The most used argument against special measures to increase diversity in the workplace is that a company just wants to hire the best people, regardless their gender, color, cultural background, age or personal beliefs.
This sounds fair, but it misses one crucial point: someone’s background is a quality in itself. Who a candidate is should be just as important to employers as their work experience and education. Because it's a hard fact that more diversity leads to better business results.
These film examples.explain the benefits of diversity.
Wall Street (1988)
This Oscar winning film about a malicious investment banker at Wall Street is perhaps best known for Michael Douglas´s quote “greed is good”. But since the financial crisis in 2008 the film is also mentioned for another reason, which may be less obvious: the total lack of female lead characters in the story.
Just like other films on the same subject, Wall Street shows that the banking industry is largely a men’s game. According to some studies this was one of the causes for the financial meltdown. It’s argued that women are less likely to take the enormous risks that were responsible for the biggest crisis in the century.
Whether that’s a fact or just over simplification is still being debated. But there is a lot of evidence that supports the idea that a better balance in gender is good for business. A study by research center Gallup, for example, shows that retail companies which hire more women have 14% higher average comparable revenue than less-diverse business units.
Joy is based on the true story of Joy Mangano, a divorced mother with three children, who became a self-made millionaire. As a single mother with little income, she knew the difficulties of running a household. It was this experience that made her come up with the idea for the Miracle Mop, which was more practical than all the other mops on the market.
The film shows the importance of hiring people with a different background, whether it’s social, ethnic or cultural. With her specific experience, Joy came up with solutions that other people in the same business wouldn’t think of. Different perspectives are vital to any company. They enable them to offer solutions to clients all over the world, with different cultures and different needs. That’s why, according a study by McKinsey, companies with a high ethnic and cultural diversity are 35% percent more likely to have financial returns.
This film, also based on a true story, shows what happens if employees with different professional backgrounds look at the same problem. The problem in this case was: how to turn a group of not very successful baseball players into a winning team, spending as little money as possible.
Instead of hiring another expensive coach, the general manager of the Cleveland Indians decided to ask an economist for his point of view. The solution that he came up with, was as simple as it was revolutionary: only scout new players based on statistical data of their performance. It turned out to be the golden idea, which is copied by sports teams all over the world.
The story shows how vital the input of a relative outsider can be. An IT engineer approaches problems in another way than a sales manager or the marketing department. The more variety in solutions employees can offer, the more chance they hit gold.
The Intern (2015)
The number of misconceptions about older employees is endless: that they are less agile, less productive and have more problems learning new tasks, to name a few examples. These preconceived ideas are the main reason why people over 50 are less likely to get hired. After seeing the 70 something year old Robert de Niro in The Intern, managers hopefully will have a different idea about older employees. Because the film might be fiction, many of topics it touches upon are based on facts. Research by the University of Mannheim shows that mature members of staff rarely make any severe errors due to their experience, their ability to work in teams and better coping strategies when things go wrong.
The Accountant (2016)
Let’s say there are two candidates for an accountant position. One of them is very sociable, talkative and funny. The other is timid, never looks you in the eyes and doesn’t understand irony. Which one of them should you choose? Well, if you’ve seen The Accountant, you might think twice before you hire the second candidate. The main character of the film, played by Ben Affleck, is an unsociable autistic forensic accountant, who cooks the books for criminal clients. But don’t be fooled: in reality it’s the other way around. A recent study by the Rotterdam School of Management showed that people who have a form of autism are the most trustable accountants: because they are less emphatic and sociable, they are also less likely to be corrupt.
Nevertheless, people whose personality is different from the majority, are less likely to get hired. But why is that? Madan Pillutla, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at London School of Business, asked himself the same question. He found out that we are all inclined to hire people that are more like ourselves. So the solution is simple: it’s fine to hire the best people, as longs as those people are not like you.