There’s something just a little bit … off about the way we talk about diversity. We discuss it with longing, like it’s a rainbow or a unicorn — or something seen only in just the right conditions. Once we witness it, we silently pray it sticks around a while.
The truth is, diversity doesn’t happen unless we want it to. That means it starts with a conscious decision. The diversity conversation is happening all around the country right now — even as we speak. Let’s raise a few more voices.
Why Does Diversity Matter?
This should be said as plainly as possible: Encouraging diversity is simply the right thing to do. Sure, ethical behavior is not always the most convenient or the most expedient way to do business in the modern world, but it does make us better people.
The most interesting part of this conversation, though, is the fact that embracing diversity in the workplace is not just a “nice” idea — it also has all kinds of positive implications for the success of your business.
Consider PWC’s recent 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, which found that of the leaders surveyed whose companies had implemented some kind of diversity or inclusiveness program, 85% of them reported improved profitability. That’s a big deal!
They’re hardly alone in witnessing this phenomenon, too. The Center for Talent Innovation reported similar results — companies that actively embrace diversity enjoy a “competitive edge” and improved access to new markets.
It would appear that diversity is a kind of secret sauce in the business world. It’s a little difficult to quantify, perhaps, but it’s observable. And why shouldn’t it be? In the year 2016, imagine yourself walking into a company’s atrium to find nothing but pasty white millennials walking around. Companies like these are becoming more and more conspicuous. Imagine visiting a similar company with a rich cultural tapestry — folks from all walks of life, sharing their expertise and experience and working toward a common goal. It should go without saying which of these two companies would leave the better first impression.
Diversity is not just about skin pigmentation, either. It says something about that company’s culture and their worldliness. It’s true that a diverse company will continue to attract diversity — it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. It has to start somewhere, however, and in this case, that somewhere is a deliberate decision by management to hire more inclusively. In a recent survey, 65% of large company executives had committed themselves to building a diverse workplace. Are you a part of this growing majority?
What Can You Do About It?
Phrases like “affirmative action” tend to ruffle feathers whenever they come up. After all, the best man or woman should get the job, right? Regardless of their other physical traits?
Well — sure. The problem is, though, we don’t quite live in a world where affirmative action — or something like it — isn’t wholly unnecessary. There really is something to be said for deliberately hiring a variety of people with different cultures, worldviews and perspectives. As we learned above, this kind of cultural richness will only improve your company’s performance and bottom line. You never know where the next great idea will come from, so why not cast the widest net you possibly can?
Of course, this is only half of the equation. The more important part of the business world’s job where diversity is concerned is to make sure the decision-making process is a little more diffuse than it tends to be. In other words, the era of cloistered management reining from boardrooms is on its way out. Some folks call this “ivory tower management,” and it’s been a big problem.
Celebrating diversity properly is not just about herding people with different skin pigmentation into the same room — it’s about celebrating diversity of thought as well. Management should rely on the perspectives of employees on each rung of the company ladder. Crowd source big decisions. Ask individual teams within the company — these are diverse microcosms all their own — to come together to forge their own values and goals. Democratize the inner workings of the company.
In practical terms, there are a few things the modern company can do to work more actively toward creating a more diverse workplace. One thing is to become involved with movements and organizations like HeForShe, which is a United Nations initiative that promotes gender equality all around the world. Pledging your support to a movement like this one would rightly be seen as a badge of honor.
You can also lend your voice publicly to political battles, such as pay equity for women. There’s no reason this should be a contentious issue in the year 2016, and it’s likely that with just a little more organized support from business leaders, we can finally have closure on the gender-based wage gap.
It Starts With a Decision
As we’ve hopefully demonstrated here, diversity is not a thing that just happens. It must begin with decisions — baby steps made in the name of progress — and these decisions are made by people just like you.