Soft Skills and Diversity

Communication, Leadership,

With increased migration rates, more fluid work arrangements and a general push for skill development across a variety of industries and fields, there is a much stronger focus on diversity than ever before.

However, for an organisation to be truly diverse the thinking needs to go beyond gender, age, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and spiritual practice. Diversity includes flexibility of thought, leadership and communication styles. To put it more directly, diversity requires and demands the so-called “soft skills”. The increasing need for global workforces is stronger than ever and high performance teams need to have fully embraced, successfully harnessed and put into practice robust diversity programs than include a “soft skill” focus.

According to a recent Deloitte report, ‘Soft skills for business success’, even though non-technical skills have become widely acknowledged as important for workplace outcomes in addition to traditional technical skills, there is no universal definition for what these skills are or how they all fit together. By looking towards the growing presence of diversity alongside the growing need for soft skills, it becomes evident that the increase in one and the demand for the other are definitely related.

According to Deloitte’s report, “soft skills” refers to those skills that allow for greater communication, understanding and fluidity within the workplace. They are the skills that allow someone to get along with others for greater productivity, be self-motivated and be willing to learn new things for their own competency and the development of the company. Soft skills allow people and organisations to learn and achieve more through their diverse ways of thinking and acting to accommodate others and seize opportunity. Similarly, embracing diversity is all about breaking down previous barriers that served only to limit opportunity and neglect new ways of thinking. The main goals of embracing soft skills and diversity align: they both aim to embolden individuals with good emotional judgement and teamwork skills to foster better workplace culture.

Facilitated by technology and more liberal trade policies, the barriers between economies and once isolated communities are continuing to erode. Trade now represents nearly 30% of global GDP (and 20% in Australia) – and the value of trade is predicted to continue to grow according to the World Bank. Deloitte’s recent report found that the number of jobs in soft skill intensive occupations is expected to grow at 2.5 times the rate of jobs in less soft skill intensive occupations. And by 2030, Deloitte predict that soft skill intensive occupations will make up almost two-thirds of the workforce by 2030.

In order to stay competitive in this increasingly diverse, soft skill demanding environment, companies need to focus on diversity and look for ways to become more inclusive. Diversity has the potential to yield greater productivity and competitive advantages. Managing and valuing diversity is a key component of effective people management, which can improve workplace productivity. Changing demographics, from organisational restructuring, women in the workplace, equal opportunity legislation and other legal issues, are forcing organisations to become more aggressive in implementing robust diversity practices.

To stay ahead of the curve when it comes to both diversity and soft skills, there are steps you can take to introduce both key elements into your own business. There is no one single answer to address the gap in discussions around diversity and soft skills, encouraging a space for thought provoking ideas amongst your team, providing examples of where soft skills and diversity succeed (such as in the hiring or promotion of staff from diverse backgrounds) and implementation of soft skill diversity practices in your work environment are all good places to start. Most workplaces are diverse in many ways already, so why not embrace it and use it to your competitive advantage?

Managing diversity presents significant organisational challenges, and is not an easy task, particularly in organisations that are heavily weighted with highly technical professionals such as engineers, lawyers and accountants. However, the more you diversity can increase the soft skill base in your organisation and vice versa, the more prepared you will be for a future that demands soft skills and continues to embrace more diverse ideas.

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