It’s quite unfortunate that the rally cry for diversity has companies scrambling to make sure that they appear diverse to the outsider. You may think that this statement is cruel, but let me unpack it a bit before you summon the executioner. A significant percentage of companies have developed informal “quotas” to make sure they are a diverse organization. The common thought is that it mitigates discrimination accusations and makes them appear forward thinking to stakeholders and investors. Pretty much keeping up appearance for the current “trend”.

Of course this isn’t true for all companies, but it’s more common than what it should be. The mantra “diversity strengthens an organization” is absolutely true, but with one caveat. You have to embrace what diversity brings. The mere existence of various cultures, ethnicities, gender and religious beliefs within the same relational space does not connote strength of anything. It’s just a description of a group of people.

Oft times, even in the face of diversity, there is an expectation that those diverse groups of people must somehow lose the thing that makes them diverse for the sake of conforming to specific standards so that there is less conflict. The leadership of a number of organizations view the expression of that diversity within the organization as an increased chance of conflict, so their conflict strategy is to encourage (dare I say, enforce) this generic sense of homogeneity.

This completely strips the power of diversity altogether and is ignorant leadership. It is the varied viewpoints and filters through which each diverse group of individuals see the world that adds strength to the solution development process. Is it common to feel threatened by an unfamiliar viewpoint? Of course it is, but that’s what seems to perpetuate the juvenile drama we see in Washington D.C. Is that what you want for your company? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Not as a token gesture, but genuinely make it a point to include the opinions and insight of those from varied cultures and ethnicities. Switch off your judgment for a moment (or permanently) and instead of seeing their perspective through your filters, ask questions to understand why that seems like a viable solution for that individual. You may actually learn something. You are giving people a voice and may be able to incorporate a hybrid of what differing opinions bring to the table.

If you value what a person’s culture/ethnicity (something extremely personal) brings to the table for solution management, how engaged do you think that person will be? How likely are they to be looking for work elsewhere? Things don’t have to be perfect, just moving forward in a way that can allow them to be proud to be a part of making the solution a reality.

Don’t bastardize the idea of diversity just to meet some ubiquitous expectation by the industry trends. If you embrace the true value of diversity, you may find the innovation and creativity within your organization will flourish at an alarming rate. Turnover may just decrease as engagement increases. How much stronger would your bottom be if just 8% of your workforce would increase their discretionary effort by 5%?

Choose to be a market leader and an employer of choice because you have a healthy understanding of how diversity can be that distinction you’ve been looking for. What can you do to support quality diversity in your organization or community?

  • Ah, William – This reminded me of the time that I “accidentally” was given a copy of a memo written by the president of the company in which he stated “we now have 31 women in Director or higher positions. We have meet the percentage we agreed upon, and there is no need to promote another woman.” Can you imagine how the women on my team felt? Here we thought we were contributing everything we had because someone cared what we thought! Needless to say, there was a considerable period of time where meaningful and intentional thought and contribution dipped. After a period of requiring wine and chocolate after work in order to adjust our attitude, we picked it up when we all agreed that we did not need to be as small minded as some of our opposite gender.

    Georgia

  • Thank you for such a personal example of what this post is talking about, Georgia! I think anyone, gender notwithstanding, would feel a bit jaded by your experience. I’m not sure I would be so upset about the wine and chocolate though.

    Thanks for you thoughts!

  • Why is this surprising information? Folks who live and work at the apex of multinationals and other large organizations, for the most part, are quite elitist. (Think Brown University, Harvard, Smith). Diversity is “in” but not so in that such an employee would actually send his or her child to a public school (where most of these “diverse” employees send their children). We have seen the Republicans kill health care, public education, social security, Medicare and Medicaid etc. in the name of greed. We have seen them short the market until retirement plans for the “diverse” are DOA. Until rich and elite people get serious about diversity, nothing much is ever going to change. For an organization to “look” diverse, probably fools the stockholders for a while. But no problem, the elites are killing them, too.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Susan. While I’ll not speak to the health care, Medicare, etc. issues, I agree with how a lack of genuine diversity presents as a very elitist position. I appreciate your contribution!

  • Diversity is too often taken to mean a mix of gender and ethnicity. Age gets taken out of the focus most of the time and I think that the reason that happens is very much at the root of your point as well. More experienced employees are more likely to question since they have more context within which to place decisions. The whole organizational culture focus is largely the culprit behind the collective action that you describe.

    I say to those whose focus is on organizational culture that organizations do not “have” culture. People bring culture to the organization that employs them. It is the organization that attempts to mold the way they express their culture insights to bring value to what the organization offers the market.

  • Fair point, Larry. This is a unique time in business history when 3 different generations are still in the workforce…Boomers, X-ers & Millennials. Nurturing the value that comes from healthy interaction among these 3 generations can be a profitable and beneficial endeavor indeed. Thanks for contributing!!