondents believe their organization will make diversity a priority over the next ten years.

So, let’s live for diversity over discrimination and transform the project management realm!


Read More: Glossary of Resource Workforce Planning, Scheduling and Management

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