One of the great buzzwords that came out of the last couple decades is “diversity”. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misused words, so often defined only in terms of legally protected classes. The phrase “diverse workforce” does not stop with protected classes; it applies to a whole gambit of physical characteristics, backgrounds, belief systems, cultures and personal experiences. The question is, do you have a truly diverse workforce? And if so, how are you using their differences to benefit your business and your employees?
Webster’s Dictionary defines diversity as “to vary”. As a business owner, this definition can be extremely liberating. Diversity has nothing to do with selecting candidates for a position, or managing employees in a way to provide opportunities to groups of individuals who have traditionally been underrepresented in specific jobs or organizations – this is affirmative action. Unless there is a proven history of a specific group of individuals being underrepresented in a specific position, implementing an affirmative action plan is ill advised.
Diversity, on the other hand, involves hiring, promoting, training, developing and being open to people of varying backgrounds, compositions, ideas, personalities, skill sets and experiences. Diversity is best demonstrated by the introverted thinker with a very conservative mind set who partners with an extroverted feeler with a very non-conventional problem solving style. It is the liberal, big picture planner who hires a conservative, detail oriented individual to balance out his or her mindset. It is about the process oriented, domineering, structure based leader who finds a more patient, empathetic, engaging, adaptable partner to ensure his/her plans don’t lose the personal component and emotional drive needed to impact a change initiative. Diversity is about recognizing differences, finding ways to utilize others strengths to balance out our own biases and weaknesses, and recognizing that your own pre-disposition gives you blinders which can be managed by truly recognizing the strengths of others.
Employers who fail to recognize the power and need for varied experiences, personalities, decision making processes and styles, are limiting their ability to connect with their audience fully. In this global economy, it is imperative for business leaders to tap into the hearts and minds of everyone, not just those like themselves or those who fit a narrowly defined legal standard. Customers come from all walks of life, varied experiences and personalities, and with their own personal biases. By limiting your own reference point to just that which you know, you are missing the opportunity to connect with people not like you, but who need your product or service.
Is it always comfortable to truly embrace diversity? Absolutely not. One doesn’t need to look any further than Congress to see what being closed minded can do to the accomplishment of big picture goals. But does it allow a person and a business to flourish? Without question! In study after study, those businesses that are more open to varying ideas and ideals are more successful than those who are constrained by a narrowly defined set of standards.
So take a look around you and your business. Have you been acting in a diverse manner, or have you been looking for some sort of affirmative action plan in hopes it would make you appear to be diverse? In this troubled economy, nobody can afford to limit their success by surrounding themselves only with people who think like they do, act like they do and decide like they do. To be successful today, you need to open yourself, and your business up to the opportunities that surround you.
We are all diverse from one another. Diversity in your workforce, your colleagues and your trusted advisors will lead you to be more successful and to lead a more enriched life.