Intolerance will not only foster a toxic climate in an organisation; it can harm performance results

Public surveys show that in Lithuania, the most common form of discrimination in employment is ageism (discrimination on the basis of age). Some Lithuanians would also feel uncomfortable if working with Roma people, Muslims, as well as people with mental disabilities, former convicts, refugees and homosexuals.

According to Vilma Gabrieliūtė, senior adviser at the Office of Equal Opportunities Ombudsman, the views of employees are inseparable from common societal trends that are largely shaped by deeply-rooted stereotypes, ignorance and other factors.

“If society, for example, takes a dim view of the Roma people, in most sectors employers may be reluctant to hire a Roma person, and employees would show little desire to work alongside one. However, when a company actively undertakes to change this – by developing an equal opportunities policy, or increasing employees awareness, for example – this is what triggers changes in the company’s prevailing norms. Employees grow more respectful of the diversity in the organisation and society in general,” says Gabrieliūtė.

This concern should be relevant to every staff member

According to the spokeswoman for the Office of Equal Opportunities Ombudsman, nowadays both businesses and public institutions are increasingly interested in managing diversity and ensuring equal opportunities at the workplace. “The extent to which the institution will pay attention to ensuring equal opportunities heavily depends on the will of the management. If employers see a point in implementing an equal opportunities policy which is actually applied, respect for diversity among the staff will be encouraged regardless of the sector,” elaborates V. Gabrieliūtė. 

However, as Dr Vytautas Ašeris, Partnership professor at Vilnius University and the Head of Wealth Management at Danske Bank in Lithuania points out, such enforced diversity alone is not sufficient to guarantee business success. Diversity must be accepted by all members of the team and its intrinsic value must be understood. Sustained efforts must be made to promote diversity, and such efforts must be supported by the entire staff – first of all managers, human resources and, above all, the employees themselves. 

“The diversity of employees can be understood in a very straightforward way: as a variety of races, nationalities, gender, views, religions, etc. For me, diversity means much more: a culture which welcomes variety of opinions and tolerance of different views. All external factors, such as religion, origin or nationality, often means that a different opinion will emerge in the workplace, and naturally a question will arise as to whether members of the team will be able to listen, hear and tolerate it and work effectively together. Companies matching that criteria has a high degree of inclusion, which is always beneficial”, –  continues V. Ašeris.

The entire team plays a role

According to V. Ašeris, different attitudes and opinions reflecting the natural diversity in a society complement the collective with new experiences and help discover creative solutions to professional tasks.

Essentially, a diverse team is conducive to employee engagement, productivity, better psychological wellbeing, loyalty to the organisation and tolerance to different opinions. In such an organisation, diversity is apparently perceived as an opportunity to build corporate added value.

“Diversity and more importantly – inclusion – is only possible in organisations where measures are taken to increase awareness among their employees, which is understood as a value-added strategic objective in itself. In addition, diversity in the team can only be achieved if its members can make their own decisions, feel supportive of each other and, if necessary, obtain constructive feedback. Finally, the performance of such an organisation is the merit of the team as a whole, not just the manager,” says V. Ašeris.

Changes dictated by the modern world

According to the prestigious international management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, in the next decade will feature an increasingly intense competitive battle for diversity; one of the five most important factors shaping the success of corporations.

V. Ašeris is convinced that companies that choose to act on the principles promoting corporate diversity are already reaping the benefits. Moreover, in the future such organisations will progress faster in the pursuit of quality and maturity. However, according to V. Ašeris, in this regard it should also be noted that there is a broader concept of intolerance – the one covering not only people, but also the way in which we treat the environment. For this reason, the actions of an organisation seeking quality and maturity must be considered from all possible perspectives.

“In the future, companies will be judged not only on the basis of traditional criteria, but also on the basis of their environmental, social and governance stance. I hope, that before long, a large proportion of companies will be “labelled” just like labels are attached to household appliances or newly built homes, indicating their energetic quality. So it becomes simple and transparent for consumers to compare their options” – sums up the Danske Bank representative