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Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: The Importance of Workplace Diversity

Why is creating a diverse team important? Do you know how to create diverse teams? As the Vulcan’s say, “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” Diverse groups of individuals bring diverse ideas and experiences, diverse ideas and experiences contribute to increased sharing of thoughts and ideas, development of new solutions, and increased innovation. All this contributes to maximizing people –> performance –> profit™.

The workforce is changing – rapidly. Fifty years ago, offices were fairly homogenous and roles were often clearly established based on gender and race; watch early seasons of Mad Men, or the movie 9-5 and you’ll get the picture. Although there we’re exceptions, it was pretty much a given that in order to truly succeed and grow in the workplace, you needed to be white and male…or a tough as nails women!

“This is the last straw! Look, I’ve got a gun out there in my purse. Up until now I’ve been forgivin’ and forgettin’ because of the way I was brought up, but I’ll tell you one thing. If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I’m gonna get that gun of mine, and I’m gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot!” –Dolly Parton (Doralee)

Now that strategy may have worked once upon a time – not anymore – it hasn’t worked in years. Now more than ever, with increasing demographic shifts and globalization, embracing diversity is an imperative to achieving success and long term sustainability. The face of the population is changing. The workforce is coming to reflect that.

So why is workplace diversity often such a challenge?

It would seem as though nowadays most people in the workplace understand that presenting a diverse (yet strategically aligned) set of ideas, services and solutions is beneficial. Presenting customers with a homogenous view of a dozen middle-aged white guys isn’t necessarily a good thing. In most cases your customers themselves are made of diverse groups of individuals. You should be presenting them with a diverse set of ideas and solutions reflecting such.

Workplace diversity doesn’t just refer to gender and race anymore either. As the VP of Supplier Diversity at a global Fortune 500 company recently told me, “…our database of vendors and suppliers, like our workforce, is so diverse that we ran out of boxes on our supplier registration form. We’ve recently switched to a new online portal that allows for multiple combinations of self identification. ” Businesses must account for diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture and various combinations of all of the above. Generational diversity has also become equally important; with aging baby boomers and incoming Millennials. The opportunities for embracing diversity are greater than ever.

Having a diverse team can lead to growth as an organization in many ways.

  • A diverse workforce and supplier relationships represents the diverse population that is your customer base. Having a diverse team can help raise awareness and increase communication regarding the different ways different people think and respond, thus not only helping enhance team performance, but also helping you to shape your strategy, communication, and products and services for a diverse group of customers. For example, a middle-aged man with lots of industry knowledge and experience might still have trouble identifying with the way an African American teenage girl makes purchasing decisions. A 20-something, or a 20-something African American woman, might have an easier time targeting the needs of that particular client base as they can better relate. Working together, the two could put together a strategy and solution that works best for both the company and the customer.

  • A diverse team – that has built trust and respect – has a wealth of creative ideas and strategies to choose from, that a homogenous team might not have. Knowing your peers and your client base is only one step to figuring out the best strategy. Sharing those creative ideas and experiences and applying them in support of the company mission is equally as important.

  • Communication is a necessity. No two people have the same history and experience. Everyone brings something different to the table. Diverse teams have a great opportunity to learn from each other. For a diverse team to truly be high performing, they must feel comfortable having open and honest communication of ideas. Open and honest communication can help diverse teams learn, grow and be successful.

  • There are some basic economic facts that make fostering team diversity appealing as well. Companies that foster diversity tend to see lower turnover rates, and are able to avoid some basic litigation. So while it’s true that companies should seek to encourage diversity because it is good corporate citizenship, there are certainly some simple financial incentives as well. Creating high performing diverse teams, embracing a diverse workforce, and working with diverse suppliers, is ultimately good for the organization’s bottom line and long term growth.

So yes, the idea of encouraging and embracing diversity in the workforce is extremely important. In the end, companies that are able to adapt to changing demographics, embrace diversity of the individual and diversity of thought, are likely the companies that will thrive in this ever changing competitive world of business.

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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Dale M. Posthumus

I support diversity in the work place, but not for its own sake. Unfortuantely, attacking “a dozen middle-aged white guys” as having no creativity is false and a stereotype. I could just as easily give you a list of a dozen white guys with considerable difference of views as well as a list of a dozen women or a dozen single-minority that lacks creativity and diversity of opinion. Your middle-aged manager with “lots of industry experience”, may have that experience in the teen-age market segment and the African-American young woman may be a first-generation immigrant with a very different view on what is or is not appropriate for teen-age girls to buy. These two people may bring strengths or weaknesses in other areas.

Diversity starts in the mind and is fostered by experience. It depends heavily on what is the product/service and what is the market. I would always first seek diversity of opinion, experience, and competence. If I focus on these things, diversity in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, etc., generally will follow. This does not mean I should not be aware of and consider those external traits as well as be aware of my own prejudices. But, to assume/contend the external traits are the most important to building a successful, diverse business environment is just as faulty, and stereotyped, as the way things were done when I first came out of college.

Scott Span

Nowhere does the article state “diversity for diversity sake.” Nor does it state “middle aged white guys have no creativity.” I’m simply saying that the more diverse the mix of folks and backgrounds and views, often but not always the more diverse ideas and solutions may surface (homogeneous vs. heterogeneous). And let’s be realistic, the way the private sector approaches diversity is much different than the way the public sector approaches diversity. Hiring, promoting, developing teams…all needs to be based on a skills and culture fit, among other things. Not just based on the fact of checking a diverse box. You’d like to think it is a both/and, and my view is it should be, however many organizations do not operate that way. Those businesses that do have a focus on building diverse workforce’s or track diverse supplier spend, often get pressure to hit quota with a certain “check box” or “category.” This sadly does nothing to help assure a skills and culture match in hiring. Not to say all do, many do an excellent job of trying to meet both a skills and culture fit as well as a diverse mix, though it takes dedication, processes and planning. Overall however, I still believe in at least making the attempt to diversify should a skills and culture match exist.

Dale M. Posthumus

You are right, Scott, you did not say “diversity for diversity sake” or “middle-aged white guys have no creativity. I assumed that, because that is what I took away. Your bad guys seemed to always white, middle-aged males.

I agree that diversity is of value. But, it starts with diversity of opinion, experience, and competence. I guess my quibble is that your article focused on diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., and not on what each person brings to the table. It set its own stereotypes. If you are trying to tell people to open up their minds and fight their prejudices, I fully agree. But, just because someone fits into one of these groups, does not mean they will bring the insight sought for a particular actvity. My point remains that we must start from the diversity of the mind, understand and work on our own prejudices, then much of the rest will follow. That does not mean most or many organizations are doing this well. But, I think it leads to better results, including in diversity of people from different groups.